Ever gone TV shopping, looked around and wondered, “what the hell does any of this mean?!” LED, HD, refresh rate, 4K, 1080i, 720p; all of it can be extremely confusing and overwhelming, and the only person explaining it to you has the ulterior motive of trying to sell you something. We’re here to help you sort through the mess and figure out what kind of television is best for you.
What does LED mean? What does LCD mean?
The term LED refers to “light-emitting diode,” which is a type of semiconductor (something that conducts electricity, but not too much electricity) that gives off visible light when electricity is passed through it. LED televisions use three colors — red, blue and green — to project images, the electricity conducting through these diodes to create the multi-color images we see on the screen.
LCD refers to “liquid crystal display,” which is a type of screen that uses liquid crystal (which is exactly what it sounds like) that is backlit to create the images we see on the front of the screen. Since liquid crystal, unlike the light-emitting diodes, cannot produce its own light, it needs another source to shine through it.
All televisions billed as LED use both technologies, with the LED array behind the liquid crystal display, often as an all-white array. More recently, and more expensively, there are RGB (red-green-blue) LED arrays that provide greater color definition. What you want is an LCD that uses LED technology and not just a straight LCD (these use cold cathode fluorescent lamps and do not have the longevity of an LCD-LED), since the LCD-LED will have the power efficiency and longevity of both technologies, as well as the high quality image you want in a television.
Keep an eye out for OLED televisions, which are true LEDs, no liquid crystal involved, but are currently realllllyyyyyyy expensive. Sony and LG both released OLED TVs at CES this year that look stunning but are several thousands of dollars in price.
What does HD mean? UHD?
Now that we’ve defined the kind of light sources and displays most modern, affordable screens possess, what do these other things mean?
HD just means high definition, which refers to the standard of resolution higher than “standard definition.” It includes resolutions 1080p, 1080i and 720p. UHD is “ultra-high definition,” which is the consumer display and broadcast standard of resolution. UHD essentially includes 4k and 8k resolutions, although the UHD resolutions are slightly lower than the professional film class 4k and 8k resolutions.
UHD televisions are high-end, meaning you’ll have to shell out some serious dough to stay trendy in TV land. Most shows and movies haven’t been filmed in UHD resolutions or aren’t broadcast in it, so you may want to wait on that 4k and stick with your 1080p.
What is 1080p? 720p?
These terms refer to the native resolution of the television screen. The “p” refers to “progressive scanning,” which is a way of displaying moving images, like a TV show, in which each frame (the individual still images that make up a “moving picture” or video) is drawn completely and instantly, as opposed to interlaced video (like a 1080i TV), where each frame is drawn alternating the odd and even lines in the image to create the frame. Basically, the “p” is faster than the “i” and creates a crisper image with little to no blur. You want “p” technology when you buy a TV.
The numbers are the pixels present on the screen. For a 720p TV, which is 1280 width by 720 height, you get a total of 1,036,800 pixels on the screen; for 1,920 by 1,080, you get 2,073,600 pixels, effectively creating a sharper, more detailed image. The higher the number, the better the picture.
How about Hertz and refresh rate?
The “refresh rate” of a TV or monitor is the number of frames (still images) per second it can display. If you’re a gamer, you’ll see this a lot as “fps” or “frames per second.” When you see a tag for a TV or monitor that says something like 60Hz refresh rate, the Hz (Hertz) is a unit of measurement equal to one second. Why don’t they just say frames per second or “frame rate,” you ask? I have no idea.
Right now, not much is filmed at anything higher than 60Hz, and modern consoles can’t project at higher rates than this. The only reason you’d want a TV with anything higher than a 60Hz refresh rate is if you’re a PC gamer and you have one beast of a graphics card.
What does 4K mean?
4K is the highest resolution consumer televisions possess, although most consumer TVs are the UHD standard of 4K, which is slightly lower than its professional film standard (3840×2160 versus 4096×2160). As I said earlier, most shows and movies aren’t being filmed or broadcast in 4K, so unless you want to really be on top of things, 4K isn’t a necessity in your home right now. Watch for sales as their popularity grows, but otherwise, don’t worry about it.
After all that, what kind of TV do I need?
Do you watch a lot of movies? Netflix? Or are you more of a gamer? Do you just want a TV to keep up with your local news? As much as I want to say that everyone needs a wall-mounted 90-inch 4K TV, you probably don’t. Unless you’re screening films in your expensive 12-seater home theater, you probably only need, at max, a 50-inch, 1080p regular old unsmart television. If you’re a big streamer, go for a smart (Internet-connected, usually with apps) TV so you can have wireless app integration and not need peripherals like the Roku or Apple TV. If you like to game, maybe shell out for a 4K with a high refresh rate, since it seems the gaming industry might catch up to that tech before television, thus giving you a top-of-the-line graphical experience (although you’ll need a powerhouse PC to get that kind of fidelity).
What about this 8k nonsense?
8K is, as you might have guessed, double the resolution of 4K, meaning it provides an even clearer, smoother image than its predecessors. There are no 8K TVs on the mainstream consumer market (you could probably find one online for around $25,000, though), so don’t reach for your wallet yet. If you’re curious as to why 8K is so important now, with 4K just becoming popular, check out this article from Crews Control about transitioning to 8K.