Smart Home & AI

Best TV Technology? Projector vs QLED vs OLED vs LED vs LCD vs Plasma

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Man watching flat screen tv with streaming services on device holding remote.

Are you looking for the best TV technology? Choosing a new television can be overwhelming since so many options and factors exist. One major decision is whether to go for new tech, such as OLED with curved 4K, or save money and choose a tried-and-true technology, such as LED or even a projector.

Let’s face it: LCD has been replaced by LED, and plasma—while a great technology—didn’t last very long. Knowing which to invest in can be tricky, especially if you aren’t sure what these terms mean. So, to help make shopping for a television easier and less daunting with the technical stuff, we’re taking a deeper dive into each type of TV and the characteristics to look for in each.

This guide will help you find the best television technology to suit your needs.

Understanding Television Technology

As quickly as a new television tech is developed, another one seems to come along, making the market ever-evolving. The technologies we cover in this article include QLED, OLED, LED, LCD, plasma, and projector. These television options vary considerably in what they offer the viewer and in the price that they fetch. What differs between these television technologies? Let’s dive in and find out. 

QLED

TCL—55" Class 6-Series Mini-LED QLED 4K UHD Smart Google TV.

QLED tech was created as a response to the popular OLED TV. Longtime South Korean technology rivals, Samsung was tired of LG making headlines with its OLED tech. Thus, Samsung created the QLED TV.

The “Q” stands for quantum dots, tiny nanoparticles that glow when light shines on them. The QLED TV is essentially a variation of the LED-LCD TV, adding a quantum dot film for better picture quality. Combining a quantum dot layer with an LED backlight made QLED TVs brighter and more colorful.

The original QLED TVs did have problems. Because they were transmissive displays requiring a backlight, they struggled with backlight blooming and black levels.

The solution? Using extras like mini-LED backlights, local dimming for better contract ratio, HDR (high-dynamic range) content for brighter highlights, and better viewing angles helped the QLED perform as well as—and even outperform—the QLED. Launched as Neo QLED, Samsung says Neo (new) QLED offers ever brighter displays and more vivid color than standard QLED.

QLED has another benefit over OLED: it’s a whole lot cheaper. QLED can be much bigger and smaller than OLED, making it a good choice for the economical shopper.

While QLED is most synonymous with Samsung, other manufacturers, such as LG, Sony, TCL, and Vizio, produce TVs using quantum dot tech.

My Personal Experience With QLED TV Technology

Tara's QLED screen on a tv stand and screen on.

I have the TCL—55″ Class 6-Series Mini-LED QLED 4K UHD Smart Google TV (pictured above).

I absolutely love my QLED. The color is fantastic. It is extremely bright and delivers superior performance to my previous LED TV. Plus, it was much less expensive than other options on the market.

I enjoy using my QLED for gaming. It provides crystal-clear, fluid motion, and I haven’t noticed any blur behind fast-moving objects. I can game in a bright room during my Saturday “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kindom” binges with no problem—it still looks great.

OLED

LG OLED TV.

OLED (short for “organic light-emitting diode”) is not an extension of LED tech, as the name might imply, but rather a groundbreaking evolution in TV technology. OLED panels contain thin, flexible sheets of an organic electroluminescent material that emits light in response to an electric current. This means they work without a backlight and can display deep levels of black because the pixels turn entirely off to prevent any backlight from bleeding through and muddling the color.

The picture on the screen comes from each pixel lighting up individually, called an emissive display. This display differs from a transmissive display that requires backlighting, a lighting system at the back of the television that must shine through several layers to produce illuminated pixels.

The tech also allows for ultra-thin displays (think hanging on the wall like a picture frame) and very high contrast ratios. Along with QLED TVs, OLED continues to dominate the television market. While the price started off as super expensive, it’s not comparable to many LCD-based televisions.

Do OLED TVs have any cons? Yes. Many original OLED displays used separate OLED emitters for each subpixel, individual pixels producing red, green, or blue light. Unfortunately, the compounds in each subpixel aged at different rates, so over time, colors shift and fade, creating what is called burn-in. LG’s solution was to create a layer in its TVs that replaces separate red/green/blue emitters with a single layer that produces white light. The white light then passes through color filters (red, green, blue, and a fourth with no filter for white) to produce different colors. This tech is called WOLED (White OLED).

Up until 2022, LG was the only OLED panel manufacturer around. You could purchase Panasonic, Sony, or Vizio OLED TVs, but LG Display made the panels. Even Samsung jumped on the OLED bandwagon, creating its own OLED technology called QD-OLED (quantum dot OLED). Using WOLED panels from LG, Samsung made a hybrid tech that provides even more accurate colors at higher brightness.

Not to be outdone, LG responded by adding a Micro Lens Array (MLA) to its panels. According to LG, this “META Technology 2.0” increases brightness by up to 42% compared to conventional OLED displays.

OLED continues to be an industry favorite. According to research by Omdia, OLED was a driving factor in new television purchases, surpassed only by Smart TV function, screen size, 4K/UDH capability, energy efficiency, and brand. Research by Statista forecasts an increased interest in OLED TV panels globally, with an expected revenue of 6.41 billion U.S. dollars by 2026.

LED

Toshiba LED TV.

LED (short for “light-emitting diode”) TV technology is similar to LCD. However, rather than using old-school light bulbs to illuminate the screen, LEDs are used.

LEDs could get much brighter than LCD TVs, and manufacturers could make them much thinner. Thus, they became the new favorite tech option.

LED television screens are also referred to as LED-LCD screens. For this reason, the name “LED” is a bit misleading. These TVs are essentially LCD TVs with an LED backlight. Despite this, LED is generally considered to be the best affordable flat panel HDTV technology and has largely usurped LCD.

Our Personal Experience With LED TV Technology

I’m thrilled with my LED television. The picture quality is clear, and it was extremely affordable. I thought about getting a projector in the past but ultimately was deterred because I didn’t want to deal with the cost of replacing a bulb, and sometimes getting the picture color and clarity perfect can be tricky. My LED TV is mounted on a wall and takes up very little space with its slim design. It’s a great fit for my family’s needs.

Kimberly Alt, Reality TV Enthusiast & Writer For Safe Smart Living

LCD

LCD TV.

LCD (short for “liquid crystal display“) televisions use a liquid crystal screen. Like plasmas, LCDs are flat panels, but people favored this technology for its light weight, making them easier to move around and mount on the wall.

LCD is the shortened version of CCFL-backlit LCD televisions; CCFL stands for cold-cathode fluorescent lamps. The cold-cathode fluorescent lamps are what separate LCD televisions from LED-backlit LCD televisions. CCFLs use charged gas to create light that illuminates the screen.

LCD screens do not illuminate like the phosphors found in plasma televisions. Instead, they use a backlight from the compact fluorescent bulb. This gives LCD televisions a nice image on the screen. They did have one downfall, though: Anything that was supposed to be black on the screen was depicted as a milky gray. Thus, new techcontinued to be developed.

Our Personal Experience With LCD TV Technology

I have both LED and LCD televisions in my house. I love my LEDs as they have a very clear picture and great sound. I love how thin the LCD TVs are, which makes them fit in very small spaces. I have them mounted on the wall, and one on a moveable mount, which makes it easy to maneuver. My children and husband spend a lot of time playing video games, and much prefer LED displays for gaming. You can see the picture well from farther away, and don’t miss out on some of the finer background details.

The LCD TVs I have are a little older and have a less defined picture quality. The LCDs are bigger and a bit heavier. They still work great but do not have the same detailed picture quality as my newer LCD displays. As far as gaming goes, there is a huge difference between the LCD and the LED. My kids don’t like to play video games on these TVs. They say they cannot see the colors and lines as well, especially in lower lighting.

Danielle DeGroot, Couch Detective/Crime TV Devotee & Writer For Safe Smart Living

Plasma

Plasma is one of the oldest available TV technology, but you’ll likely have to buy one secondhand since manufacturers have discontinued production. These were the first “flat-screen” TVs, signaling the transition from the CRT “tube TV” aspect ratio of 4:3 to the 16:9 rectangular screen shape we know today.

Plasma televisions depend on the phosphors that make up the image on the television screen to light up. Think of fluorescent lamps and neon signs, which also use phosphor layers to produce different colors of light. Plasma TVs have tiny pockets of gas in the screen, and when you put electricity into them, the gas turns to plasma and lites of the phosphors. These TVs are emissive, requiring no backlight.

Our Experience With Plasma TV Technology

Back when they were the newest, biggest thing, I purchased a few plasma TVs. I remember being amazed at the color quality and impressed by the larger screen size. The picture was bright, the colors were vibrant, and we could see images at a size we had not before. The plasma television stepped up our viewing experience. Despite the more impressive picture quality, plasmas were very fragile, and the picture quality deteriorated over time.

We also noticed image burn, where an outline of an image would seem to be set permanently in the background of the screen. Another thing that stood out, plasma televisions were super heavy and quite a challenge to move.

I remember several close calls with kids’ toys or pets knocking on the screen or getting too close. In fact, one of my worst memories of plasma television is when one of my son’s friends aimed an airsoft-powered toy at the screen and released a plastic BB. It went right to the center of the screen and shattered it. Because plasma television technology was phasing out at the time, I chose not to replace it with another plasma and instead went with a newer LCD TV.

Danielle DeGroot, Couch Detective/Crime TV Devotee & Writer For Safe Smart Living

Projector

Vizony projector with remote.

Projectors and surround sound systems have recently become more prevalent in homes. They are great for watching the big game, having a cozy movie night, or watching the latest episode of your favorite show. A video projector displays the picture. Television programming can be cast much larger than on the average TV (100″ and larger for outdoor screens, a size that would be prohibitively expensive for a flatscreen TV), giving it the feel that you’re at the cinema.

One thing to note is the bulb for a projector needs to be replaced every few years (2,000 to 3,000 hours of viewing for older models, 5,000+ for newer ones), and the bulbs are expensive (they run into the hundreds of dollars), so this is an added cost to consider for down the road. The actual bulb price depends on the projector model, although we recommend avoiding third-party bulbs, as they can cause all sorts of problems. This is one thing you’ll want to get straight from the manufacturer.

Our Personal Experience With Projector Technology

We had several projectors before large screen televisions got more affordable. The main pros were the sheer size of the screen (our largest was 110″ I believe). The key was having a nice screen, made the picture incredibly clear (next best option is a smooth white wall). The cons included the time it took to power up the projector (a television is instant, a projector took some time), the lack of visual quality without a dark room, and the cost of replacing the bulb every few years (tended to run us several hundred dollars to get an original (the second-market bulbs never worked). 

Alex Schenker, Large Screen Gaming Addict & Editor For Safe Smart Living

Best Features Of Each Technology

Least Burn-In

Image burn will be a problem with any video projection technology if you leave a static picture on the screen long enough. A projector does not suffer from burn-in since the image beams onto a separate screen.

If you leave a video game menu, for example, on a plasma, LED, or LCD screen for long enough, you will discover a lovely burned-in image on the screen. As with a television’s lifespan, the problem of burn-in can be an issue for any television technology, except projectors, based on how you use the TV. When it comes to burn-in, QLED and LED televisions also have less potential for developing burn-in than other options.

We’d recommend a projector if you need technology to display static images.

Winner: Projector

While burn-in is less of a concern than it was with past technologies, the fool proof way of avoiding burn-in entirely is to go with a projector.

Brightness

When comparing the overall brightness of televisions, plasma almost always comes out as the loser. That isn’t to say that plasma televisions are not viewable by any means, merely that they are dimmer than other options. Plasma TVs will be more difficult to see during the daytime.

Projector brightness varies depending on the model and your settings. One thing to be cautious of when buying a projector is that you may need the room to be darker to see the picture. Overall, projector brightness can’t compete with other tech.

LCD televisions rank in the middle of the field on brightness between plasma and LED-LCDs. They offer a light output similar to that of LEDs but not quite equal.

OLED television pixels are called emissive, which means brightness can be controlled pixel by pixel, so they’re great for brightness; however, QLED takes the win, followed by LED TVs. Peak brightness of QLED/LED TVs are significantly brighter than OLEDs. This is one of the QLED’s greatest pros.

According to HelloTech, the peak brightness of the standard OLED TV is around 500-800 nits, while LEDs reach 1,000-2,000 nits, and QLEDs top the charts at 4,000+ nits. Techradar reported that the best OLEDs reach a peak brightness of 1,000-1,500 nits (MLA OLED and QD-OLEDs), but that still doesn’t beat the QLED. According to Samsung, its 98-inch QN100B Neo QLED TV displays 5,000 nits of peak brightness, making it the brightest consumer TV to date.

Winner: QLED

No other displays can get as bright as LEDs. If you intend to place your TV in a bright setting—say in a sunlit room or near a window—an LED-based TV will give you the brightness levels you need to view your show, no matter the time of day. That said, QLED displays win compared to standard LEDs thanks to their peak brightness and color volume.

Black Level

The term “black level” refers to the intensity of the color black on the television screen. You can adjust black level through the “brightness” setting to compensate for room light levels. When set correctly, the black level improves overall picture quality. This feature may be the deciding factor if you are a serious movie lover.

While plasma televisions tend to lose in many aspects of television comparison, their black level is one area where they shine (no pun intended). LCD TVs and projectors place last behind plasma and LED TV technology when it comes to black level.

LED and LCD television screens are in the middle of the road when it comes to black levels. QLEDs perform quite well, but OLED TVs reign supreme. 

Winner: OLED/Plasma

In terms of modern tech, you can’t beat the black level of OLEDs. Because each individual pixel can go from lit to fully off, OLEDs can generate high-contrast images with true black tones. While some LED-based displays can reduce light bleed using mini-LED tech, OLED eliminates the light entirely. If you’re a late-night gamer, you’ll appreciate the dark details and contrast in Game Mode, and the deeper blacks will make the colors on your screen look even better during movie night.

Contrast Ratio

The term “contrast ratio” refers to the contrast between the darkest and brightest parts of the television picture. The majority of what viewers refer to as “picture quality” is dependent upon this contrast ratio. A television with a good contrast ratio will not only have more depth to the picture but also seem more realistic than one with a poor contrast ratio.

This debate comes down to two technologies: OLED and QLED. That being said, OLED is the far superior option. Contrast radio is all about the difference between the darkest and brightest parts of an image that can be displayed, and since OLED can turn off unused pixel completely, it provides infinite contrast.

Winner: OLED

Thanks to its individually dimming pixels, OLED wins the category of contrast ratio. If your TV’s environment doesn’t suffer from brightness, you’ll enjoy OLED picture quality.

Color Gamut And Volume

Color gamut refers to the range of colors that your monitor can produce. While contrast is the difference between light and dark, color gamut looks at the range of colors displayed. Top runners for color gamut are LED, OLED, and QLED. Who comes out on top? QLED reigns supreme. These displays tend to get brighter and combined with a wide color gamut, they display fantastic color volume.

Winner: QLED

According to Avantama, a leader in the production of high-tech materials for electronics, most OLEDs reach around 98% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space; in contrast, QLEDs can exceed 99%.

Viewing Angles

Depending on the TV technology you want, the viewing angle is something you need to consider. Pictures can lose their quality and be difficult to see when viewing certain television types from an angle other than straight on.

If viewing angle is a concern in your household, then the plasma television is the best option since it offers good picture quality from all angles. Where the plasma television takes the lead regarding viewing angle, LCD falls behind again. LCD televisions require head-on viewing for the best viewing experience. Lost picture quality occurs anytime you view the LCD and projector screens off-axis. 

LED and QLED televisions join LCD screens at the bottom of the list when it comes to the viewing angle of the television. If viewed off axis the picture from a LED or QLED screen loses its quality and can be difficult to see overall. On the other hand, an OLED will experience almost no picture degradation.

Winner: OLED/Plasma

Do people surround your TV for viewing during game day or movie night? An OLED or plasma offers the best viewing angles no matter where you are located in relation to the TV.

Energy Consumption

Plasma televisions might come out ahead in many fields, but energy consumption isn’t one of them. Plasmas and projectors are less energy efficient than newer technologies. LCD televisions consume less energy than plasma televisions but still consume more power than LEDs.

QLED/LED televisions are placed at the top of the list regarding energy consumption; this is also significantly improved when the backlighting is turned down on the screen. However, if you’re really looking to reduce energy usage, choose an OLED.

Winner: OLED

While energy consumption depends on the content you’re watching and the brightness level of the TV, the OLED’s ability to turn off pixels naturally reduces energy consumption.

Life Span

Many owners brag about how their television lasts, but a TV’s lifespan is relative to its use. That being said, Rting.com is currently running a two-year longevity test using 100 TVs to see which technology comes out on top.

Winner: No Winner

This category mainly depends on how you use your TV; therefore, there’s no winner.

Size

Size is a matter of preference. Bigger isn’t always better. It just depends on the area where you put your television. You don’t want something so large it will be overwhelming for the space that it’s in. But simultaneously, you want something large enough that you don’t have to squint to see it across the room. A general rule of thumb is to sit away from the screen three times the distance of the size of the screen back. So if your screen size is 40″, then three times 40″ = 120″ (or 10 feet).

A projector is the way to go if your main focus is a large screen. Projector screens take up a large area, but you typically can beam the picture at slight angles if you want the additional wall space. Projectors easily have the largest screen size compared to other options. The space determines the size you have to work with—the farther back you pull the projector, the larger the image beamed onto your screen. The projector screen is thin, and you mount the projector itself from the ceiling, so it’s out of the way.

If you want a thin television, go with an OLED. Since these screens don’t require a backlight, they are the thinnest on the market.

Winner: Projector/OLED

A projector offers the most significant screen dimension. But if you’re looking for the thinnest TV available, go with an OLED.

Things You Should Consider Before You Buy

It is always essential to research the television brand you want to purchase, regardless of your chosen technology. Different brands offer different screen sizes and different features. Most people have their brand allegiances; however, it is essential to look outside of your “preferred” brand to see how your television of choice compares to others in the same category. It is also important to purchase your television through a reputable distributor.

Regardless of what television brand you purchase, there is always a possibility that your television will be a “lemon” (or faulty). There are many reasons for this: it could be a defective part installed during the manufacturing process, or the television was dropped before arriving at your residence. Purchasing from a reputable dealer helps ensure that you are eligible for a refund or replacement if anything goes wrong with your television purchase within the designated period. Many reputable dealers also offer purchasers the option of extended warranties.

Ready To Upgrade Your Home Entertainment System?

Now that you have a better understanding of the types of TVs, learn more about wireless surround sound systems that can work to enhance your entertainment experience. And if you’re ready to go big time, check out these 4K TVs.

What type of TV do you have or recommend? Let us know in the comments!

Why Trust Safe Smart Living?

Tara is dedicated to finding the best information to help conscious consumers. She spends countless hours researching to provide the most up-to-date content for our readers. Tara has personally tested various TV technologies. She currently owns a QLED TV and a projector. She loves her projector for late-night movie watching but prefers her QLED for gaming.

Tara Maurer

Since joining the Safe Smart Living team, Tara has covered topics ranging from home security and identity protection to smart travel and educated living. After graduating with a BA in Multimedia Journalism from Simpson College, Tara began work in the wellness industry. In the past seven years, she has personally tested countless supplements and holds a holistic nutrition certification. Tara is passionate about personal safety, especially for women. It’s a sad truth that most women experience harassment while in public spaces during their lifetime, and we must learn tactics to protect ourselves. As a female runner, Tara has tested various safety products, including alarms, pepper sprays, reflective gear, and tracking devices. When not working, you’ll most likely find Tara running, reading the latest fantasy novel, or trying out a new healthy recipe.

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