The world of television, since its inception, has been full of acronyms or buzzwords, but lately it seems that they wanted to drown us in a soup of letters: OLED, QLED, HDR, HDTV, HDMI, ARC, eARC … And if you think that This was going to end, nothing is further from reality: go making space on your list, since there are two new terms with which you should familiarize yourself, this without considering that a new battle is about to change the television landscape: micro-LED vs. mini-LED
Although they look similar, the terms refer to very different types of screens, so let's see what they are, how they differ from each other and how they both can play a decisive role in the purchase of your next TV.
What is micro-LED?
Micro-LED is an emissive screen technology that works similarly to OLED screens (Organic Light Emitting Diode), since each of its pixels illuminates on its own, without the need for a separate backlight. The biggest benefit is that you can achieve a perfect black level. When a pxel is not in use, it does not emit light, which in turn gives it that deep black sensation.
But micro-LED screens have two great advantages over OLED: because LEDs can be much brighter than OLEDs, that perfect black level is accompanied by an impressive brightness, to create a general contrast relationship that is currently unmatched by any other technology. How much brighter is it? OLED panels can currently reach a maximum brightness of around 1,000 nits (base unit that experts use to measure the brightness of the screens), but micro-LEDs can produce up to 5,000 nits.
A micro-LED panel can also be combined with other similar panels, with no real limits of how many are connected, to create a screen that is measured in feet, not inches, and with a resolution that reaches up to 16K and more. For now, the maximum OLED size is 88 inches.
Several companies, including LG, Sony and Samsung, are working on micro-LED screens, but for now only the last two are selling them.
What is mini-LED?
The mini-LED screens belong to the family of LED TVs, which includes normal LED TVs and QLED TVs. A mini-LED screen uses the same formula as these other televisions: an LED backlight provides the main source of brightness that then passes through an LCD matrix and a set of color filters to give us the final image on the screen.
The place where mini-LED departs from this model is in the number and size of those LED backlights. A conventional LED TV can use a few tens, or perhaps a few hundred LEDs to power its backlight. Mini-LED increases this to thousands by drastically reducing the size of individual LEDs. The reason for this approach is once again to find the holy grail for better contrast, better brightness and better black levels.
With a larger collection of smaller LEDs, mini-LED screens can exercise greater control over local attenuation, the ability to make parts of the screen completely black. If the LEDs are small enough, then, theoretically, you can create an LED TV with the same magnificent black levels as micro-LED or OLED. When combined with the enhanced brightness and color possible thanks to the quantum dots, the mini-LED screens could be the technology that finally puts QLED TVs on par, or even better than OLED for overall image quality.
Like micro-LED, there are some different players that work with mini-LED technology, but for now, only TCL has these televisions for sale.
Now let's compare the two technologies with each other, and in several categories to get a better idea of where each one stands out.
There is no real limit for how large a micro-LED television can be. The Sony CrystalLED (its name for micro-LED) has been configured to a size of up to 17 feet, with a monstrous resolution of 16K to honor its size. With the ability to scale simply by adding more panels, it is an incredibly versatile system.
The size of mini-LED TVs is restricted by the same size limitations as traditional LED screens. That is, they can be made larger than larger OLED TVs, but they still do not approach the possibilities of wall size that exist with micro-LEDs. The limitation in the mini-LED is not the LEDs themselves, there is no limit on how many can be used at the same time, but with the LCD matrix panels that illuminate. For now, the largest LED TV we have seen was the 2013 Samsung 110-inch limited availability UHD TV.
For now, micro-LED screens are only for those with a budget as large as the screen they want. These televisions are so expensive that neither Samsung nor Sony offer official prices on their websites, which reminds us of the expression: "If you have to ask how much it costs, it is not for you." Even so, the lack of public prices has not prevented us from collecting some estimates: Sony CrystalLED TVs start at around $ 180,000 dollars. And that is for a 1080p resolution resolution of 120 inches. Do you want 4K That will cost you more than $ 700,000 dollars.
Fortunately, mini-LED TVs are on par with other QLED TVs and in some cases, they are actually cheaper in a size-for-size comparison. TCL's first kick in the mini-LED, its 2019 Series 8, costs significantly less than $ 2,000 for the 65-inch model, which makes it reasonably affordable.
TCL presented a new version of its mini-LED technology at CES 2020, which it calls Vidrian Mini-LED. The firm places the mini-LEDs in a single thin glass sheet, which results in a thinner overall screen and one that seems to produce even better brightness and black levels. Vidrian-equipped models will probably cost more than their mini-LED equivalents when they finally appear, but even then, Mini-LEDs will remain much more affordable than micro-LEDs for many years.
Brightness, black levels and contrast
Although mini-LED seems prepared to help close the gap to QLED TVs with their competitors of OLED TVs in regards to these attributes, there is still no competition when mini-LED faces micro-LED.
With the ability to turn pixelel completely black by pxel, emissive screens such as micro-LED and OLED have an inherent advantage over any screen that has no pixel level control over brightness. And the amazing brightness of micro-LED also means that its contrast ratio is outside the graphics compared to other screens.
This is quite simple. Yes, in theory, today you can buy a micro-LED screen, but let's be honest: unless you are among the richest residents of the United States you will not have a micro-LED TV in your room in the short term.
The mini-LED screens, on the other hand, are available at this time, although only from TCL. Even so, both Sony and LG have shown mini-LED prototypes, which means that TCL's monopoly on technology probably won't last long. However, with an important advantage, we expect TCL to be a leader in mini-LED TVs in the near future.
Micro-LED and mini-LED are two of the most exciting new display technologies that have appeared in years. Both will have an impact on the televisions that we will buy in the future, but clearly mini-LEDs will be the one that most of us will know first.
On the sidelines, but perhaps not for long, is QD-OLED, a marriage of QLED and OLED technologies. If we see the first televisions that use this innovation, we expect them to cost much more than the mini-LED models, but still much less than the micro-LEDs.