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What is MicroLED? The rival TV tech to OLED explained

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(Pocket-lint) – Samsung introduced its MicroLED TV technology during CES in 2018. Since then, it has released a number of different TV sizes using the tech, but they been extraordinarily expensive and out of reach for most.

Still, MicroLED is being proclaimed a direct rival to OLED and there are rumours of new TVs in the pipeline – hopefully at more affordable prices.

So what is the technology being championed by Samsung and why are AV purists getting excited about it? Let us explain all.

What is MicroLED?

MicroLED is a flat-panel display technology first developed by professors Hongxing Jiang and Jingyu Lin of Texas Tech University while they were at Kansas State University in 2000.

As the name implies, MicroLED displays comprise several microscopic LEDs, which self-illuminate per display pixel – just like an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) panel would, only Micro LED uses inorganic material. This brings the benefit of ultra-low black levels, just like OLED, but with higher peak brightness.

“But I already have an LED set,” we hear you say. You probably do. But it’s actually an LCD panel with LED-based back or edge illumination. Micro LED doesn’t require this separate backlighting, which means darker blacks and brighter whites, while negating light bleed associated with current LED-lit tellies.

There are plenty of manufacturers producing OLED TVs these days, including LG, Panasonic, Philips and Sony, but Samsung has always abstained – even though it makes its own OLED panels for mobile devices. With Micro LED, however, it doesn’t need to – this could be the flagship tech to outshine its OLED competition.

How does MicroLED work?

MicroLED has some similarities to OLED. With OLED, each pixel is its own light source, being able to turn on or off as required, providing incredible contrast and no light bleed on surrounding pixels. If an OLED pixel is off, then it’s black. It’s not just a darker shade of black, it’s off and there’s no light. MicroLED achieves exactly the same results as it also has self-illuminating pixels.

However, while OLED panels are improving, their peak brightness levels are limited compared to current LED (especially Samsung’s QLED panels). Brightness not only determines how good a picture is, but it’s a major factor in the effectiveness of HDR (High Dynamic Range) content. MicroLED can illuminate far brighter than OLED, with a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. That’s up to 30 times brighter than comparable OLED TVs.

This is thanks to the inorganic material used (gallium nitride), which enables the individual RGB LED sources to go brighter – and for longer. If an OLED panel is too bright for too long, its organic material diminishes. That’s not as big an issue with inorganic material, which has a longer overall lifespan. 

The peak brightness of Samsung’s The Wall TV, for example, is 2000 nits.

When can I get a MicroLED TV? 

Samsung unveiled its first MicroLED TV at CES 2018 – the 146-inch “The Wall” 4K TV. This was followed by a commercial launch of The Wall Professional – designed for industrial installations.

Samsung then produced a 75-inch 4K version for home consumers, hitting the sweet spot for many home cinema fans, albeit at considerable cost. It is hoping to announce a new version in late 2020, early 2021.

LG also previewed its own 175-inch Micro LED TV at IFA 2018 – but there’s no word on whether you’ll be able to buy it and has seemingly switched its focus almost entirely back to OLED.

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What’s this modular stuff about?

The reason Samsung originally showed off The Wall at CES was simply to show that it can. Trumping the 146-inch version, in 2019, Samsung showed off a 219-inch version.

MicroLED is a modular technology – meaning panels are made up of a series of smaller ones, “knitted together” to make one larger whole. That also means you can have creative customisation, able to install a MicroLED TV to suit the customer requirements, whether that’s 21:9, 16:9 or whatever – it’s a very flexible solution.

You can also have a MicroLED TV in sizes that are irregular, with Samsung saying that upscaling and processing to make surer the delivery of the images remain sharp.

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Is MicroLED it the future?

On the face of it, Micro LED has the potential to take on and outperform OLED. The same black levels but with greater brightness, lower power consumption and longer life-span is all hugely appealing to home cinema enthusiasts.

The problem, we suspect, is manufacturing costs. But, as manufacturer investment goes up, who knows, MicroLED could be a genuine rival to OLED. Better even.

It’s very impressive indeed.

Writing by Mike Lowe. Editing by Rik Henderson.





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