Outside of 4K and HDR, there are other important aspects of tv technology that you should be familiar with. Let’s run through the gauntlet of tech jargon together and see if we can’t get through to the other side unscathed…
Let’s list the different parts of what makes a tv a tv. I’ll add the necessary extras.
Refresh Rate: How often the tv refreshes the image on the screen. 60 Hz and 120 Hz native refresh rate are the two numbers you want to look for; 120 is better particularly for fast moving scenes or content. Watch out for companies that advertise “Motionflow 760” and “Cinemotion 920.” These are not the the native refresh rates and are misleading figures. What the effective, not native refresh rate means is that the tv will process in additional frames into the content you are viewing. Some people don’t mind the additional processing but most users will see what’s called a soap opera effect.
Contrast: Difference between whites and blacks. The larger the contrast, measured by a ratio, the better. One of the two most important determinants of picture quality.
- There are two types of LED tv panels. One is called a vertical alignment or VA panel and the other is an IPS or in-plane switching panel. VA panels have significantly better contrast (~5,000:1) but a much more limited viewing angle before colors lose their saturation. IPS panels have much lower contrast ratios (~1,500:1) and much wider viewing angles. In my opinion, the VA panel is the way you’ll want to go. There would likely be few situations in which you would benefit from the wider viewing angle from an IPS panel, but you would always benefit from better blacks on a VA tv. 3,000:1 is really the minimum contrast ratio you want to look for and IPS just can’t get there.
Black and Gray Uniformity: Pretty straightforward, the sameness of the colors of black and gray. The more uniform they are the better the overall picture.
Local Dimming: A feature of newer tv’s that allows the LED light panel to dim certain parts of the screen to enhance the blacks of the image. Can be helpful if done correctly.
Brightness: How bright a screen can get overall, measured in nits. The brighter the better.
- To display HDR content well you either need a strong contrast ratio, .05 black level nits paired with 1,000 nits of peak brightness, or a near-perfect contrast ratio .0005 (OLED only) black level nits and 540 nits of peak brightness.
Viewing Angle: At what point colors lose their saturation at an angle, measured in degrees. The larger the angle, the further off-axis viewing will retain image quality.
Color Gamut: The second crucial element to display quality, how many colors the tv can display. New color gamuts are referred to as “wide” because they can display significantly more colors than the previous standard. A larger color gamut will make colors pop and appear more realistic.
Motion Blur: This is affected by the refresh rate of the tv. A higher refresh rate will show less blur. Important in fast moving content, like video games and sports.
Judder: This is hard to describe but is obvious when you see it on a tv. It is more noticeable on certain content and certain tv’s but it is essentially unclean movement. It’s not motion blur, but stunted movement might be another way to describe this. Judder-free is what you’re looking for here.
Input Lag (Video Games): The delay between you entering a command on your controller and it being registered on the screen. A lower number is better but most 2016 tv’s, definitely the high-end, have a low enough input lag that it doesn’t matter much between different tv’s.
Audio: Most new tv’s have a digital optical audio output that you can connect to a sound system. Some have an analog or 3.5mm headphone jack as well. The best audio output is going to be through what’s called an ARC channel. ARC stands for Audio Return Channel and what it does is eliminate the number of cables you need to connect to your sound system. It can send audio and video “up and down” the cable so you only need one cable to connect to your tv. If your receiver or sound bar has an HDMI ARC input/output port and your tv has an ARC compatible port, you can just plug one HDMI cable from your sound system into your tv and you’re good to go. Read the article under additional information if you want to learn more about ARC. The next best option is digital optical or digital coaxial cable. Analog audio will only output stereo sound and you won’t get the full surround effect from the content you watch so unless you have no other option, don’t use the headphone jack.
That’s a quick wrap of the big tech jargon that’s involved in tv research, hopefully you feel you’ve got a better grasp of it now. Out of all these terms, contrast and color are always the most important characteristics in determining image quality. As always, feel free to Google away on any of these terms and you’ll find a wealth of content. Did we make it through in one piece?
Updated 1/4/2017: Added content regarding VA vs. IPS panels and the audio section. Edited content for coherence.