Why Your Next TV May Have Mini LEDs

    This new backlight technology may help boost brightness and improve contrast in LCD TVs from Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sony, and TCL

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    Samsung TV seen in a living room.
    Samsung's TVs that use Mini LEDs fly under the Neo QLED banner.
    Photo: Samsung

    Keeping up with TV tech isn’t always easy. Every year, shoppers are confronted with new terms and features promising impressive improvements, many of which don’t live up to the hype.

    But one technology we’re actually excited about—the use of Mini LEDs in backlights—can really make a difference in how some higher-end LCD/LED TVs look and perform.

    Televisions with backlights made up of Mini LEDs are said to deliver improved brightness, contrast, and black levels. The technology started appearing two years ago, but you can now find it in TVs from such brands as Hisense, LG, Samsung, Sony, and TCL.

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    So why all the fuss about LED backlights?

    Most televisions use LCD technology. In these sets, the light comes from the back of the screen or from the sides. The lights are always on, and pixels open and close to let through the right amount of light for each scene. But in very dark scenes, some light always manages to leak through. This can make black tones look gray, and it can create halos around bright objects that appear against a dark background.

    One improvement we’ve seen over the past few years is the use of full-array LED backlights, where the LEDs are arranged across the entire back of the panel rather than just on the edges of the screen. That’s combined with a feature called local dimming, where the LEDs are divided into zones that can be separately illuminated or darkened. The result is that dark areas look darker, and you’re less likely to see halos.

    But even the best LCDs with local dimming can’t quite match the performance of OLED sets. In these TVs, there’s no backlight; each pixel can be turned on and off individually, so if part of a picture is supposed to be completely black, it can be. The great contrast and black levels have helped OLEDs top CR television ratings in recent years. Mini LEDs could help LCD televisions narrow that gap.

    Mini LEDs Improve Local Dimming

    Mini LEDs in the backlight take the idea of local dimming much further. By shrinking the size of the LEDs, companies can use more of them packed together into the same area, so these sets can boast thousands of Mini LEDs behind the LCD panel. These are divided into dimmable zones, but because the LEDs are so small, there can be a lot of them—say, a thousand zones, instead of the dozens typically found in even the best LCD sets up until now. And they can be controlled more precisely to help improve contrast and black levels and reduce halos.

    And by increasing the dynamic range of the TV—the difference between the brightest whites and deepest blacks—Mini LEDs can also help boost a TV’s HDR (high dynamic range) performance. That means you’ll be able to see all the detail in a darkly shadowed scene.

    Combine all of this and Mini LED sets could perform more like OLEDs, while retaining some traditional benefits of LCDs, such as better brightness and a wider choice of brands and screen sizes.

    The concept isn’t entirely new. We tested the first Mini LED model, a flagship 8-Series TV from TCL, in 2019. Right now, our current TV ratings include Mini LED TVs from LG (QNED models), Samsung (Neo QLED sets), Sony (X95K model), and TCL (6-series). Hisense will also have Mini LED backlights in its U8H sets this year.

    Consumer Reports has been impressed with the Mini LED models we’ve tested, says Claudio Ciacci, who heads TV testing at CR. “We’ve seen Mini LEDs can make an improvement in the local dimming feature, with better control of black levels and dark scenes, and significantly reduced haloing effects,” he says. In fact, the sets we’ve tested have done well in our ratings, with top-notch HDR performance.

    Here are a few of the models we’ve tested that include Mini LED backlights:

    James K. Willcox

    I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.