In 2020, Samsung will start the push towards 8K TVs by removing its most advanced "QLED" LCD technology from 4K TVs.
Samsung's LCD technology
Last year's Q90R 4K "QLED" LCD TV had approximately 500 dimming zones. The 2020 successor, Q90T, will have around 100 dimming zones. In an LCD TV, the number of dimming zones determine factors such as contrast, luminance control, accuracy, peak brightness and HDR picture quality overall.
In many ways this sums up Samsung's TV strategy for 2020. This year, Samsung 4K TVs will from a picture quality standpoint be less capable than last year's models. If you want the South Korean company's most advanced LCD technology - not just in terms of resolution - you will have to buy an 8K TV.
Also read: Samsung unveils its 2020 line-up of 8K and 4K LCD TVs
TV makers will, of course, always try to make you buy something more expensive, and this was bound to happen, but it is nevertheless the first year that Samsung 8K TVs are notably more capable than its 4K TVs. Last year's 4K flagship Q90R utilized roughly the same LCD technology as the 8K flagship Q900R/Q950R.
The development also runs counter to the notion that new advanced technology will trickle down to affordable products over time. While this is sometimes the case, it is useful to think of LCD technology as a 'sandwich'. Layers such as LED zone dimming or a quantum dot film can be added but also taken away in order to save costs. This is very different compared to self-emitting displays such as OLED, microLED or QD-LED where most picture-related qualities are inherent to the panel.
The market for LCD TVs
Why now? Well, if you analyze the competitive landscape over the last two to three years, you will find that Samsung has been struggling to compete in the high-end 4K TV segment against 4K OLED TVs that are becoming more affordable. High-end LCD has been pushed into larger size classes, and particularly striking is the fact that last year's 55 and 65-inch 4K Q90R remain far more expensive than competing 4K OLED TVs.
Something had to change in 2020.
In some ways, current market trends resemble what happened between plasma and LCD TVs years ago. As LCD TV panels became much cheaper to produce, plasma TVs - despite their strengths - lost competitiveness and were pushed into various niches. High-end LCD TVs are still competitive in the segment for large-sized TVs where OLED TVs remain prohibitively expensive but with time that will change, too.
So Samsung is doing what any reasonable company would do. It plays to its strengths and utilizes the fact that production costs for 8K LCD TVs are far lower than production costs for 8K OLED TVs - even if you are not actually getting true 8K resolution on those Samsung 8K TVs. In the meantime, it waits for its next technologies such as microLED or QD-OLED to mature.
This does not mean that premium 4K LCD TVs will disappear in 2020. China's TCL has most recently launched its miniLED-based LCD TVs that will remain available this year but eventually advanced miniLED technology will also move to 8K LCD TVs where TCL and others can retain a higher price. Analyst company IHS Markit expects investment into LCD to dry up by 2022.
Nevertheless, one consequence of the shift in the competitive landscape is that buyers looking for top 4K picture quality in 2020 may need to steer clear of Samsung's 4K LCD models - or look for discounts on last year's TVs before they are discontinued. You can learn more about Samsung's TV line-up for 2020 here.