Hands-on with the game-changing Mini LED backlighting tech that Sony hopes could dethrone OLED

Sony has taken the wraps off dramatic new TV backlighting technologies that it believes will elevate Mini LED above OLED (even QD OLED) in the picture performance stakes.

The company has developed new panel driver tech that it suggests will enable Mini LED screens to offer more dynamic HDR, delivered with greater precision. Intrigued, we travelled to Sony HQ, Tokyo, for a closer look.

Behind closed doors, HCC was shown prototype display wizardry that will have enthusiasts rethinking their next choice in panel technology.

The headline takeaway is that Sony seems to be strategically positioning Mini LED, not OLED, as the preferred display technology when it comes to bringing the creators' intent home. Toshiyuku Ogura, Sony Distinguished Engineer, told HCC that Mini LED 'has greater potential when it comes to colour volume, brightness, and viewing angle.'

Light fantastic
Sony has been focusing on three key elements for backlight improvement. The picture processor; the LED driver, which converts backlight data into an LED signal; and the LED itself which converts the LED signal into light.

Boiled down: the greater the peak luminance of source material, the higher the number of bits are required for control. So for 2024, Sony is moving to a 24-bit driver, of which 10-bits are set aside for luminance control.

With this new backlighting approach, a single LED driver can control six channels of four LEDs. Each of these channels might be called a zone, and each is independently controllable.

To demonstrate the precision the new panel IC offers, the Sony team presented Mini LED screens with half their LCD layer removed, so you could better see the pulsating monochromatic backlight in action. This new-found precision was such that it was easy to make out what you were looking at.

In addition to potential picture improvements – and arguably the bigger win from a corporate point of view – is a corresponding reduction in power consumption. Brighter screens that consume less power are the holy grail for all TV companies. Sony's new backlighting technology is apparently around 30 per cent more efficient than what’s gone before.

The Japanese manufacturer has yet to confirm its range plans for TVs in 2024, or whether its new tech will make its debut on any screen this year. Our hunch, though, is that it will make its debut on a flagship Mini LED model in 2024, before migrating down the line in 2025/26.

Unsurprisingly, Sony didn’t want to talk about the number of dimming zones involved, nor peak brightness specifics, although it made a compelling argument that what you are able to do with light control is more important than the number of bulbs you can light.

By way of comparison, it demonstrated its next-gen backlight technology against 2023’s X95L and A80L TVs, and the new prototype panel blew them away when it came to absolute brightness. There were also benefits to be seen regards colour volume and shadow detail.


Sony's new Mini LED backlighting technology (centre) shown next to TVs from its 2023 lineup