TV features you should (and shouldn't) care about

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Is SUHD really better than UHD, or is that “S” full of it? Is HDR better than 4K? What’s the difference between 4K, HDR, OLED, UHD, SUHD, UHDBD, and all the other letter jumbles?

Good questions.

The TV world is filled with impenetrable jargon, and TVs can get expensive, so it’s certainly worth taking a moment and figuring out what’s what. After all, you wouldn’t want to get your UHD HDR OLED confused with your 4K SUHD LED LCD.

HDR

Should you care? Yes

This is the big buzzword of the year, and rightly so. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, are TVs that offer brighter highlights and richer colors than regular TVs. This year all the top-of-the-line TVs offer HDR compatibility.

One thing worth keeping in mind is that the HDR on TVs is different from the HDR feature you’ve probably seen on your camera or phone.

It’s also worth noting you’ll need HDR content to take advantage of this feature.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

4K and Ultra HD (UHD)

Should you care? Sort of

4K and UHD are effectively the same thing. They’re both terms used to describe the new higher-resolution TVs currently on the market. Where HDTVs are usually 1,920×1,080 pixels, 4K and UHD TVs are 3840×2160 pixels — that’s four times the resolution.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that resolution is only one aspect of picture quality, and not one of the more important ones. Contrast ratio and color are far more important. Between two TVs, the one with a better contrast ratio and more accurate color will look better over one with higher resolution.

That said, it doesn’t much matter. If you’re in the market for a mid-range or high-end TV, especially one 50 inches or larger, it’s going to be 4K. With one exception (the LG 55EG9100 OLED, above) there really aren’t any high-end 1080p TVs anymore.

If you’re looking for a budget TV, don’t pay extra for 4K resolution. If you’re looking for a really good TV, consider one with HDR — all the HDR TVs are 4K anyway.

Local dimming

Should you care? Definitely

Nearly every TV on the market today is an LCD (also called LED LCDs or just “LEDs”). Though they have their strengths, contrast ratio isn’t one of them. In order to make the bright parts of an image brighter, without also making the dark parts brighter, LCDs use local dimming. How they do this, and how well, varies a lot depending on brand and price. The short version is that an LCD with local dimming will almost always look better than an LCD without local dimming.

Many, but not all, mid- and high-end LCDs have local dimming, and it’s no coincidence that many of the best-performing LCD TVs CNET has tested offer this feature.

OLED

Should you care? Yes

As mentioned above, nearly every TV on the market is LED LCD. The exception is a handful of TVs from LG, which are a completely different technology: OLED.

We’ve consistently found that OLED TVs offer the best picture quality on the market. Their biggest benefit is a significantly better contrast ratio than LED LCDs, even those with local dimming. So the picture on an OLED seems more natural, with more “punch.” The downside? They’re a lot more expensive than most TVs.

Still, if you’re looking for the best picture quality, and don’t mind paying for it, OLED is the way to go.

SUHD

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you care? Not really

SUHD is just Samsung’s name for its top-of-the-line TVs, all of which offer 4K resolution, HDR and so on. They aren’t necessarily better than other UHD TVs.

Since this is just Samsung‘s overzealous marketing machine turning it up to 11, you don’t need to worry about it other than as an indicator that you’re looking at a high-end Samsung TV.

Quantum dots and nano crystals

Should you care? Probably not

This one is pretty technical. In order for LCDs to create color, they use color filters. Essentially, those are little plastic strips of red, green, and blue. The darker you make them, the more realistic the color, but that means the TV will be dimmer overall. Quantum dots are tiny particles that glow a certain color, and they’re exceptionally efficient at doing it.

For our purposes here, if you see a TV with quantum dots, such as a Samsung SUHD TV, that just means it has the potential to create the brighter image and wider color gamut you get with most HDR content.

nanosys-qled-hero-amanda-carpenter-and-oleg-grachev.jpgnanosys-qled-hero-amanda-carpenter-and-oleg-grachev.jpg

Two vials of photoluminescent quantum dots next to a prototype blue photoelectroliminescent QD.

Nanosys – Amanda Carpenter and Oleg Grachev

So they’re cool, and will likely get even cooler in the future, but if you’re just looking for the best TV right now, quantum dots aren’t worth caring much about. That’s because many TVs without quantum dots, such as OLED models or Sony’s better sets that feature “Triluminos,” have color that’s comparable to QD-enabled TVs.

Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray

Should you care? Maybe

To get the most out of your Ultra HD 4K TV you need to have Ultra HD 4K content. The easiest way to get it is through streaming. Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and a bunch of other services offer 4K content, and some of them offer HDR too. On the other hand, streaming content depends on a solid Internet connection, often costs extra, and the movie you want to watch may or may not actually be available (let alone in 4K and HDR) on the service you subscribe to or that works with your device.

Enter Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray discs and players. It’s just like regular Blu-ray (and DVD before it), but in Ultra HD resolution, often with HDR. You need a UHD Blu-ray player (and UHD BD discs), but the price difference between those and traditional Blu-ray aren’t huge.

UHD Alliance Premium Certified

Should you care? Probably not

The UHD Alliance is group of nearly every TV company you’ve ever heard of and many you probably haven’t. They have tasked themselves with making sure the transition to Ultra HD goes smoother than how the transition to HD did in the ’00s. They came up with a certification (which, of course, most of their TVs pass) that establishes a baseline of Ultra HD and HDR performance. Ideally, it’s a useful shorthand to find TVs that perform to a certain level.

The catch, of course, is that a TV that isn’t certified might outperform one that is. Case in point, both the Vizio P series and Sony XBR-X930D both earned a picture quality score of 9/10 from CNET and neither is certified. The Samsung KU8000, which we gave a 7/10, is certified.

It’s safe to say that if a TV is UHD Alliance Premium Certified, it’s probably pretty good. If the TV next to it isn’t certified, that doesn’t mean it is bad.

Any other terms you’re curious about? Ask in the comments below.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics such as why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. OLED, why 4K TVs aren’t worth it and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his sci-fi novel and its sequel.



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