Manufacturers continue to diligently search for ways to improve the contrast on an LCD TV. And it seems that mini LEDs will play an important role in this. But what is that, a mini LED TV? How does it work? Is there a relationship with micro-LED? In this background we give you an answer to all those questions.
Mini or micro-LED: is it just the size?
We all know LEDs, the small light source has been providing the light in our LCD for many years. TVs. What is so special about a mini LED and what is the difference with a micro-LED ? The size, that much is clear, although the boundaries are not a hard rule but rather a guideline. We refer to mini-LED as soon as the LED chip is smaller than 0.2 mm (200 µm). If the LED is smaller than 0.1 mm (100 µm) then we are talking about a micro LED, although that limit is sometimes also set at 50 µm.
But there is a more important difference, namely how these LED chips are used turn into. Chips (including LED chips) are typically put in a package and then soldered to a circuit board. That package can be very small, such as an SMD package (Surface Mount Device). But new techniques also allow you to place the chip directly on the board without having to package it first. We then speak of COB (Chip On Board). Mini-LEDs can use both techniques and can still be made and installed with the existing equipment.
SMD LED modules mounted (source: FLICKR – ADAFRUIT )
Micro-LEDs, on the other hand, are becoming only used in COB, and are so small that they require new manufacturing techniques and especially new placement techniques where as many LEDs as possible are placed in one step.
Individual SMD LED modules (source: FLICKR – ADAFRUIT )
Mini or micro-LED television?
So there are technical differences, but does that also result in different screen technology? Absolutely, and that is ultimately the most important distinction.
A TV that uses micro-LEDs is a completely new screen technology (you can find more about this in our previous article about micro-LED ). Each pixel consists of a separate micro-LED, or even three micro-LEDs if we take into account the fact that each pixel consists of a red, green and blue sub-pixel. This also means that each pixel is controlled separately and provides light, just like with OLED. A micro-LED TV therefore shares many of the benefits of OLED. It can display perfectly black, and has a wide viewing angle.
A mini-LED TV is essentially still a normal LCD television, but it uses mini-LEDs for its backlighting. Because they are very small, many can be used, and that means that we can divide the background lighting into many zones, ideal for local dimming. Let us take a closer look.
Mini-LED television = LCD television
Before we further clarify what you can expect from mini-LED TV, we briefly repeat what you need to know about LCD TV. Let’s first clarify the marketing terminology.
- LCD TV: we all know that term (anyone who wants to read the operating principle again can do so in our article on the backlight of LCD TVs )
- LED TV: Originally the light in an LCD TV was generated with small tube lamps, but around 2006 they switched to LEDs as a light source. Since then there has been talk of LED TV, but this is still an LCD TV.
- QLED TV: We see a similar story with QLED TV. It is an LCD TV that uses LEDs as background lighting and where a film with quantum dots is used to create a wider color palette.
- Mini-LED TV: As you can already imagine, this is also a normal LCD TV, but the background lighting is made up of mini LEDs and possibly a quantum dot film.
Mini LED is therefore not a new screen technology, it is an improved light technology for use in the backlight of an LCD TV.
Local Dimming with many zones
What is the added value of a mini LED TV? The most important advantage is that you can create a background lighting with a lot of zones. After all, a zone cannot be smaller than one LED, so if we want more zones, we must also use more LEDs. The current top models that use local dimming are somewhere between the 480 (Samsung 65 ”Q90R) and 720 zones (Sony 8K 85” ZG9). With mini-LED that number can be increased to a few thousand zones, although the exact number will of course depend on the screen size and price point of such a model. That is still not the same as on an OLED TV where each of the approximately 8 million pixels are dimmed separately, but it is a huge step forward.
So many more zones use the backlight , so much more efficient Local Dimming works (re-read here how local dimming works). After all, more zones means that each zone is smaller. That in turn means that the TV has more control over which parts of the screen it can darken by dimming a certain area of the backlight (deeper black), without having to dim neighboring bright accents. Bright accents can then be controlled more strongly for more effect, while the risk of halos or visible segment limits is smaller.
In short, a mini-LED background lighting is a turbo boost for the Full Array Local Dimming technology that we already know today . High brightness, combined with excellent contrast, that sounds very good. Although of course a lot will depend on how well the dimming algorithm works.
Using mini-LEDs also has other advantages. This way you have less diffusion of the light because the LED can stand less far from the LCD panel. As a result, an adjacent zone causes less stray light in a zone that is off or dimmed (better contrast). Moreover, to achieve a very high brightness, you have to control the LEDs less hard, you just have more LEDs that together can give the same amount of light, but individually have to work less hard. Due to the construction method (COB, see the start of this article) mini-LED TVs can also be much slimmer than the Full Array LCD models that we know today.
Price and availability
TCL is currently the only manufacturer that offers TVs with mini LED technology. At CES we also saw an 8K prototype at CES, which even offers up to 4,000 nits of brightness (photo below), but according to LG there are no concrete plans to put it on the market, the focus remains on OLED. From other brands we don’t hear any concrete info for now.
The TCL mini-LED TV that you can buy today is the X10, a 65 inch 4K- model that offers 768 zones. That model uses 20 LEDs per zone (15,360 in total), but remember, only the number of zones is important. If you don’t find that impressive enough yet, TCL is already working on a successor that might be on the market by the end of 2020. TCL calls this technology “Vidrian”. It is an 8K 75-inch model that offers no less than 5,184 zones.
What prices can you expect for all that beautiful things? According to Trendforce analysts, the price will be somewhere between that of a classic Full Array Local Dimming TV and an OLED TV. This is a passive matrix version (such as the TCL X10). The 65 ”X10 costs 2,499 euros (in February 2019).
The second generation Vidrian uses an active matrix, and will therefore be slightly more expensive. That is probably also the reason why TCL currently only bets on an 8K 75 inch model for that version. Premium technology will therefore probably come with a corresponding price tag, at least until more is used on mini-LED.
Other Mini-LED technology use
Mini-LED is of course not only usable for TV. Computer screens will also be able to use it. For example, Asus has the ProArt Display PA32UCG, a 32-inch 4K monitor with 1,152 zones and a maximum brightness of 1,600 nits. Acer has a similar model, the Predator X32. However, the prices of these monitors clearly point in the direction of professional use. The Acer Predator X32 would cost 3,300 euros, the Asus PA32UCG is probably still above that.