When a new display technology claims to compete with OLED technology, we're skeptical. Having rigorously tested four OLED televisions, the data is clear: OLED is the uncontested champion of black level and, by extension, contrast—two of the most important aspects of a quality TV.
We've seen many LEDs that claim they can overcome the issue backlight bleed—TVs like Sony's full-array 4K set with zoned local dimming—but even the best LED TVs on the market can't hold a candle to the worst OLED we've tested.
Until today, we would have told you with confidence that no LED can compete with OLEDs on viewing quality, period.
U Is the New O
But today, our confidence was shaken—by Hisense, of all companies—when we got an up-close look at the newest panel technology on the market.
ULED, short for Ultra LED, is an iterative improvement on the current LED technology, and it's impressive indeed. In its booth, Hisense mounted a commercially available OLED TV alongside one of its latest ULED televisions, brazenly inviting the comparison.
Going back and forth between the OLED and ULED TVs, I found it nearly impossible to declare a definitive victor, at least in the bright ambient lighting of the Hisense booth.
The ULED set's black level, contrast, color, and motion all stood up in a to head-to-head comparison with the OLED. Even bright objects moving through a black background didn't create the halo effect that's typically on display from even the best locally dimmed full-array TVs.
ULED Impresses, Even Up Close
The black levels on the ULED TVs are astonishingly deep—so deep that they made us wish we traveled with our lab equipment. We're dying to know just how low these ULEDs can go.
Based on a quick visual comparison in an approximately 150 lux convention center booth, the ULED and OLED have indistinguishable black levels. That's saying something, since OLED bottoms out at about 0.001 cd/m2. Crazy, we know, but that's what we saw.
How Did They Do It?
What makes these ULED TVs so good? We posed the same question to Hisense representatives, but they would only divulge the most basic information.
According to a company rep, it starts with 144-zone full array local dimming. Hisense then added quantum dot technology to widen the color gamut and hit a 100% NTSC color space.
When we pointed out that neither of these technologies alone could account for the observed black levels, the representative added that Hisense also included 13 patent-pending technologies. Unfortunately, he declined to expand on the nature of those technologies, with a knowing smirk.
Hisense plans to bring ULED televisions to China first, with Europe and the U.S. to follow soon after. No American release dates or prices were announced, which likely means we'll have to be patient for another year or more.
The race to affordable infinite contrast ratios is on, and while OLED is still in the lead, ULED could be a real dark horse.