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Mini LED vs OLED: How do they differ?

If you’ve been in the market for a new TV recently, you’ve possibly come across various terms during your search. Acronyms such as LCD LED, OLED and Mini LED may have already seeped into your consciousness.

For those who aren’t into TV tech, you’d probably take little notice of what these various technologies mean or what effect they may have on your viewing experience. But some knowledge will assist in making a better choice in finding the TV that will be the mainstay of your living room for years.

So we come to Mini LED vs OLED. These two types of panel are relatively new, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. They’re used across various devices such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and TVs, but we’ll training our attention more towards TVs.

So, is one better than the other, and if so which one? Ultimately it’ll be determined by what your needs are.

How do they differ?

Mini LED is an advancement of LED LCD backlighting technology. The ‘mini’ part refers to the size of the LED used in the display to produce the light seen on screen.

By miniaturising the LED form factor, it allows for more LEDs to be squeezed into the display. The more LEDs there are, the more dimming zones there can be, which allows for greater control over brightness, contrast and black levels.

Some TVs have hundreds of these Mini LEDs, others can have as many as thousands. It depends on the size of the screen and how much control over the backlight a manufacturer wants to exert (as well as price, of course).

The Samsung QE75QN900B 8K TV
Samsung QN900B 8K Mini LED

OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. In OLED screens each pixel is self-emissive, which means it can produce its own light when an electrical current is passed through it. This gives OLED what’s commonly referred to as ‘pixel level dimming’ wherein it doesn’t need a backlight to tell the screen which parts should be bright and which parts should be dark. It can control the brightness down to the individual pixel.

A pixel that’s ‘on’ can sit next to a pixel that is ‘off’, allowing OLED screens to have exceptional control over black levels and contrast.

LG OLED65G2 stranger things s3
LG G2 OLED

Brightness

LED LCD screens already go brighter than OLED, and Mini LED extends that lead further. Where is this advantage useful? Mainly with HDR content or use with mobile devices in bright sunlight.

A higher level of brightness with HDR content allows for a wider range of colours and tones to be depicted, making for what’s arguably a more accurate and true-to-life image.

Tenet on Samsung QE65QN94A Neo QLED
Samsung QN94A Mini LED

For mobile devices, being brighter means able to resist the glare caused by sunlight better, though Mini LED has only been used in tablets so far, such as some iPad models. The same line of thinking applies to TVs whereby the brightness of a Mini LED panel copes better with brightly lit rooms than OLED where that screen is best suited to viewing in dimly lit rooms.

Premium OLED and QD-OLED screens such as the LG G2 OLED and Samsung S95B QD-OLED hit just above 1000 nits, while cheaper and older models average around 500-600 nits of brightness. We’ve tested Mini LED TVs that have gone past the 2000 nits mark, and in some modes even hit 4000 nits (for 8K TVs). When it comes to brightness Mini LED can, and often does, blow OLED out of the water.

Mini LED wins

Contrast

But while Mini LED amps up the brightness of LCD LED screens, the backlight can suffer from the same faults, though to a less extreme degree.

More LEDs mean more precise control over brightness and black levels, which can improve the screen’s contrast performance, enhancing the difference between the brightest and darkest part of the picture for a more striking image.

But blooming, which is a halo or cloud of light around a bright object, is still an issue, especially with screens that have a fairly low LED count. It can be distracting and if the bright elements are close to the black bars at the top and bottom of a screen then it can ‘bleed’ into those areas.

Samsung QE43QN90A Men in Black blooming
Samsung QN90A with blooming

OLED, by comparison, is capable of infinite contrast. When an OLED panel depicts black, the pixel is completely switched off which means it produces no light whatsoever for ‘true blacks’. This is the holy grail for any screen.

And with new panel technology such as LG’s OLED EX used in the latest generation of premium OLED screens, more brightness is on the menu with perfect blacks to help create an even better sense of contrast that leaps off the screen.

LG OLED65C2 Black Panther
LG C2 OLED

The QD-OLED panel technology created by Samsung and used by it and Sony (A95K TV) can achieve slightly higher brightness than ‘standard’ OLED. They’re not as bright as Mini LED but it does help QD-OLED’s quest to depict scenes in TV shows and films with more punch and vividness.

OLED wins

Viewing Angles

OLED and QD-OLED screens offer excellent viewing angles. You can move over the sides and still view colours with the same intensity. With mobile devices, it’s useful as users don’t always hold the screen directly in front of them, so viewing the screen at different angles will still produce more consistent performance.

Viewing angles aren’t as good with Mini LEDs but they are considered to be better than standard LCD LED. With Mini LED the performance of viewing angles depends on the type of display used and the manufacturer’s own technology, so not every Mini LED TV will offer the same viewing angle performance.

Nintendo Switch OLED
Nintendo Switch OLED

For instance, a Mini LED with an IPS (in-plane switching) panel offers better colour performance and good viewing angles. Another type of display used in TVs is VA (Vertical Alignment). This offers better contrast than IPS but viewing angles are narrower.

However, just because a TV uses a VA panel doesn’t mean you should dismiss it. Samsung implements its Ultra Wide Viewing angle technology to improve colours, brightness and contrast at more restricted views, and Sony has its X-Wide Angle that does a similar trick.

Regardless, if you’re someone who sits head-on to the screen then either OLED/QD-OLED or Mini LED would work. If multiple people are watching and they’re seated towards the sides of the screen, OLED is more consistent.

OLED wins

Colour

When it comes to colour, a TV’s processing is key but brightness can have a great effect too.

With OLED we’ve mentioned that brightness is often limited and the result of this is that colour volume performance isn’t as good.

Samsung QE65QN94A Avengers with Loki
Samsung QN94A Mini LED

Broadly speaking, we can refer to colour volume as the range of colours a display can produce at different brightness levels. Being able to hit a higher brightness can mean a Mini LED TV can depict a wider and more accurate range of colours.

OLED screens are getting brighter, however, and smartphones like the iPhone 14 Pro can reach 1000 nits and those levels of brightness will be enough for many.

Samsung S95B She-Hulk
Samsung S95B QD-OLED

QD-OLEDs have inched forward the brightness levels for OLED, and that has resulted in better colour volume and therefore more accurate images. QD-OLED is still a new technology, however, and prices for the first generation TVs and not what you’d call affordable. But they do look great.

LED LCD wins

Gaming

One more area we will cover is gaming. Since the current generation of consoles arrived it has made people pay attention to new TV technology such as ALLM, Variable Refresh Rate and 4K/120Hz. Buying a TV with these new features has become a priority for those after the best gaming performance.

Going back to OLED and its pixel level dimming, it can achieve excellent response times and higher refresh rates for faster gameplay and motion.

LG OLED77Z2 Gran Turismo

That’s not to say Mini LED is poor by comparison. They’re very good but the response times in switching from colour to colour is better on OLED. The disadvantage of OLED is image retention and burn-in. The former relates to static elements in an image being temporarily retained on the screen while burn-in is more permanent.

This only afflicts OLED panels but is becoming rarer as TVs carry anti burn-in technology and in order to induce burn-in you’d need to be using the TV for days upon days without end for it to take root. Use the display like you normally would, and burn-in should not be a significant issue.

OLED wins

Which is better?

The argument over which is better comes down to what you want. Both Mini LED and OLED are technologies that have their plusses and minuses.

Overall, we’d say that OLED is a better choice for movies and gaming with its perfect blacks, infinite contrast and superior refresh rates. Alongside its better viewing angles, it also means more people can watch what’s on screen without suffering an inferior image. OLED’s attributes also make it better for less brightly-lit rooms.

For those who live in bright rooms Mini LED is a better option because its screen can produce a higher peak brightness to combat ambient light washing out the colours on screen. HDR performance will be more impactful and colour accuracy has the potential to be more varied and accurate, but blooming and black uniformity (the consistency of the black levels across the screen) is an issue, especially with cheaper, less advanced Mini LED TVs.

Prices for both technologies are coming down, though it’s worth noting the performance of cheaper models for both screens won’t be as good as the more expensive ones (naturally). OLED gets our vote, but if you’re a fan of HDR, Mini LED is a great way to showcase it.

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