Each year TV manufacturers roll out more high-tech TVs — and more confusing jargon. And while it’s easy to find good low-to-mid-range sets for even the pickiest of viewers, the buying process can still be overwhelming if you don’t understand what’s in front of you. Here, a cheat sheet of important terms and a few specs to keep in mind when picking a winner.
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√ Screen resolution: The number of pixels in a TV’s display, which affects its sharpness — generally, the more pixels the sharper the image. It is typically listed as a number such as 720p or 1080p, which is shorthand for the ratio vertical to horizontal in a grid of pixels; i.e., a 1080 resolution is 1920 pixels across x 1080 pixels tall.
√ 4K/UHD: The current highest screen resolution standard. It has four times as many pixels as a 1080p image. Note that unless you sit very close to a very large screen, few people can tell the difference between 4K and a 1080p image.
√ Motion processing: Software that smooths video that otherwise would be blurry due to action or movement onscreen. It is responsible for the “soap opera effect,” which many find objectionable and is often turned off because of it. Every TV manufacturer has its own trademarked name for its version.
√ HDMI: The standard digital input for modern home entertainment gear. Be sure to select a TV that has sufficient HDMI inputs for all your devices (unless you plan to use a home theater receiver.) Also note that practically speaking, all HDMI cables are created equal, so feel free to buy the cheapest.
√ Screen mirroring: The ability to sync with a smartphone, tablet or computer, and display, which device’s screen in real-time. It’s a handy way to quickly view media such as photos or videos on your TV wirelessly.
√ Contrast ratio: Strictly speaking, it’s the ratio of a the whitest white and the blackest black that a screen is capable of displaying. Unfortunately, because of disparities in the way it is measured and software shenanigans, it’s a completely unreliable way to gauge a set’s quality.
√ Smart TV: A set that is able to connect to the Internet and use apps for content, similar to smartphones and tablets. It’s unnecessary for anyone who already uses a media-streaming device such as Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku, which generally are faster and more versatile.
√ Local dimming: An attractive feature that balances out the image a display creates by dynamically boosting or decreasing the backlight in zones. Models that lack the feature can often struggle to produce uniform backlighting, which results in a patchy image, especially around the borders of a display.
√ Display type: The vast majority of HDTVs have what’s called an LCD display. LED-backlit models produce better images. OLED displays capable of far richer images are increasingly available, but for now, only on high-end sets.
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