September 27, 2023

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Samsung OLED quantum dot hybrid could challenge LG for TV supremacy


Samsung sells LCD-based QLED TVs today, but its future could be tied into big-screen OLED.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Every TV on the market today is one of two technologies: LCD and OLED. LCD-based TVs are much more common and popular because they’re less expensive and easier to manufacture. They’re also bright and easier to make with extreme resolutions like 8K. OLED TVs have better picture quality but cost more money. LCD TV-makers use a variety of enhancements to improve image quality, one of which is called quantum dots.

Last March, Samsung Display announced it was ending all LCD production in Korea and its factories in China by the end of 2020. The company’s investment will henceforth be focused on building more advanced quantum dot displays. Earlier this week, it was reported that Samsung Display is already showing QD-OLED prototypes to several different companies, including its sister company Samsung Electronics. 

Samsung Display claims it wants to start mass production in 2021, although there’s no confirmation when the first QD-OLED TVs might go on sale. Samsung Electronics hasn’t replied to our requests for additional information. 

Here’s why a hybrid of OLED and quantum dots could be the next big thing in TV tech.

Samsung’s $11 billion bet on quantum dots

Samsung has been selling LCD TVs enhanced by quantum dots for the last few years under its QLED brand, and its 2020 lineup has more Qs than ever. In our tests Samsung’s QLED TVs don’t match the overall image quality of OLED, however, mainly because of OLED’s incredible contrast and off-angle performance. And at the moment only one company makes big-screen OLED display panels: LG.

But what if you could combine the benefits of quantum dots with the contrast ratios of OLED? It would create a sort of hybrid TV with, potentially, picture quality better than any current TV. 

Last October Samsung announced it was building a factory to do just that:

Samsung Display will invest 13.1 trillion won by 2025 to build “Q1 Line,” the world’s first QD display mass production line at Asan Campus. The new line is scheduled to start production in 2021 with an initial 30,000 sheets (8.5 generations) and will produce a huge QD display of 65 inches or larger.

That’s an investment of around $11.1 billion. While Samsung calls this “QD display,” it isn’t electroluminescent, aka “direct view” quantum dots. That technology is still several years away. This is going to be a QD-OLED hybrid.

At the announcement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in also referenced Samsung’s rival LG in regards to Korea’s place in world TV production: “It is important to maintain the top spot of the global display market with game-changing technologies,” Moon said. “Following LG Display’s 3 trillion-won investment in large OLED panel production in July, Samsung Display’s latest investment plan brightens prospects further.”

So how will it work? Nanosys, a company that makes quantum dots, has shared some details. Its CEO, Jason Hartlove, is understandably bullish on the technology, which relies on converting light from an OLED panel.

“Quantum Dot Color Conversion is a completely new way of rendering color in displays,” he told CNET. “The result is pure quantum dot color with much higher efficiency as no light is lost in a color filter. We’ve worked closely with a number of development partners on implementations for both LCD and OLED technologies and expect to see the first QDCC product launches over the next 12-18 months.”

How QD-OLED would work


A simplified diagram of how a QD-OLED hybrid would work. A blue OLED material would create all the blue light, plus the light energy that red and green quantum dots would use to create red and green light.


Combining quantum dots and OLED could play to the strengths of both technologies. The idea with any TV is to create red, green and blue light. LED LCDs with quantum dots, like Samsung’s current QLED TVs, use blue LEDs and a layer of quantum dots to convert some of that blue into red and green. With the current version of OLED, yellow and blue OLED materials create “white” light. In both cases, color filters let pass only what color is needed for that specific subpixel.

The idea with a QD-OLED is to simplify these designs into one, by using OLED to create blue light, and then a quantum dot layer to convert some of the blue into red and green.


How Nanosys envisions QD-OLED will work. Samsung’s version will likely be similar. A blue OLED layer creates blue light, which passes through a quantum dot color conversion (“QDCC”) layer that converts some of that blue into red and green. Thanks to how quantum dots work this is significantly more efficient than using color filters.


There are many advantages to this method, in theory. By using only one color or material of OLED, the manufacturing costs go way down since it’s easier to build. LG, for instance, uses only two OLED materials, blue and yellow, for every pixel across the entire display. Light-blocking color filters create the green and red. QDs have nearly 100% efficiency, significantly better than filters, so in theory the hybrid TVs will be much brighter. Plus, there’s the possibility of even wider color gamuts at all brightness levels.


On the left, the current version of OLED. “White” in LG’s case being a combination of blue and yellow OLED materials. On the right, how QD-OLED will likely work, using only blue OLED, and then converting some of that with red and green quantum dots.


Because each pixel can be shut off, these hybrid TVs will also have the incredible contrast ratios that OLED is known for.

Since blue OLED materials still age faster than red and green, having the entire panel one color means the TV ages more evenly with no color shift. Keeping that aging to a minimum, and thereby having a TV that doesn’t seem dim after a few years, is one of the key manufacturing issues. This is especially true in this HDR era of extreme brightness levels.


A very, very closeup view of a QDCC layer. Behind this could be either blue LEDs, or blue OLED. Either way, the color that comes out is red, green and blue.


While this new Samsung plant is focusing on TV-size displays, the technology could work in phone-sized displays as well. Since Samsung doesn’t seem to have any issue making excellent small OLEDs, I’d be surprised if it’s in any rush to upset that market with something as advanced as this. Also, Samsung’s phone-sized OLEDs use red, green and blue OLEDs compared to LG’s blue-yellow. Samsung tried to make RGB OLED TVs and just couldn’t make them profitable. What’s more likely, and mentioned in the latest rumors, is they’ll use this tech to build ultra-high resolution 8K computer monitors along with larger TV screens.

As mentioned earlier, it’s clear Samsung believes strongly in this technology, since it’s ending production of LCDs at its factories in Korea and China. This doesn’t mean that starting next year it won’t sell any LCDs. Samsung is a massive company, and the part of the company that makes LCDs, Samsung Display, is stopping production. The part of the company that sells TVs, Samsung Electronics, has made no such announcement. There are already rumors it’ll be buying LCD panels from none other than former sometimes-rival sometimes-partner Sharp. It’s undoubtedly a temporary arrangement, but an interesting one at that. As such, it’s unlikely we’ll see Samsung-branded QD-OLED in 2021. My guess, since Samsung isn’t saying, is we’ll see some QD-OLED models at CES 2022. 

Into the future

It’s possible, maybe even likely, that LG is working on a similar QD-OLED hybrid. Right now it’s not saying (we asked). It is, however, the logical next step for OLED before whatever next generation of TV tech arrives. And for what it’s worth LG Display also announced it would end domestic manufacture of LCD panels by the end of 2020.

And what about even farther-future display tech? Well, the quantum dot folks seem to think direct-view quantum dot displays are just a few years off. These electroluminescent quantum dots, or ELQD, would have all the benefits of OLED, all the benefits of QD and none of the issues of LCD or the wear and longevity concerns of OLED. A very promising tech indeed.

Then there’s the question of what Samsung will call this new QD-OLED technology, since it’s already branded its current TVs as “QLED.” It’s a safe bet it won’t be calling them OLED anything, since that’s LG’s “thing” and Samsung is already trying to use the fear of burn-in to trash-talk the technology

The other new TV tech on the horizon from Samsung and others is MicroLED. This has many of the same benefits as the QD-OLED hybrid, but doesn’t muck around with those pesky organics. That’s even farther in the future, however, likely somewhere in time between QD-OLED and direct-view quantum dot displays. Oh, and MicroLEDs use quantum dots too. They’re a fascinating technology with uses far beyond TV screens

In the meantime, we’ve got mini-LED, which is pretty cool too and far less expensive than any of these.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like why you shouldn’t buy expensive HDMI cables, TV resolutions explained, how HDR works and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel

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