For the past several years, OLED TVs from LG—and last year, one from Sony—have topped the Consumer Reports TV ratings. Those televisions can show the deepest black tones in an image, and look great when viewed from any angle. Meanwhile, the LCD televisions most people buy have been getting better, but even the best of them haven't matched OLEDs in our testing.

But at CES this week, Samsung, Hisense, and other companies are mounting new technological challenges to meet or beat the performance of OLED TVs. As usual, that also means a new diet of technical terms and acronyms for consumers to wade through when shopping this year.

The tech industry is often guilty of overusing jargon and marketing hype—but many of these technologies really can make a difference.


Stay on top of all the tech news with 
CR's guide to CES 2018.
 

Samsung's big TV announcement this year is a 4K concept TV with microscopic LEDs that emit their own light and can be turned on and off. That makes them function more like OLEDs, allowing for deeper black levels in a dark scene. (More on that below.)

Samsung showed off this MicroLED technology at CES with a design it's calling the Wall TV. The television has no bezel around the edges, and its modular design basically allows you to create a TV of almost any size, from a conventional-size display to one that could fill up an entire wall.

You can't buy a Wall TV, at least not yet, but Samsung says it intends to build MicroLED consumer products sometime soon. But the company left out a lot of crucial details, such as how these screen modules would connect to each other and how much any MicroLED TV will cost.

Nevertheless, the Wall TV could be a glimpse into the future of televisions.

Exploring the Dark Side of LCD Tech

Samsung
In addition to the MicroLED concept, Samsung unveiled a number of 2018 LCD televisions that the company promises will offer better color performance, contrast, and deeper black levels.

Last a year, Samsung lauched its top-tier, quantum dot, QLED series of 4K TVs, emphasizing the concept of "color volume," or the TV's ability to maintain the accuracy and vibrancy of its colors even in bright scenes.

In 2018 Samsung is still using that technology, but adding in "full-array" LED backlights. These will appear in the company's top-tier Q8- and Q9-series QLED TVs.

Full-array backlights aren't new, but most TVs, including Samsung's 2017 sets, tend to use edge-lit LED backlights, where the LEDs are arranged along the perimeter of the screen.

Full-array backlights, in contrast, use more LEDs arrayed across the entire back of the panel. Full-array backlights can improve black levels with a feature called local dimming, in which the LEDs are grouped into zones that can be controlled individually. That lets parts of the screen go truly dark during dark scenes.

Samsung says it will have as many as 1,000 controllable zones in its flagship Q9 models—offering much better black-level performance than its 2017 models had. 

We were able to briefly take a look at these new Q-series TVs, and compare them both to Samsung's 2017 sets as well as a few competitive models, including an OLED. The sets did appear to have noticeable improvements in the areas of black levels, contrast, and viewing angles, but we're reserving our final judgment for a full evalution of these 2018 TVs when we get them back in our TV labs.

Hisense, TCL, and LG
Samsung isn't alone trying to raise the performance bar on LCD TVs. 

Hisense is embracing the advantages of the full-array backlight concept, as well. At CES it unveiled a new flagship model, the HD10E, an LCD TV that the company claims will have more than 1,000 local-dimming zones.

Full-array backlights with local dimming will also be available in Hisense's more affordable H9E and H8E-series models this year.

TCL's new 6-series Roku TVs will also get full-array backlights with local dimming in 2018, though the company says it will use only about 120 dimmable zones. At CES, TCL said that later this year it would show a new quantum dot technology, which it called "QD on glass," that will bring that technology to TVs at more mainstream prices.

Even LG, which dominates the OLED TV business, is showing off improvements to its top-of-the-line LCD models at CES. As we wrote previously, the company is using its "nano cell" technology—basically LG's answer to quantum dots—to improve color, and full-array LED backlights with local dimming to improve blacks and contrast.

As always, we'll be buying many of these TVs and bringing them into our labs for thorough testing. We'll be looking at whether 2018 shapes up to be the year that some LCD/LED TVs are able to give OLED TVs a real run for the money.