Samsung Neo QLED: Revolutionising TV Picture Quality One Tiny Light at a Time
Samsung’s new high end 2021 Neo QLED TVs have rewritten the LCD TV rule book. So much so that the killer combination of Quantum Dot colour technology and full array backlighting, with local dimming that already made previous Samsung premium TVs so desirable, is just the start of the brand’s TV charms.
The new Neo QLED sets – topped off by the remarkable QN900A – add two ground-breaking picture quality advances, namely Mini LED lighting and a whole new level of AI-driven picture processing.
As its name suggests, Mini LED is all about making the lights used to illuminate LCD TVs much smaller. By removing the lenses and packaging associated with some other Samsung LED TVs, the Mini LEDs inside Samsung’s 2021 Neo QLED TVs are said to be one hundred times smaller than those used in the brand’s previous LED sets. That’s the equivalent of going from a button to a pinhead.
This level of shrinkage enables Neo QLED TVs to squeeze twenty times more light sources into the same screen area . Why does this matter? First, increasing the density of the lighting to this extent helps to maximise both the consistency and intensity of the image’s brightness. Second, more consistent light leads to dazzling colour intensity and consistency . Third, having greater numbers of much smaller lights hugely ramps up the level of light control an LCD TV can deliver.
Taking full advantage of this enhanced light control potential means partnering the Mini LED lighting array with a new level of local dimming, where the TV can control how much light is output from different sections of the Mini LEDs in any given frame. This allows a TV to produce deep black colours in dark areas of a picture at the same time as delivering light bright parts, resulting in the sort of extreme contrast that today’s high dynamic range (HDR) image technology thrives on.
Samsung’s QN900A flagship remarkably supports almost 2,000 dimming zones. That’s up 300% on the number of individually controlled dimming zones we’ve seen on even the best previous Samsung LED TV .
Yet it’s not just the number of dimming zones that counts, though – it’s how you use them. Cue Samsung’s new Quantum Matrix Technology Pro technology, which combines advanced image analysis – to figure out exactly how much light different picture areas need – with cutting-edge power management that enables the TV to redistribute power between bright and dark areas efficiently.
The impact that Mini LED, backlighting, and advanced processing elements have on the Neo QLED TVs picture quality is remarkable. Dark areas, for instance, enjoy pretty much immaculate deep black colours beyond anything we’d imagined LCD TVs would ever achieve. Yet right alongside these ground-breaking black colours, the screen can also produce the sort of extreme brightness that’s always been an LCD strength.
It is here that the combination of Mini LEDs marshalled by powerful processing really proves its worth. Samsung’s Neo QLED TVs are designed to suppress backlight blooming. Some LED TVs that use local dimming tend to throw up haloes of unwanted light around very bright objects if they appear against very dark backgrounds. This blooming can be seriously distracting, so it’s a joy to see it being dealt with so comprehensively by Neo QLED TVs.
To be fair, Samsung has always handled backlight blooming well. It’s previously only managed this by dimming down bright objects heavily when they appeared against dark backdrops, though. Now, thanks to Neo QLED, there’s no longer the same need to dim stand-out bright objects so aggressively. This both greatly increases the sense of contrast the QN900A and other Neo QLED TVs enjoy, and makes for a consistent viewing experience.
Neo QLED’s impressive consistency and backlight control doesn’t just impact contrast. It brings out more shadow detailing in dark scenes, too, as well as enhancing colour performance. This is because not having to dim bright objects to prevent blooming, allows the picture to benefit consistently from the advantages of the Quantum Dot colour system that gives QLED TVs their name.
Quantum Dots – especially metal-clad QDs of the sort Samsung uses in its Neo QLED TVs – are designed to deliver colour purity and volume (the combination of brightness and saturation) with HDR images. And thanks to Mini LED’s ability to provide incredible brightness to stand-out bright objects, this extra QLED colour volume can now be sustained in mostly dark shots as well as mostly bright ones.
Using smaller backlights with much more local dimming controls contributes to enhanced detail reproduction too – especially in dark scenes. This is especially noticeable with native 8K content, as you might expect. That’s not to say, though, that the QN900A and Samsung’s other 8K Neo QLED models only thrive on full 8K content. Samsung is aware that native 8K content is currently in short supply and that you will therefore spend most of your time watching 4K or even HD content on your 8K Neo QLED TV. So the South Korean brand has thrown an unprecedented amount of processing power at ensuring that those sub-8K sources benefit from all the extra pixels at an 8K screen’s disposal.
Not for the first time, the company has turned to AI for its latest upscaling engine. This involves running many thousands of images through a neural network so that it can ‘learn’ how best to react to different types of image content in the real world. However, while Samsung’s 2020 8K models only applied the learning of a single AI processor to their upscaling systems, its 2021 Neo QLED 8K TVs benefit from the combined learning of no less than sixteen separate neural networks. The result is the sharpest, most detailed and above all, most noise-free upscaled pictures in the 8K TV world.
Seriously, when it comes to Samsung’s Neo QLED 8K TVs you need to expunge from your brain any bad memories you might have about upscaling from the early days of HD TVs. With 4K in particular, the QN900A’s upscaling clearly makes sources look better rather than worse – something that’s both impressive and important when you’re talking about satisfying the increasingly large screen sizes we’re all shifting towards these days.
Samsung’s Neo QLED TVs also push the envelope sonically, thanks to a dual assault of Q Symphony and OTS technologies. Q Symphony allows the speakers in the TV to join forces with the speakers in compatible Samsung soundbars to deliver a fuller, more satisfying sound. OTS – short for Object Tracking Sound – uses speakers arrayed around the screen together with clever interpretative processing to make sound effects appear to be coming from precisely the place on screen – or off it – that they’re supposed to be coming from. The way that OTS can make film soundtracks feel more alive, immersive and detailed is uncanny, especially when running through the large amount of speakers you get with the flagship QN900A series (including no less than eight bass drivers on its rear side).
There’s one further element of Samsung’s Neo QLED TVs that seals the high end deal – the design. The so-called Infinity look finds them sporting image frames so incredibly narrow that they’re practically invisible from the front, leaving you immersed in the picture you’re watching. This is despite some models actually having speakers built underneath their slinky metallic sides. What’s more, the move to Mini LEDs has enabled Samsung to massively reduce the rear depth of its Neo QLED TVs , making them even sleeker, more minimalistic and more futuristic additions to your living room.
With many consumers only just getting to grips with QLED technology, Samsung’s announcement a few months back that it was introducing ‘Neo’ QLED TVs for 2021 initially felt misjudged. Like something that might confuse rather than inspire TV buyers already overloaded with information. However, now that we’ve seen and heard what Neo QLED TVs can do, it is clear that Samsung’s decision to introduce a whole new category for them was not only justified but necessary. After all, when you come up with a TV technology that heralds such a performance leap, it’s actually doing a service to consumers to do what you can to make sure it gets noticed.
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I’ve spent the past 25 years writing about the world of home entertainment technology. In that time I’m fairly confident that I’ve reviewed more TVs and projectors than any other individual on the planet, as well as experiencing first-hand the rise and fall of all manner of great and not so great home entertainment technologies.