LG OLED vs. Samsung QD-OLED: Which Has the Best TV Tech?

The Samsung S95B is one of the first TVs to combine OLED technology with quantum dots, challenging top performers like the LG C2

CR Technicians check out the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
Testers evaluated the Samsung (left) and LG TVs in a Consumer Reports lab.
Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

For the past several years, OLED TVs from LG and Sony have topped our TV ratings, thanks to excellent overall picture quality, compelling HDR performance, and nearly unlimited view angles. All of that has made OLED TVs the top choice for consumers looking for a state-of-the-art TV viewing experience, and who have been willing to pay a premium to get it.

But earlier this year, Samsung and Sony said they’d be offering a new type of OLED TV in 2022, called QD-OLED, that promises a few enhancements—including higher peak brightness and more vibrant colors—that could make OLED TVs even better. The key ingredient is the use of quantum dots, rather than a color filter, to produce colors. (See below for a deeper dive into the technology.)

More on TVs

We just completed the first tests of a new QD-OLED TV, the Samsung QN55S95B, as well as the LG 55OLEDC2PUA, which uses the technology that’s been in all OLED TVs for nearly a decade. This model replaces the LG C1 OLED TV, our top-rated 4K television last year.

Both of these 55-inch TVs are upper-tier models in their company’s respective lineups. The LG C2 set is selling for about $1,800 at retailers such as Best Buy and Crutchfield right now, making it about $400 less expensive than the 55-inch Samsung S95B, currently priced at $2,200 at retailers such as Amazon and Crutchfield.

Below, we’ll get into a lot of detail about our tests and what we found in our labs. But for now, let’s cut to the chase: These sets are among the best 4K TVs you can buy this year, with many of the differences we saw in our labs really only noticeable with the sets sitting right next to each other in the same room.

The Samsung is the brightest OLED TV we’ve ever tested, giving it some advantages in areas such as HDR performance and color vibrancy, even during severe off-angle viewing. But with most content, the LG offered the same level of performance, with colors that sometimes were more accurate, plus better contrast in darker scenes. Neither set could be declared a clear winner—as we explain below in a lot more detail.

TV Tech Talk

Before we get into a more detailed discussion of our evaluation, we need to explain a little about OLED TV technology in general, and how the sets from Samsung and LG differ from each other.

OLED, short for organic light-emitting diode, is what’s called an emissive technology, meaning that each individual pixel gives off its own light. Because each individual pixel goes from bright to fully off, OLED TVs can produce true deep black tones.

In contrast, most TVs are LCD sets, and these require a separate LED backlight behind the screen. That backlight is always on, so an LCD set needs to selectively block that light in certain areas of the screen in dark scenes—but some light always leaks into adjacent areas of the screen. That’s why on LCD TVs even the inkiest shadows often look more gray than jet black. (This can be addressed with a feature called local dimming, but on sets that have it you may see "blooming," or bright halos around light objects on dark backgrounds. This is less prevalent on some newer LCD sets that use Mini LEDs and a very large number of local dimming zones.)

Up until this year, all OLED TVs used a technology called WOLED. This approach uses a white OLED light source—it combines blue and yellow OLED material to produce a white light—plus color filters to produce the red, green, and blue colors of the spectrum. Because color filters absorb some of that brightness, these sets add a white sub-pixel that bypasses the color filter to add extra brightness. The downside is that at the highest brightness levels required for HDR content, that extra white sub-pixel can sometimes make colors look a bit washed out.

QD-OLED TVs, which are being offered by Samsung and Sony this year, take a different approach by using quantum dots—nano-sized crystals—in place of color filters. Much like the QLED LCD TVs we see from several companies, including Samsung, QD-OLED sets use a  blue OLED light source, with quantum dot material producing red and green light. (The size and composition of the quantum dots determine the colors they emit when hit with a blue light.) Because these TVs don’t use color filters in front of the light source, QD-OLED TVs have the potential to reach higher peak brightness levels without losing any contrast. Additionally, the quantum dots help retain the vibrancy of the picture’s colors at higher brightness levels. 

Prepping the TVs for Testing

In our TV testing, we optimize picture quality using the same settings and controls that are available to all consumers.

We started out our HDR testing by putting TVs into Filmmaker Mode. This generally optimizes the picture by turning off features such as motion smoothing, sharpening, and noise reduction that detract from the movie or TV show director’s original intent. (If a TV doesn’t have Filmmaker Mode, we typically turn off any dynamic processing and noise-reduction controls. We also lower the sharpness to a minimum and maximize the OLED panels’ brightness. Then we gradually adjust the settings until we get the best picture.)

On the LG set, we also used dynamic tone-mapping. This feature automatically makes brightness and color adjustments to the TV based on the content being displayed and the TV’s capabilities. We found that when we played HDR movies, dynamic tone mapping improved near-black shadow detail, as well as the overall brightness and contrast.

The setting also allowed for a better comparison to the Samsung. That set lacks a tone-mapping feature, but it seemed to be processing contrast in a way that was on a par with the LG with the feature active.

To check display uniformity—with brightness consistent in all parts of the screen—we stepped through a series of gray images that ranged from dark to bright. Both TVs passed with flying colors.

Test Results

These two sets turned out to be the top-performing models in their size categories, with just a single point separating them in overall score. Both had top-notch HD and 4K picture quality, with excellent black levels, contrast, and overall color accuracy.

They were both able to do a great job revealing the contrast between moderately bright and very bright highlights, while still preserving the brightness levels in mid-to-lower tones, like you’d see in many indoor scenes. And each TV did a good job reproducing shadow detail from black to white, with no obvious banding, which is where you can see subtle bands of shading between colors instead of smooth transitions.

Additionally, both sets were bright enough to give most HDR content the necessary headroom to convey a natural sense of daylight on sun-filled scenes, and keep brightly colored objects nicely saturated.

None of that is surprising. What we were really interested in was their differences.

Luminance readings of the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
When we measured peak brightness, the Samsung hit above 1,000 nits (left); the LG came in at about 850 nits.

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

When we looked at the sets side by side in our TV lab, the most noticeable difference was the higher peak brightness of the Samsung S95B on our HDR test patterns. It was clear that the Samsung is the brightest OLED TV we’ve ever tested. To be fair, the 2022 C2 LG set is brighter than last year’s C1 model, thanks to LG’s OLED "evo" technology, which has made its way down from the G-series sets.

But using a Photo Research PR-740 spectroradiometer (shown above) and a standard 10 percent window pattern, we measured a peak brightness of 850 nits for the LG set, but over 1,000 nits for the Samsung. Until now, we’ve only seen numbers that high from better-performing LCD displays. We assumed that the extra brightness headroom would pay dividends with HDR content, and to a certain extent it did.

We also use the HDR test pattern shown below, with peak white and various gray brightness targets displayed against a moving video background. We believe that compared with the standard 10 percent window, this shows a more accurate representation of how a TV handles brightness with real-world content. Usually, the brightness numbers go down a bit, as they did with the LG. The Samsung’s peak brightness, however, actually increased, which could indicate the set was boosting brightness above the level stipulated by the content’s metadata.

CR Technician check out the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
This test pattern helps reveal how a TV handles brightness in movies and TV shows in HDR. The Samsung set's peak brightness actually increased (left).

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

In addition to test patterns, we also use 4K HDR movie clips, including scenes from “Darkest Hour,” “Interstellar,” “Dark Tower,” “The Joker,” “Planet Earth,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and “Christine.” Both TVs were optimized for best picture: We adjusted the black level settings for best blacks without compromising shadow detail, and tweaked the TVs’ gamma settings for best brightness and contrast in the mid-tone range. (We found that the LG’s gamma is fixed at 2.2 in the HDR mode.)

Using the color and tint controls, we were able to get the two TVs fairly close. But on HDR scenes with a lot of whitish content, such as the terrain from an alien planet in “Interstellar,” we noticed a greenish tint on the LG set, while there was a pinkish tone on the Samsung’s whites. You can see the color differences in the image below.

Color difference between the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
The whites on the Samsung S95B TV (left) have a slightly pinkish tone, while the LG C2's have a greenish tint.

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

That said, these differences were never a distraction, and most likely wouldn’t have been as noticeable if the TVs weren’t viewed side by side. Aside from this tonal difference, color was mostly comparable on most content, with some slight variations. On most scenes, especially indoor ones, the Samsung’s higher peak brightness was very rarely called upon, as both TVs effortlessly reproduced nuanced tonal shades across the brightness range, along with well-saturated colors.

But in certain demanding HDR moments, the higher brightness of the Samsung set did give it an edge, adding a vibrancy that wasn’t always evident on the LG. For example, one scene early in “Darkest Hour” shows Winston Churchill lighting up his cigar; the large flame from the lighter was brighter on the Samsung. In “Interstellar,” the spaceship flies through a hail of glowing sparks, which were brighter and more intense on the Samsung than on the LG.

Another example is a scene showing a volcano’s molten lava trails in “Planet Earth” (see photo, below), the Samsung’s images had extra pop and did a better job conveying the lava’s bright intensity.

Difference in color saturation in the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
During some HDR scenes, such as this volcano lava flow, you can really see the higher peak brightness of the Samsung set on the left.

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

But occasionally, the Samsung also produced an oversaturated look on flesh tones, clothes, and even a male character’s lips, which looked like he was wearing lipstick. In these scenes, the LG looked more natural, with better contrast and detail in mid-tone scenes. (Though it’s likely that many viewers may like these “enhanced” colors.)

However, in daylight scenes, dark indoor scenes, as well as scenes with a mix of bright and dark that can really stress a display’s ability to deliver shadow detail at both ends of the brightness range, both TVs delivered admirably. In the movie "Darkest Hour," lightbulbs glowed equally bright on both sets, and darker shadows and facial highlights showed comparable intensity.

Two other things we need to mention. Unlike most LCD-based sets, OLED TVs have virtually unlimited viewing angles, meaning they don’t lose contrast when viewed from the side of a room. But the Samsung did a better job maintaining color saturation in images even when the set was viewed from a pretty severe angle. On the LG, doing that made the characters’ faces look a bit flushed.

While testing the screen’s reflectivity using a flashlight, we noticed that the LG set (shown below, right) seemed to better absorb the light, while the Samsung set was a bit more reflective. This means the TV will lose a little contrast on darker scenes when the room lights are on.

Direct light seen on the Samsung QN55S95B and  LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
The LG set on the right seemed better at absorbing ambient light from the room, while the Samsung set (left) was more reflective.

Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports

We also noticed that when we got very close to the TVs’ screens, the Samsung set had some unusual color fringing on the edges of objects, something we haven’t seen before. (See the combined photo, below, taken with a phone camera. These cameras apply processing to an image, but this closely represents what we saw in the lab.) It was most apparent on light-colored graphics against a dark background, such as menus, letterboxes, movie subtitles, and closed captions. For example, looking at the letter “R” on the intro title from the movie “The Dark Tower,” we saw a thin green line across the top of the letter, with a thin red line along the bottom borders. To be clear, you won’t notice it once you step back several feet from the screen, but we didn’t see this artifact on the LG set.

Differences in the Samsung QN55S95B and LG OLED55C2PUA TVs
The Samsung, at left, showed unusual red and green fringes on the edges of white object, something absent on the LG.

Photo: Claudio Ciacci/Consumer Reports Photo: Claudio Ciacci/Consumer Reports

CR's Take

As noted above, just about any viewer would be extremely pleased with either of these two top-performing sets. Based on its Overall Score, the Samsung is now the top-rated TV in the 55-inch screen size category in our ratings—though just by a single point. It clearly gets the edge for peak brightness; sometimes offers more saturated, vibrant colors; and in some ways delivers the best HDR experience we’ve seen from an OLED TV. The TV, and its LCD-like brightness, is probably the right choice if you’re most interested in squeezing an extra dollop of HDR performance from a TV.

But within the dynamic range of most content, even HDR, the LG also nails it, sometimes offering more natural-looking images, and occasionally better contrast in darker areas of a scene. It also supports Dolby Vision, which currently has more support in movies and TV shows than HDR10+, which is supported by Samsung. It also costs less and has better sound. Additionally, while LG’s C2-series sets are available in screen sizes stretching from 42 to 83 inches, the Samsung S95B is only offered in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes, at least so far.

But the reality is that you can’t go wrong with either set.

As for the best OLED TV you can buy in 2022, we’re reserving judgment. Both these models are excellent sets, but we still haven’t tested either the new Sony A95K QD OLED, or LG’s flagship G2-series model. We’ll have more to say when we can get these TVs into our labs.