We report on a one-step hybrid atmospheric pressure plasma-liquid synthesis of ultra-small NiO nanocrystals (2 nm mean diameter), which exhibit strong quantum confinement. We show the versatility of the synthesis process and present the superior material characteristics of the nanocrystals (NCs). The band diagram of the NiO NCs, obtained experimentally, highlights ideal features for their implementation as a hole transport layer in a wide range of photovoltaic (PV) device architectures. As a proof of concept, we demonstrate the NiO NCs as a hole transport layer for three different PV device test architectures, which incorporate silicon quantum dots (Si-QDs), nitrogen-doped carbon quantum dots (N-CQDs) and perovskite as absorber layers. Our results clearly show ideal band alignment which could lead to improved carrier extraction into the metal contacts for all three solar cells. In addition, in the case of perovskite solar cells, the NiO NC hole transport layer acted as a protective layer preventing the degradation of halide perovskites from ambient moisture with a stable performance for >70 days. Our results also show unique characteristics that are highly suitable for future developments in all-inorganic 3rd generation solar cells (e.g. based on quantum dots) where quantum confinement can be used effectively to tune the band diagram to fit the energy level alignment requirements of different solar cell architectures.