Decoding the Modern Living Room: Deciphering the Jargon

Our first installment in the ongoing series defines the key terms you need to know

HDMI 2.0 Specifications

This is probably the most boring section of this guide, but it is easily one of the most important. Not all HDMI ports are created equal, and choosing the wrong plug or the wrong device can spell disaster for your entire entertainment experience.

We already discussed how much more color and brightness data is involved in showing and HDR image, and when you couple that with the 4x resolution increase of UHD, your TV needs to receive and read a lot of data. To that end, the HDMI specification has been updated a few times over the last few years to HDMI 2.0, a standard that can handle nearly twice the data transfer of your older HDMI devices.

This means that any and all pieces of gear in your entertainment setup need to support HDMI 2.0. If you have a 4K UHD Blu-Ray player hooked into a 4K TV, but there is an HDMI 1.4 stereo receiver in the middle, your TV will never see the HDR signal.

Television Panel Technologies

If there is any place where a slick marketing move or quick-talking salesman can mislead or confuse you, it will be panel technologies. For example, there are currently four main panel types on sale today, LCD, LED, QLED and OLED. Except that is all a lie, as technically there are only two currently produced panel types.

See how confusing this can get? Let’s break it down.

LCD

LCD technology is the basis for all modern flat panel television construction. LCDs have been in use in some form for decades, and they all work in a similar fashion. A thin film of crystals is agitated via electricity to produce an image, and then some sort of light is placed behind the image to illuminate it and make it visible. This technology makes up the vast majority of TVs on the market, and that includes the deceptively named “LED televisions.”

LED

On a technical level, the only difference between an LED television and an LCD one is the backlight. Where older LCD televisions made use of cold cathode tubes for their backlighting technology, a few years ago some companies started moving to LED backlights. This brings several advantages such as lighter weights, thinner profiles, and reduced power consumption. A full-array LED backlight is also what helps to create sharp contrast with local dimming technology. But while there are advantages, at the end of the day, the two technologies are far more similar than marketing would leave you to believe.

QLED

QLED is a new technology being pioneered by Samsung that makes use of Quantum Dot technology to increase color, brightness and contrast levels. At its core QLED TVs are just better versions of LED backlit LCDs, but thanks to some magic their LCD panels do have some much higher quality features. Quantum Dots are nanoparticles that will emit certain wavelengths of light when stimulated with electricity. When you embed these dots into an LCD panel, they can be used in conjunction with the standard LCD and backlighting technology to create a more vibrant and color accurate picture. This technology could be the future for HDR displays as it allows for a striking level of brightness.

OLED

OLED stands for organic light emitting diode, and this technology comes with some incredible benefits and some less than ideal tradeoffs. Whereas the previous three TV technology designations rely on an LCD screen and some sort of light to produce an image, OLED Televisions operate in an entirely different way. The light is the image. OLEDs operate in multiple colors, so instead of lighting up a panel with an image, the OLEDs themselves light up to create the image.

A good way to explain the difference in LCD and OLED is to look at the old Lite-Brite toy. An LCD operates like the Lite-Brite, in that you lay out your colored image and the light inside the toy makes it bright and visible. Now imagine if instead of inserting pegs, the entire Lite-Brite itself could glow different colors.

Because there is no need for an image panel, OLED televisions are even thinner than LED units. They have even made these panels flexible, and they can be so lightweight that LG made one that is hung on the wall with magnets. Because power is only used by the exact LEDs that are on at any given moment, OLEDs are also remarkably power efficient.

And finally, because the individual OLEDs can be turned off, OLEDs have the greatest black levels of any TV technology on the market. In almost every way the OLED television provides a better and more vibrant visual experience than anything else on sale today.

There are downsides to OLED however. Because the OLEDs themselves light up, brightness levels are limited, and maximum brightness levels are nowhere near what LCD TVs can offer. Secondly, OLED TVs can have image retention issues where an image can remain burned on screen for several minutes after powering off. Finally, due to the way they are manufactured and produced, OLED televisions tend to be the most expensive on the market.

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