QLED TVs get a lot of attention, and rightfully so. The “Q” stands for quantum dots — tiny little particles that can emit light when you pass energy through them. These quantum dots give QLED TVs much better color accuracy than a standard LED TV. When combined with a powerful backlight and leading-edge image processing, the result is TVs that have superb picture quality, especially when displaying high dynamic range (HDR) content.
Before we get too much further, we should point out that this list is composed of TVs that we have not fully tested yet. But we are intimately familiar with the models that preceded these TVs, and based on our in-depth knowledge of the technologies and detailed briefings with manufacturers, we feel confident that these will be the QLED TVs to beat in 2021.
However, we’re beginning the review process on all the new 2021 TVs, and we’ll update this list with our findings — the good, the bad, and the ugly — so come back regularly over the following weeks to see if your favorite model is as good as we suspect it will be.
So, with that caveat firmly in place, we believe the Samsung QN90A Neo QLED 4K TV is the best QLED TV you can buy. It has a sharp design, Samsung’s superb upscaling technology, a huge array of leading-edge features, and it uses mini-LED backlight technology for some of the deepest blacks on a QLED TV so far. We think the QN90A will be a great pick for most people, but if you’re looking for something else, we’ve pulled together four more QLED TVs, each with its own unique strengths.
The best QLED TVs at a glance
Why you should buy it: Mini-LED backlighting makes this the best-performing 4K QLED TV you can buy.
Who it’s for: Those who want a no-compromises 4K TV for everything from games to movies.
Why we picked the Samsung QN90A Neo QLED 4K TV:
The QN90A Neo QLED takes the top spot in this roundup because its predecessor, the Q90T, was already a fantastic QLED TV, but Samsung’s addition of mini-LED backlighting takes picture performance to a new level. Mini-LEDs are tiny when compared to standard LEDs, and you can fit thousands of them into a space that was once occupied by hundreds of the larger LEDs. More and smaller LEDs means much greater control over brightness and contrast at a granular level. It brings QLED TVs within spitting distance of OLED TV in terms of black levels and contrast for the first time.
Samsung has always impressed us with its upscaling technology, so we expect that its latest-gen upscaling chip, the Neo Quantum Processor 4K, will be even better at taking non-4K content and making it shine, with improved levels of detail and texture.
The QN90A is also bestowed with some serious gaming chops thanks to its support of the HDMI 2.1 standard, including variable refresh rate (VRR), AMD FreeSync Premium Pro, 4K 120Hz compatibility for ultrasmooth action, and auto low latency mode (ALLM). HDMI eARC is also on deck, for lossless high-definition audio over a single HDMI cable. It also has a NextGen TV-compatible tuner, so you don’t need to get an external over-the-air (OTA) tuner when your local TV stations make the switch from ATSC 1.0.
Samsung continues to avoid Dolby Vision HDR, but this year it has added support for HDR10+ Adaptive, which uses the TV’s onboard light sensor to automatically adjust HDR brightness and contrast according to your room’s lighting conditions. This saves you from having to manually tweak the TV’s settings every time you open the blinds or adjust the dimming of recessed lighting.
Most TVs aren’t known for their great sound, but the QN90A has several tricks up its sleeve that make for a compelling audio experience: Object Tracking Sound+ uses the TV’s multiple speakers to simulate accurate audio positions for on-screen objects. Q-Symphony lets you pair a compatible Samsung soundbar so that the TV’s speakers and the soundbar work together for a better overall sound. SpaceFit Sound uses the QN90A’s onboard mics to analyze your room’s acoustics and make adjustments automatically, while the Active Voice Amplifier uses those same mics to adjust dialog settings when loud noises in your viewing area might make it hard to hear speech.
The QN90A’s mics are employed once again for far-field voice recognition, letting you control Samsung’s Bixby, Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa without reaching for the remote.
Why you should buy it: It has 8K resolution, an incredibly thin chassis for a non-OLED TV, and every conceivable feature you could want.
Who it’s for: Those who want to be ahead of the evolution to 8K.
Why we picked the Samsung QN900A Neo QLED 8K TV:
While it’s true that native 8K content can still be hard to find, an 8K TV — especially one like the Samsung QN900A Neo QLED 8K TV — is still the way to go if you want top-notch performance for your non-8K material while you future-proof yourself for the coming 8K tsunami. The QN900A is dazzling, both on screen and in terms of its design. Its bezel is virtually nonexistent, giving you that all-picture experience that many crave. The ultrathin frame can hang flush on a wall thanks to its separate One Connect breakout box, which connects to the TV via an almost invisible umbilical cable. But unlike previous models that used this design, the QN900A comes with an optional stand that hides the OneConnect box, giving you the best of both worlds.
The QN900A, like the QN90A above, is chock-full of high-tech features like mini-LED backlighting, HDMI 2.1, HDMI eARC, 4K at 120Hz gaming, VRR, ALLM, Q-Symphony, SpaceFit Sound, NextGen TV, and HDR10+ Adaptive. But with Samsung’s Neo Quantum Processor 8K and its Ultimate 8K Dimming Pro lighting control, you get an even higher level of picture quality. With a 6.2.2 80-watt sound system, you may not even feel the need to add a soundbar. Equipped with Wi-Fi 6, the QN900A should have all of the wireless bandwidth needed for streaming 8K video when the time comes, as long as you have a compatible Wi-Fi 6 router.
Samsung’s new smart remote control is solar powered, so there’s no need to replace its batteries or plug it in to charge.
Right now, we’re guessing that the QN900A will own this spot for 2021, but there’s a chance it could be replaced by Sony’s Master Series Z9J — its flagship 8K TV. Sony hasn’t said if the Z9J uses mini-LED backlighting or not. If it does, then when you consider Sony’s best-in-class image processing, it might just steal the QN900A’s crown — but we will wait until we get both in for testing before we make any changes here. One area where we already know the Sony will have an edge: Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision — two leading audio and video formats Samsung doesn’t support.
Why you should buy it: Its superbright picture and HDMI 2.1 compatibility make it a great gaming TV.
Who it’s for: Those who want excellent picture quality and gaming features for a very affordable price.
Why we picked the Vizio P-Series Quantum X:
Vizio has always been a leader in TV value, and the P-Series Quantum X is no exception. It has a strikingly bright screen that lets you place it anywhere in your home without compromising on picture quality. That same brightness also means that HDR content really pops, whether you’re viewing material in HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, or Dolby Vision format.
But gamers will really appreciate that Vizio has loaded the P-Series Quantum X with the latest console-friendly features. Support for HDMI 2.1 means you get VRR and ALLM on tap. Native 4K gaming at 120Hz promises ultrasmooth graphics, while AMD FreeSync Premium prevents screen tearing when using a Microsoft Xbox console. Dynamic Tone Mapping is a nice option for those who prefer to play with boosted HDR settings.
The P-Series Quantum X is also no slouch in the smart-connected department. The SmartCast operating system has support for virtually every streaming app you can think of. It also plays nicely with other ecosystems — Apple AirPlay 2, HomeKit, and the Apple TV app are all supported, as is Chromecast. The TV is compatible with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so if you have one of these smart speakers, you can use them to control the P-Series Quantum X.
Why you should buy it: Sony’s image processing is second to none, and this is the company’s best 4K QLED TV.
Who it’s for: Anyone who puts a priority on picture quality above all else.
Why we picked the Sony Bravia XR X95J:
We have yet to lay our eyes on the Bravia XR X95J, but we already know that, barring a complete surprise from Sony, this TV will provide an incredible picture. We say that with confidence because of Sony’s track record. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re watching the company’s OLED models or QLED models, Sony just keeps nailing picture processing. The color, contrast, shadow detail, peak brightness, and upscaling are all impeccable, which is why we suspect that the X95J will be the TV of choice for cinephiles looking to buy a 4K QLED TV.
New for 2021 on all of Sony’s Bravia TVs is what the company calls Cognitive Processor XR. It takes over from the already superb X1 Ultimate Processor and employs artificial intelligence to adjust the way images appear on screen. Instead of treating the entire image as a single entity, Cognitive Processor XR purports to analyze all of the different elements that make up the image, treating each as its own object — much the way our brains do.
Pair this new image-processing tech with support for HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, IMAX Enhanced, and Netflix Calibrated modes, and the X95J should be a cineaste’s dream come true.
But there’s more to the X95J than just image quality — way more, in fact. Sony has thrown in the full HDMI 2.1 spec, complete with HDMI eARC, VRR (following a software update), ALLM, and 4K video at 120Hz. There’s also support for the Apple TV app, Apple AirPlay 2, Apple HomeKit, and Chromecast. With far-field microphones, you can do hands-free voice commands with Google Assistant, or with the TV’s own built-in search system.
Many of Sony’s Android TV-powered models are getting the Google TV interface for 2021, which will make the X95J an excellent streaming media companion. Google TV curates content from your streaming media accounts and makes personalized recommendations for what to watch, instead of making you flip from one app to another.
Sound is also a strong point thanks to Sony’s Acoustic Multi-Audio — which embeds multiple speakers into the TV’s frame — and its ability to virtualize Dolby Atmos, giving a simulated sense of width and height to surround sound movies and shows.
Why you should buy it: TCL combines the elegant Roku TV interface with QLED and mini-LED technologies at an unbeatable price.
Who it’s for: Those who want a premium TV without the premium price.
Why we picked the TCL 6-Series (2021):
Ever since CES 2021, TCL has been very quiet about the exact features that will grace its latest Series-6 smart TVs, but if the company’s previous model is anything to go by, it will once again define what people can expect from an affordably priced TV.
Last year, TCL introduced mini-LED backlighting on the 6-Series, proving that the miniaturized light sources can make a big difference to contrast, black levels, and detail. This year, we expect TCL will further refine its mini-LED technology with what it calls OD Zero, an even smaller mini-LED light that leaves no space between the backlight and LCD layers. If it performs as expected, it may diminish the picture quality difference between QLED and OLED to the point where it’s almost impossible to tell which is which — though QLED-based TVs will be brighter.
TCL has already stated it will sell 8K-capable 6-Series models, which will likely make the 6-Series the most affordable 8K TVs on the market. Neither Vizio nor Hisense — TCL’s two main competitors in the value category — has announced 8K models for 2021.
We know that TCL will continue to use Roku’s excellent smart TV software for its 6-Series as well as include support for Apple AirPlay 2, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. Given that the current 6-Series already supports most of the HDMI 2.1 spec, including VRR, ALLM, HDMI eARC, and 4K at 120 Hz, we expect this year’s model will officially adopt HDMI 2.1.
The one area where TCL typically holds back is in audio. It’s an easy way to keep the price of the 6-Series from jumping into Sony and Samsung territory. It’s also worth noting that TCL used CES 2021 to debut the first soundbar that connects wirelessly to Roku TVs, so we may see some attractive packages for people who want to buy both devices.
Research and buying tips
The “Q” in QLED stands for quantum dot, a nanoparticle that emits light when energized. Quantum dots can be tuned to emit specific wavelengths of light, so TV makers add green and red quantum dots in a layer over their blue LED backlights, which creates a much purer white light than a single LED backlight can create on its own. With a pure white backlight, the TV’s color filters can produce much more accurate colors, leading to significantly better picture quality than regular LED TVs.
UHD stands for ultra-high definition, also known as 4K. It’s a description of resolution, or the number of pixels that make up an on-screen image. It can refer to the resolution of a specific piece of content (many streaming services offer movies in UHD) as well as the native resolution of a TV. QLED refers to the kind of display technology a TV uses (see above). QLED TVs come in various native resolutions, from HD to 8K, including UHD.
It depends. Right now, QLED TVs are capable of getting brighter than OLED TVs, but OLED technology delivers better black levels and contrast. We feel that OLED TVs still produce a better overall picture quality, but if your viewing area is especially bright, or if you want a really big screen, QLED models might be a better choice for you.
Once again, it depends on your particular situation. For instance, if you want a TV for your patio, where it will experience partial or full sun, an OLED TV simply won’t get bright enough to compete with all that daylight, and a QLED TV is definitely superior. On the other hand, if you can darken your media room whenever you want, an OLED TV will still deliver the deepest blacks and highest contrast.
Finding the right QLED TV for you is all about balancing size, picture quality, features, and price. First, figure out your budget, then prioritize the rest of your list. If getting the biggest TV for your money is the top priority, you’ll be able to find 75-inch and larger models from brands like TCL, Vizio, Hisense, and LG that are still quite affordable. If picture quality matters more — especially when viewing HDR material — you should choose a model with a very high peak brightness. If gaming is a top consideration, make sure you find a model that’s equipped with VRR, ALLM, and 4K at 120Hz for the best possible experience.
Samsung has two flagship QLED models depending on whether you want 8K resolution. The QN900A is the company’s top 8K model, and the QN90A is its top 4K model. They share many of the same features, but Samsung claims the QN900A is the company’s very best QLED TV.
Yes, but picking the right model is key. You’ll want to look for a TV that has the latest HDMI 2.1 features, like VRR, ALLM, and 4K at 120Hz. Another feature that gamers will appreciate is support for AMD’s FreeSync or Nvidia’s G-Sync, which are two proprietary VRR technologies used by game consoles like the Xbox Series X and many gaming PCs.
No. Burn-in is a permanent form of image retention caused by leaving the same image on a TV for many hours at a time. In OLED TVs, this can cause individual pixels to age prematurely, leaving the “shadow” of some parts of the image on screen even after the image has changed. Because QLED TVs use a backlight for their brightness, their pixels aren’t susceptible to this kind of uneven aging.
Theoretically, a QLED TV will outlast an OLED TV, at least in terms of maximum brightness, because OLED pixels lose their ability to produce brightness at a faster rate than a QLED TV’s backlight. But you would likely have to keep your TV on for eight hours a day, seven days a week, for many, many years before this difference became noticeable. That said, a QLED TV should last a decade or more as long as none of its individual components fail — something that can be hard to predict even for the best TVs.
QLED prices, much like OLED prices, are dropping all the time. A few years ago, you’d need to spend well over $2,000 for a 65-inch QLED TV. Today, you can find them for less than half that price.
Definitely. If you have a choice between a standard LED TV and a QLED TV, the QLED model will deliver brighter, more accurate colors, which should yield a better image overall. And as QLED TVs become the norm for non-OLED models, you won’t have to pay much of a price premium to get one.