Basic Video Terminology Explained

By Geoffrey Morrison

When shopping for a new TV you may run across terminology and acronyms that you’re not familiar with. While meant to help, they’re often needlessly confusing. If you want the best TV you can get for your money, a working understanding of the most important terms is key. Here is a quick guide to the most commonly used lingo, and whether or not you should care about it.

Contrast Ratio 

This is a number representing how dark the TV can go, compared to how bright. While important, there’s no required method to measure it, so the numbers are often complete fabrications. You can’t compare one manufacturer’s numbers to another. Best to ignore.

Refresh Rate

How often the TV refreshes, or changes, the image on the screen. The least expensive TVs will do this 60 times a second. Higher numbers, with LED LCDs, indicate potentially lower motion blur (where moving objects on the screen look soft). If you watch a lot of sports, higher refresh rates are good to have. Plasma televisions don’t suffer from motion blur like LCDs, and also use a different method to create their image. As such, their refresh rate numbers aren’t directly comparable to LCDs.

Smart TV

This means the TV has Internet-connected apps that let you do a variety of things, usually stream music and movies (via services like Pandora and Netflix), and surf the web. There are external media streaming boxes, like Roku and Apple TV that offer similar functionality to older, non-“smart” TVs.

Local Dimming

This is a feature found in many LED LCDs, which improves the apparent contrast ratio. Not all local dimming is the same, and some are vastly better than others. Generally, the more “zones,” or how many areas of the screen can be dimming individually, the better.

Ultra HD or “4K”

 Almost all modern TVs are “1080p,” which is a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080. Ultra HD is four times that, 3,840 by 2,160. Right now there is very little content available at this resolution. That fact, along with some other issues, means that you should be cautious jumping into Ultra HD. Your next TV might be Ultra HD, but for right now, 1080p is just fine.