If you had been under the impression that TV screen technologies had peaked already, then think again! 2018 brought us a new candidate for the best TV technology: Micro LED. Micro LED is, by no means, a brand new technology, but it is now beginning to be championed by major brands like Samsung and LG, so now is a good time for you to learn more about it.
Samsung has also confirmed that its Micro LED TV will hit the market this year, so that raises some further questions. We already have LCD, OLED and Samsung’s own QLED displays available, so why should you care about Micro LED? What new features does it bring? Read on to find out.
What are Micro LED Screens?
As stated already, Micro LED is not a new technology; it was invented in 2000 by a research group at Texas Tech University. The first practical demonstration of Micro LED TVs in an actual consumer product can be traced back to 2012; when Sony introduced its 55-inch Full HD display known as Crystal LED. At the time, this display gained popularity because it had a much better contrast ratio and color gamut than the LCD TVs in the market.
The problem with Sony’s technology was that it was rather expensive, and the manufacturing technique it required was not commercially viable for large-scale production. However, this did not stop companies from looking at Micro LED as an investment and working to improve the manufacturing techniques for Micro LED screens. We appear to be closing in on commercially viable production at this point in time, and many would say that Micro LED vs other display technologies is shaping up to be quite the arms race in display technology.
How Micro LED Compares to Other LED Technologies
Before we get into how Micro LED works, it is important for you to have a basic understanding of how its competitors work. These are, in particular, classic LED and OLED displays. In an LED display, the screen is made of pixels, or crystals, that change polarization as they rotate, and hence allow the light flux that created by the backlight of the screen to pass through different colored crystals and form an image.
OLED, or simply, organic LED, has a screen that uses organic LEDs in pixel sizes and the same three colors as classic LEDs. OLEDs emit light, and the brightness of this light changes depending on the voltage being given to the LEDs. This is how the viewer then sees a picture. Since they use organic particles though, OLED screens have a limited lifespan.
Micro LED also uses pixels of three colors, but it consists of sets of ten micro inorganic LEDs. The way that Micro LED screens are manufactured does not allow for viewing angles similar to those offered by OLED and LED screens. The next section explores this in more detail.
How Micro LED Works
Similar to OLED, in Micro LEDs, each pixel is its own light source which it is able to turn on or off as required. Micro LED thus has amazing contrast and no light bleed on any surrounding pixels. Look at it this way: in OLED, if a pixel is turned off it simply goes black, and not just a darker shade of black either. The pixel is off and that’s that; there is no light. Micro LED achieves the exact same results using its aforementioned self-illuminating pixels.
A noteworthy point with OLED screens is that while they are certainly improving, their peak brightness levels are quite limited as compared to current LED screens, and especially Samsung’s QLED screens. Since brightness determines how good a picture is and is also a major factor in the effectiveness of HDR, this becomes a problem. Micro LED has a much better range. Its contrast ratio is 1,000,000:1, which is up to 30 times brighter than that of OLED TVs.
This is because the inorganic material, called gallium nitride, which is used in Micro LED screens and enables the individual RGB LED sources to appear much brighter for much longer, does not have as much of a limited lifespan. As we mentioned earlier, the organic material of OLEDs is diminished much sooner, especially if the screen is too bright for too long, as in 4k TVs.
Manufacturing Problems with Micro LED Screens
Despite how far Micro LED technology has come, there are still high costs associated with manufacturing such screens. There are many reasons behind this; for one, having to place tens of millions of micro LEDs on a screen matrix presents obvious difficulties. The LEDs also need to be tested before installation to ensure that they all have the same brightness and color cast.
It is also not easy to create more appropriately sized Micro LED screens because the required pixel size is quite large and can only function in a larger TV. For instance, the smallest Samsung TV Micro LED TV has a screen of 146 inches and costs about $ 200,000. This is called “The Wall” TV and needs to be watched from a distance of 5 to 10 meters. LG also previewed a 175-inch Micro LED TV in 2018, but there is no information currently available about how you can buy it. Regardless, these TVs are simply not feasible for most buyers. 50 to 60-inch screens are the most popular and most accessible.
So you see, there are certain caveats to the benefits provided by Micro LED screens when you think about actually getting one. Some of these are being addressed by companies like Samsung, who says it will release a 75-inch Micro LED TV soon, which could be more attractive for some buyers, such as those looking for a home cinema experience.
Conclusion: The Future of Micro LED
It appears as though Micro LED truly has the potential to not only take on OLED TVs but to outperform them as well. Just think about it, Micro LED would give you the same black levels as OLED, but with added benefits such as better brightness, lower power consumption, and a longer life-span.
The problem, as we’ve already emphasized, remains to be manufacturing costs. If Micro LED TVs hit the shelves with wince-inducing price tags, they will not be much good to most users. Improvements such as reduced pixel size and cheaper production seem to be underway though, so we can definitely say that Micro LEDs will give OLEDs a run for their money.