With Mini-LED televisions dominating the higher-end LCD market, it’s easy to get confused between this new TV technology and the similarly named Micro (or “µ”) LED. While the names sound the same, MicroLED and Mini-LED are very different.
What is MicroLED?
The easiest way to understand a MicroLED TV is to compare it to OLED. If you look up and close to an OLED TV you will see the result of millions of individual organic light-emitting diodes forming both the brightness (luminance) and colour (chroma) of the image. By allowing for a control for each individual pixel, where diodes can be turned on and off like a light switch. The result is amazing picture quality, perfect contrast, and true blacks while reducing blooming and the greyish black levels LCDs can produce.
MicroLED operates in much the same way, but instead of one diode per pixel it uses non-organic LEDs at a rate of three per pixel. Each pixel can be turned on and off and can produce a different colour than the one next to it, and as such can produce the perfect combination of colour, contrast, and the blackest possible blacks on an LCD television.
The pros and cons of MicroLED
MicroLED was designed to improve the image quality of LCD backlit televisions and to avoid some of the issues you may see with OLED TVs.
Pixel aging and burn-in
With an OLED TV, there is a slight disadvantage in that the luminance of the pixels is lower than the equivalent LCD image on screen. OLED cells also age over time, forcing the television sets to limit their peak brightness as well as raising some concerns about image persistence.
Image persistence is often dubbed “burn-in”, and it refers to when certain parts of the screen have aged at different rates than other parts of the panel. That can, in extreme circumstances, result in part of the screen being less bright than another (where, say, a game score, or a broadcast logo resides), meaning when a full-screen bright image is shown you’ll see the effect on some older sets. While modern OLEDs have extremely sophisticated methods to eliminate this concern, these limiter technologies mean that the screen cannot produce the same HDR impact as its LCD cousin.
LCDs, meanwhile, may be mostly immune from such peak brightness concerns, allowing as bright an image as can be accommodated by the caliber of the backlight system. The downside is that even the most powerful algorithms designed to boost black-level performance pale compared to even entry-level OLEDs.
All that post-processing means that, to make any LCD look its best, the response time of the TV slows down. For gamers and the like, where milliseconds matter, OLEDs capacity to deliver its top picture with all the processing turned off makes it a clear winner.
MicroLED is an attempt to have it both ways
MicroLED displays use individually controlled colour pixels like OLED so they have rapid response time, but as they are non-organic LED they don’t have the same aging or burn-in as OLED. Because they don’t use algorithms to boost black-levels either, and the result is a technology that can create displays of almost any size with perfect blacks, impressive peak-brightness, and speedy response time.
With MicroLED, the possibilities are endless
Remember how the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation allowed the crew to walk into a completely photorealistic virtual space? Or how about Total Recall, where Arnold Schwartzenegger’s character sits at a table and behind him is a bucolic scene of a mountain-side lake that was being created by a wall-sized screen? With MicroLED it’s now technically possible to perform this kind of magic trick, depending on what your budget is for your setup!
With Micro-LED panels, your screen can be made into many different shapes to fit your environment
Companies like Samsung have been demonstrating MicroLED displays for several years now at events like the Consumer Electronics Show. In 2021, you can actually buy one of their “walls” made up of individual squares of MicroLED panels that combine to form an array of any shape.
How will that fit into your living room? Want a true cinema screen that’s 2.35:1 widescreen? No problem. Need something that’s super tall to show off on the wall of a club or store? How about some weird shape that has a screen fit between some architectural feature? The sky is the limit. You can assemble these blocks in any shape you want. The final resolution will depend less on the display elements themselves than how the controlling mechanism talks to them and how they’re driven in tandem.
You could even fill four walls and your ceiling and floor to make a real-world holodeck. This is being done currently with conventional LEDs to shoot The Mandalorian and the upcoming Avatar sequels on virtual sets, and in years to come this may become the norm for all productions.
Current models that use MicroLEDs start at sizes of around 80” and go up to well over 200”, making something that’s movie-screen size where each pixel is able to be individually brightened or darkened. The tech could conceivably replace every big screen in the world, ridding the need for back projection in favour of an even more impressive image that’s self-illuminating, with near-infinite resolution, and able to cover as massive an area as your budget will afford.
With MicroLED, there’s even more opportunity to truly make high-resolution images of titanic proportions.
The exciting future of MicroLED
MicroLED is a technology that’s developing into something you’ll soon be able to place in your living room, but there are a few things to be refined before it can truly be mainstream.
Currently, large MicroLED screens are connected like building blocks, and because of that there are visible seams where they meet. That means in certain implementations you’ll actually see the grid lines where each element connects. Another issue is that the smaller the LEDs become, the harder it is to blast out light. That means that as the technology of LED production improves the sets will too, achieving in-time values that will trump anything available today.
Early adopters will certainly crave the benefits of robust technology with OLED-like blacks, and time will soon show about how this groundbreaking technology will affect not only consumer televisions but architectural installations, sports stadiums, theatres, and downtown spaces.
Along with other hybrid solutions that provide the fidelity and flexibility of LCD with the 1:1 pixel control of emissive solutions like OLED, the next generation of displays looks to be incredibly exciting. MicroLED will be at the forefront of this significant technological leap.