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Nestled in between the bloated 4K, 8K, and “Beyond 4K” TVs at this year’s CES was an older lighting technology that’s just now gaining traction with consumer display manufacturers — quantum dots.

The inimitable display tech — essentially a semiconductor nanocrystal with quantum mechanical properties — was discovered back in 1981, but it didn’t see commercial release until 2013 with Sony’s XBR X900A series of flat panel televisions.

Quantum dots have previously made some noise at SID Display Week and other optoelectronics events, but CES 2015 was the first show to display them (no pun intended) so publicly. And to wit, it’s the first show where I really noticed an appreciable difference between QD and competing (and complementary) display technologies.

Discerning critics should notice an improved color gamut along with higher efficiencies and reduced costs. The tech site VentureBeat put it succinctly when it said that quantum dots are “meant to provide a more efficient way to light the pixels in the LCD display.” Instead of the white light generated by LEDs, you use blue LEDs.

Still, the higher efficiencies and color gamut aren’t always blatantly obvious — not all quantum dots are created equal, and each manufacturer has their own method for producing them.

One approach — adding the dots to the stack of thin films beneath a display — produces an exceptional product that, nonetheless, isn’t readily discernible from high-end OLED and LED rigs. As you can see below, certain QD offerings are nearly indistinguishable from “legacy” technologies. (And I can assure you it looked no different in person.)

Can you tell the difference? Because I can’t.

But then, some quantum dot TVs looked like something I wouldn’t mind mortgaging my house for (and some even boasted quality and affordability).

The 55-inch quantum dot TV from Chinese company TCL was nothing short of spectacular. Positioning themselves as the market leader in quantum dot technology, TCL is making a big splash in the West, with plans to introduce the H9700 first in Europe and then across the pond in the states. And pricing is key — the TV will retail for $2,000 and outperform pricier 4K models.

The H9700 55-inch quantum dot TV from TCL.

QD Vision provides the optics — or more specifically, their “Color IQ” optic technology — and the company uses a proprietary edge-lighting method that’s far cheaper than the alternatives. According to John Volkmann, Chief Marketing Officer for QD Vision, film is much more expensive per square-inch and costs hundreds of dollars for a large-format display.

The company has over 200 patents and patents pending with respect to quantum dots, and discerning tech journalists — this editor included — consider them the unquestioned leader in QD technology. Most quantum dot demos at CES were hit-or-miss, but the QD Vision exhibit was a revelation.

Even with my relatively low-resolution iPhone 6 camera, you can readily distinguish QD Vision’s quantum dot display from the competition.

The TV on the left leverages QD Vision’s quantum dot technology.

We may well witness a miniature format war in the coming months — a civil war amongst the various quantum dot methods — but the winner should change the entertainment landscape. At the tail end of a display fad — 3D — that was more annoying than revelatory, it’s gratifying to see a truly positive development make some headway.

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