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Mini LED vs. OLED: What's the difference, and which TV should you buy?

Two TV types sit at the top of the heap in 2024. Here's the breakdown for which one is best for your needs.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Samsung S95D OLED and LG QNED 90T
Jason Hiner and Kerry Wan/ZDNET

TV technology seems to change every year, and if you're shopping for a new set, you might not even know where to start. Choosing the perfect TV for your needs can feel overwhelming, but it's not too tough once you break things down. 

Right now, there are two main technologies to know about: Mini LED and OLED. These two TV styles work in noticeably different ways, and each one has its own set of benefits and limitations.

Also: Neo QLED vs OLED: Which technology is right for you?

In short, in an OLED TV, which stands for organic light-emitting diode, every pixel lights up when the set applies electricity to it. To make different colors, the set passes lights through different filters. If electricity isn't applied to a pixel, it stays black -- for the darkest of dark colors.

Mini LED (which can also be referred to as QLED or QNED, depending on the manufacturer) uses a backlit LCD panel where each pixel is made up of red, green, and blue color filters combined to create different colors. Where the "Mini" part comes in is, instead of one large backlight, the display has thousands of small backlights. In this setup, individual areas, not singular pixels like on OLED, turn off if they need to be black.

You should buy a Mini-LED TV if...

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

1. You want to save a little money or want a bigger TV

Of course, this depends on size and brand, but as a general rule, Mini LED TVs cost less than their OLED counterparts. 

Looking at the latest lineup of Sony Bravia TVs, for example, "customers can get a 65" Bravia 7 for $2,299.99 (or as low as $1,999 at the time of writing), while a 65" Bravia 8 (OLED) costs $2,799.99. Alternatively, one could even consider stepping up to a 75" Bravia 7 for a similar price point," advises Hung Wong, Senior Product Manager for Home Entertainment at Sony Electronics North America.

While OLED TVs do generally have better specifications, that doesn't mean they're right for every situation.     

2. You want (or need) a brighter TV

The nature in which the panel produces images means Mini LED TVs are able to achieve a higher overall brightness than OLED sets. The gap between the two has narrowed quite a bit in recent years thanks to technology developments, but Mini LED is still the clear winner. For example, "LCDs can produce 3-4 times the brightness of OLED when displaying a full-screen white image, allowing them to maintain a wider color volume even in the bright area while keeping great contrast of black levels," adds Wong.

Also: TCL's 2024 Mini LED TV lineup is here, including this eye-popping 115-incher

The Hisense U9N, another fantastic Mini LED set, can emit 5,000 nits of brightness with 5,300 dimming zones. This is most beneficial if you watch TV in an environment with a lot of natural light or harsh overhead lighting that might cause glare.

3. You're concerned about burn-in

Burn-in, or when part of an image on a TV remains as a ghostly background of sorts, even when another image is on screen, is rare, television manufacturers say. But it's not so rare that it never happens; Google, Sony, and LG, among others, all have specific tips to avoid it. 

If you take a look at Reddit or specific manufacturer support forums, you'll find repeated complaints about image burn-in. This usually happens only if a user plays the same game or watches the same channel for a very long time, but the point is it can happen. Because of their screen construction, Mini LEDs are significantly less susceptible to this issue. OLED sets have introduced technologies to avoid burn-in, but if you want to avoid it completely, go with a Mini LED.

You should buy an OLED TV if...

The Samsung S95D OLED
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You want the best picture quality and viewing experience

If you're simply looking for the best picture quality, you're going to want to go with OLED. Since the set can control lighting on a pixel-by-pixel basis, it generally produces a clearer image with improved contrast and darker blacks. 

Mini LED TVs are brighter, but that isn't always a good thing, as images can sometimes appear washed out. OLED also has much better viewing angles than Mini LED TVs, which is ideal if your viewing setup has seating off to the side.

2. You want the best gaming experience

If you're a competitive gamer, you know that every millisecond matters. Between Mini LED and OLED, the latter has a faster response time, or the time it takes pixels on the screen to switch from one color to another. While Mini LED TVs and monitors have a response time as low as 1 ms, some OLED sets have a response of just .1 ms. 

Additionally, OLED TVs were among the first to support Dolby Vision Gaming 4K at 120Hz, making for more fluid graphics. For casual gamers, either option will do just fine. But if you take your gaming sessions seriously and want the best TV display for it, go with an OLED. 

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