Wall of TVs

Ever gone shopping for a new HDTV and been confused by all the lingo the salesperson uses? We’ve broken down some of the major terms you may hear or read about as you’re shopping for a new TV set. These days, you can get some great deals on older HDTVs that have fantastic video quality, but may not have all the bells and whistles of a newer, smart TV.

In my experience, it’s best to find out what size television you need and what your budget is before going into a Best Buy or local home theater store. That way, the selections are narrowed down and you can concentrate on image quality. When comparing brands, try to look at screens that are displaying the exact same content. Look at color saturation, contrast, sharpness, and black levels. Although many times the default settings of the TV can be changed to accommodate settings you may prefer (like adding more sharpness or contrast), overall image quality can vary greatly between brands. You may prefer one TV’s design over another, or, whether or not the set is backlit. You may also choose a particular brand depending on particular equipment you already own, such as Blu-ray Disc players or audio systems.

1. 1080p

When you hear the term 1080p it refers to video resolution of 1080 x 1920 progressive scan with a total of 2.1 megapixels. This is the standard for Blu-ray Disc and the highest resolution you’ll find in downloadable movie services such as iTunes and Vudu. Progressive means all lines of the field are displayed, in contrast to interlaced which alternates lines. (See further descriptions below.)

2. 720p

This video format is described as 1280 × 720 (0.9 megapixels). You can find many smaller HDTVs with a maximum resolution of 720p. 720p resolution is typically found in digital download formats from online service providers, and is a format broadcast by television networks.

3. 1080i

1080i is the other high definition format TV networks use, broadcasting a resolution of 1920 × 1080 (2.1 megapixels). The ‘i” in 1080i stands for “interlaced” frames of two sequential fields (the first odd and the second even.)

4. 4k ‘Ultra HD’

is the next evolution in consumer high definition televisions that is defined as having a video resolution of 3840 x 2160 lines and 8.3 megapixels. The term “Ultra HD” is the name given to 4k TVs by the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) for displays with over 8 megapixels and at least 16:9 aspect ratio. The terms 4k, Ultra HD, and UHD can be used synonymously.  Electronics manufacturers are currently pushing 4k sets to consumers, although there is not much native 4k content to view on them.

5. 8k ‘UHDTV’

is a future video format that effectively doubles the pixel resolution of 4k and is 16-times the current HDTV standard with a resolution of 7680 × 4320 (33.2 megapixels). In Japan, NHK (Japan Broadcast Corporation) calls 8k “Super Hi-Vision” and specifies the format with 22.2 surround sound that utilizes 24 speakers including two subwoofers.

6. 3D

TVs that have at least 120Hz can display 3D content from 3D Blu-ray discs, 3D television broadcasts, and other 3D sources. Although 3D broadcasts are limited, large budget movies released to 3D theaters are usually also released to 3D Blu-ray Discs for home consumption. Most 4k ‘Ultra HD’ TVs are compatible with 3D formats.

7. Refresh rate

Refresh rate refers to how many times an image changes on your TV set per second. Most LCDs refresh 60 times per second, displaying 60 images.

TV manufacturers often say they have 120Hz refresh rate even though the set is capable of just 60Hz. One method of “faking it” includes using a backlight (called backlight flashing or backlight scanning) that shows an image twice but the backlight is either dimmed or turned off. Backlight flashing works a lot like a film projector in the way it inserts a black or dimmed frame in between the fully exposed image. However, with modern TVs, as opposed to old projectors, this happens so fast that the human eye doesn’t really notice any flicker.Another method of faking refresh rate uses something called “motion smoothing” or “motion interpolation” to generate frames to match the frame rate. This is where a new frame is processed, or inserted, in between the original frames to increase refresh rate. In this case there is no reduction in the backlight, but results can vary according to content. (See more under “Soap Opera Effect” below.)

Refresh Rate Technologies

TV set manufacturers use different methods to bump up the refresh rates, whether using backlight scanning or processing as mentioned above. Those technologies include but are not limited to:

ClearScan 120Hz – Toshiba
TruMotion 240Hz – LG
Clear Motion Rate – Samsung
AquoMotion 960 - Sharp
MotionFlow – Sony

8. Frame rate

Also measured in seconds, refers to the frequency with which a device produces a unique frame. Most HDTVs these days display images at 60 frames-per-second (FPS). 60i “interlaced” is the standard frame rate for NTSC television in the U.S. and other countries. 24p “progressive” is a frame rate that is typically used by film and video creators.

9. Progressive

Identified by a “p” after the video resolution declaration as in 1920 x 1080p, “progressive” means that all the lines of an image are represented at once rather than alternating even and odd lines that are used in “interlaced” video. Progressive scan is typically devoid of artifacts, and still images can be captured from progressive video because of the full image displayed.

10. Interlaced

Represented by an ‘i” as in 1920 x 1080i, interlaced video uses alternating even and odd scan lines to produce an image. Compared to progressive, interlaced imaging contains more lines of resolution but those are interlaced within each other. Hence, taking still images from interlaced video can yield lesser quality results.

11. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

Is the current method of digitally connecting HDMI-compatible devices to TVs, computer monitors, projector, and audio devices. There are several pin types that include A, C, & D (19), and Type B (29).

12. HDMI 2.0

This latest update to HDMI was released in Sept., 2013 and supports 4k resolution at 60fps an improvement from HDMI 1.4. The version also improves upon 3D capability, adds support for 1536 kHz audio, and up to 32 channels of audio. The channel throughput has been improved from 3.4 Gbit/s (allowed in HDMI 1.4) to 6 Gbit/s for a total of 18 Gbit/s.

13. Smart TV

If you think of your smart phone capabilities you might get an idea of what a smart TV is. A Smart TV is a more advanced television set that allows a viewer (or “user” in this case) to interact with internet media such as social websites, apps, web browsers, and other internet-based services. In contrast, a non-smart TV would require a separate media box (such as a Blu-ray Disc player) to integrate interactivity and applications with your TV set. Smart TVs cost more money, but give you the benefit of expanding beyond just the ability of displaying an image. Smart TVs also have a software platform for which developers may built applications specific to the set.

14. LED (light-emitting diode)

Technology used in LCD television sets to provide full LED backlighting instead of cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) backlighting. LED technology can also be used for edge lighting in some sets, as well as dynamic dimming or “local dimming” used to control brightness and color intensity of individual or groups of LEDs.

15. LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)

LCD displays for the most part have replaced CRT screens and are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly to dispose of. Liquid crystals do not emit light directly by themselves, and so require a backlight system to modulate light. Most LCD screens today are produced with LED backlighting.

16. OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode)

OLED TVs are more costly than LED/LCD displays but have a faster response time, more viewing angles, and can be created on flexible materials. As well as television sets, OLEDs are also used for phone displays, handheld gaming devices, and computer monitors. OLEDs, unlike LEDs, do not require a backlight.

17. Plasma

used in larger sized HDTVs, plasma televisions utilize tiny cells of ionized gases. Plasma TVs were at least partially popular for their closer resemblance to cinema given deeper black levels, contrast and wide color range. The disadvantages of plasma TVs include higher power consumption and screen burn in, although newer models improved upon those drawbacks.

18. Aspect Ratio

refers to the relationship between height and width. Aspect ratio (among other applications) is used to describe the height and width picture ratio for televisions and media. Traditional television sets in the U.S. had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (4:3), while standard HDTVs have an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16:9). Cinema aspect ratios in the U.S. include 1.85:1, 2.39:1 and 2.40:1.

19. Cloud TV

A term heard more and more these days Cloud TV refers to TVs that have cloud features like streaming movies and TV shows, connecting with people via social media, storing and managing photos, and calendars among other services.

20. Soap Opera Effect

This one really drives film and video aficionados nuts. The soap opera effect (SOE) is when your TV turns a $100 million dollar film into what looks like a cheap soap opera. Most HDTVs these days have it, and unfortunately manufacturer settings generally default to it. This “effect” happens because the TV is attempting to reduce motion blur inherent in movies when displayed on TVs (because most movies and high production TV dramas are shot in 24fps), but adding more frames to smooth out the transitions. Look for settings in your TV that specify “motion smoothing” or “motion interpolation” and turn them off!


Jeff Chabot

Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.