Confused about TVs? Every TV acronym and technology explained

We'll do our best to break it all down for you

Been into an electronics store lately to look for a new TV?  Read a few reviews online?  Confused?  Don’t worry – so are we.  The technology in new TVs is complicated and becoming increasingly hard to compare – so just how do you tell the OLED from the ULED from the QLED and the SUHD?  Let’s give it a crack.

First and foremost, lets help you understand what’s changed in TVs in the last few years in terms of resolution (picture quality) and core technology.

Resolution

When we first started getting these new flat-panel and Digital TVs we also started to hear about HD or High Definition.  The amount of definition refers to the number of pixels on the screen.  Get right up close to your TV and you can see the dots – those are pixels.

Forgetting the old style TV, lets look at the four most common TV resolution terms in use today:

HD (High Definition) On a HD screen there are 720 lines of pixels from top to bottom of the screen. There are 1280 across the top – making the resolution 1280 x 720.
Full HD (Full High Definition) Stepping it up a gear, Full HD packs 1080 rows of pixels from the top to the bottom of the screen.  Across the screen from left to right are 1920 pixels – giving you 1920 x 1080 “resolution”
4K This is more of a marketing term than anything else.  First adopted mainly by Sony on their TVs at a time when others were calling their new resolution “Ultra HD” in the consumer TV market 4K means UHD or Ultra High Definition (see below).

To be clear, there is a “Cinema 4K” which is used in projectors, you won’t find this on a TV at Harvey Norman or JB Hi-Fi

UHD (Ultra High Definition) On a UHD/4K screen there are 3,840 pixels across the screen from left to right, and a massive 2,160 from top to bottom – 3,840×2,160. If you were to take all the pixels from your Full HD screen and put them side by side, then again on top of each other, you’d fit four Full HD screens into an Ultra High Definition Display. The quality leap is phenomenal.

It goes without saying that the more pixels on screen the better the picture will be.  Blades of grass on a football field are more easily defined with extra pixels to represent them. Interestingly however, the smaller the TV the less need there is for resolution as the naked eye will still see 720 as excellent picture on a much smaller screen – that’s a very personal view though.

Perhaps more importantly these resolutions are only as good as the content you feed into them.  Watching your old VHS recordings on a 4K/UHD TV won’t look that great,  in fact awful.  In 2017 we’re seeing more and more 4K content being made, in particular on the streaming TV services.  Don’t hold your breath for broadcast 4K content though – unlikely that will ever happen.

Picture Technology

It used to be people would ask if they should buy a Plasma or an LCD TV.  Now the options are many and varied and more than somewhat distorted by extra words and letters the manufacturers are adding.

An LCD TV is still what you’re buying today.  The advance in technology was to use LEDs to light the LCD – allowing TVs to get remarkably slimmer.

So, what’s what in the market:

Plasma These were great TVs – they had an amazing picture in particular for fast-moving content like sport.  They sucked power, were expensive to produce and weren’t environmentally fantastic, so they just don’t exist any more.
LED Forgetting the hard-core technological definition – an LED is a tiny light that shines behind the LCD screen to allow you to see the colours being produced.  These are the most common TVs on the market, and problematically there are many – many – methods by which manufacturers get the light out and shining bright.

The thinnest LED TVs are “edge lit” meaning the LEDs are actually around the edge of the screen – you can often see this on a black picture with white words on screen – the area above and below the white word will look ever so grey not black as the light bleeds behind the other pixels before it reaches the pixels displaying the white word.

A better picture comes from “backlit” LED TVs.  In this case you’ll find smaller “local” areas of the TV are able to be lit to give you a better lighting result.   Hard to tell in store, but when you’re watching a movie with all the lights off – you’ll notice.  Where possible, backlit is preferred but given our love of the super thin TVs it’s quite hard to find some times..

OLED The holy grail of TV technology, Organic Light Emitting Diodes are smart cookies – each individual pixel on the screen (there are over 8 million of them on a UHD/4K screen) can be lit.  So if one pixel is white and the next one is black, that’s exactly how they appear.  This gives crispness to the picture, and means the blacks are blacker than on any other TV which makes the contrast to the colours even greater.

Just ask the question is it LED or OLED – that’s your first and most important question.

Manufacturer Acronyms

Welcome to the reason we’re all confused.  In the last two years new acronyms have been created to define some specific technologies that the manufacturers are using to differentiate their TVs from the competition.

The underlying technology is all the same as I’ve outlined above – it’s a case of LED vs OLED, but these technologies are used to enhance a picture (primarily LED) and differentiate.

SUHD This is Samsung’s premium TV from 2014.  The S stands for nothing in particular but it does designate the highest grade of screen Samsung are selling.  It has features like Quantum dot in the later years.
ULED Specific to Hisense’s premium TV range, Hisense describe this technology in relation to the selective backlighting of the screen.  Rather than standard edge-lit technology, Hisense were able to create partial sector lighting, and what that does is bring the TV much closer to the premium OLED in quality with nothing like the cost up front.
QLED Welcome to 2017, where Samsung adds a Q to the LED specifically relating to the Quantum dot technology.  They reckon they’ve improved the technology no end, and there will be better viewing angles and brightness as a result.  It’s an LED TV with Samsung’s Quantum dot technology.  Simple as that.

Buzz Words and Enhanced technology

To sell new TVs a whole bunch of new enhancements are being added to our screens.  Most often these are in the premium TVs at the high-end, but it trickles down and is starting to show in the lower priced models too.  Here’s what the buzz words mean for your next

Quantum Dot Christ, you want me to explain Quantum physics.  Nope, not going to happen here. I had a Quantum physicist try that last year, failed.  What you need to know is that this technology is not exclusive to Samsung, others do and will have this technology.  It’s essentially a film that is applied to the TV to enhance and in some cases provide light to the pixels.  The long game here is that it matches or betters the performance of OLED – it’s not there yet, but it is beautiful.  Providing a stunning colour profile and brighter colours.
Nano Cell LG will start to push this in 2017, their premium TVs will feature Nano Cell technology which to be frank – does what Quantum dots do.  LG argue the viewing angles will be better than Quantum dot (though their demo was on 2016 Quantum dot TVs not the newer version), and it will improve the brightness of the colours.  We’ll wait to review it before we decide if it’s just a buzz word.
Upscaling This is actually a really really important feature of a modern TV.  You can have 8 million pixels on the screen.  But if the content you’re watching was filmed with 1 million pixels in mind – what do you do?  A cheap crappy 4K/UHD TV will just stretch the content pixels out over the available pixels on screen.  However, an advanced TV from companies like LG, Sony, Samsung and Hisense will do a much better job.  It will intelligently determine how to display the picture and you can get 4K like content from a Full HD TV show or Movie.
HDR High Dynamic Range.  Again, not new, but new to our TVs – HDR attempts to better show the brighter colours and the darker shadowed areas of a picture without blowing one or the other out of recognition.  Movies and content is now being produced in HDR meaning the latest TVs can do some stunning stuff with the very latest content.  For your Broadcast TV content the TV will do its best to make the picture better, for newly created Streamed or Blu-Ray content you’ll get a notice that you’re watching HDR content and it will be displayed as the content creator intended.  To confuse the matter further, there are four types of HDR!  HDR, HDR 10, Hybrid Log Gamma and Dolby Vision.   Sadly, it’s going to mean some movies will be made with particular types of HDR, and your 2016 HDR TV won’t truly show it.  In the future (some LG 2017 TVs already do this) we hope TVs will support all types of HDR.
Dolby Vision Carrying the Dolby name means something in movies, and manufactures are racing to sign up and work off these brands.  Dolby Vision is just a type of HDR to the end-user, but to the genuine movie buff you’ll be looking for 4K Blu Rays with Dolby Vision certification and pairing that with a TV certified for Dolby Vision.

So, there you go – none the wiser?

Might not help you understand every advertisement that you see this year, or every listing for a new TV online – but perhaps you can better choose between one and another by cutting through the jargon!

If there are buzz words or acronyms not covered here, hit me up in the comments, I’ll add it here!

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Trevor produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He has a weekly radio show on 2UE, as well as appearances across the country and regularly provides Technology Commentary to Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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