Explaining Everything About MicroLED: The New TV technology set to take on OLED

Just when we thought TV screen technologies had plateaued, CES 2018 introduced a new one: MicroLED. It's not a totally brand new technology, but it's now being championed by Samsung - Apple has shown an interest too - so is expected to take off in a big way over the next few years.

But with LCD, OLED and Samsung's own QLED TVs already on the market, what new features does MicroLED bring and should the competition be worried? Let us explain all.

What is MicroLED?
MicroLED is a flat-panel display technology first developed by professors Hongxing Jiang and Jingyu Lin of Texas Tech University while they were at Kansas State University in 2000. As the name implies, MicroLED displays comprise several microscopic LEDs.

"But I already have an LED set," we hear you say. You probably do. Unless you have an incredibly thin and expensive LG, Panasonic, Philips or Sony TV hanging on your wall, your TV will be LED. And by that we mean it's actually an LCD panel with LED lighting.

LG, Panasonic, Philips and Sony are currently the only manufacturers producing OLED TVs; LG was first to market with its OLED TVs, but all the sets we've seen so far have been fantastic. It truly is the flagship TV tech... until now perhaps.

How does MicroLED work?
While MicroLED TVs seem as though they're very similar to OLED rivals, there are a couple of major differences. With OLED TVs, each OLED pixel is its own light source, being able to turn on or off as required, providing incredible contrast. If an OLED pixel is off, then it's black. It's not just a darker shade of black, it's off and it's pure black.

However, while they are getting better, the brightness levels of OLED tech are limited, and brightness not only determines how good a picture is, but it's a major factor in the effectiveness of HDR content.

MicroLED TVs on the other hand are made up of individual LED chips, each of which has RGB subpixels that produce their own light source, so far, so OLED. However, they lose the organic material found in OLEDs and introduce gallium nitride, an inorganic material.

Using an inorganic material is the major difference and what could eventually see MicroLED become the main TV technology adopted by manufacturers. It's less susceptible to ageing and so has a longer life span, something that can't be said of OLED.

LEDs can also be run brighter than OLEDs, meaning that not only do MicroLED TVs have excellent contrast levels, but they have the brightness to match, and can be up to 30 times brighter than comparable OLED TVs.

When can I get a MicroLED TV?
Samsung unveiled a prototype MicroLED TV at CES 2018, the 146-inch "The Wall" TV. It's highly unlikely you'll have the space, or the money, to buy Samsung's new screen - which it says will go on sale later this year - but the company hasn't said when we can expect to see real-world sizes on store shelves.

The good news is that MicroLED TVs can be modular, meaning you can effectively customise the ideal TV for your room. It's still unclear exactly what screen sizes MicroLED TVs will come in, as the LED pixels themselves have to be a certain size, so there may be a minimum screen size for a 4K resolution, for example. We'll update this as soon as we know more.

On the face of it, MicroLED certainly has the potential to take on and outperform OLED TVs. They can provide similar contrast levels, go brighter, have a longer lifespan and can be produced in various sizes more easily. All we have to wait on now is for the first MicroLED sets to make their way to market and for us to either wince at or be pleasantly surprised by the price. Most likely the former.