HDTV Specs And What They All Mean

HDTV Specs And What They All Mean

Buying a HDTV is hard enough with so many different manufactures, model numbers and sizes, so to make things a little easier we’ve put together a list of the most common specifications you’ll find on the box and broken them down to help you decide when they matter.If you need help picking out the size of your television, we’ve previously mentioned a few good tips for choosing based on your viewing distance. Once you decide on the optimal size for your space, you still need to pick through a ton of other details. Depending on what your primary use is, you’ll want to pay attention to certain numbers and features more than others.


In many real-world tests, people have a hard time telling the difference between the two. In TVs smaller than 40 inches, the resolution seems to matter less to most people, because it’s typically not as noticeable.

When it matters: Right now it’s highly dependent on what you plan on attaching to the TV. What you see on TV is not always in 1080p, but if you plan on watching a lot of Blu-ray movies, the native resolution is in 1080p, so the picture will be cleaner.

If you plan on using an Xbox 360 or PS3, it doesn’t really matter. Most store-bought games run natively at 720p but are upscaled to 1080p. There are native 1080p games out there, but since the consoles need to support everything on the market (including standard definition), most rely on 720p.

If you want a future-proof TV, the higher resolution (and cost) of 1080p will likely get you a little further, but it ends up boiling down to what you plan on using the television for and how big it is. Smaller TVs benefit less from the higher resolution, but if you plan on rocking a ton of HD content, 1080p is the way to go.

Photo by jsparksnj.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio is often listed on TV sets in unfathomable numbers. For instance, a newer TV might have a contrast ratio of 150,000:1, which, to most people, means absolutely nothing. The term itself refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest images, or how dark the black can get and how bright the white can be. Supposedly, the higher the contrast ratio, the better the colours will look.

When it matters: Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Or rather, the numbers you’ll find on a television box don’t matter. It turns out, there isn’t a uniform way to measure contrast ratio and different TV manufacturers do it differently. The numbers mean nothing, so just go with your gut when you’re looking at displays at the store.

Picture Type

  • LCD: LCD (liquid crystal display) is the most common television you’ll see while shopping. The name means it uses the liquid crystals to display the picture and it’s lit by a CCFL (cold-cathode fluorescent lamp). These are the most common options on the market because the lighting works in most homes and the TVs come in any number of sizes.
  • Plasma: Plasma televisions have phosphors that create the image on the screen and light themselves, so they don’t have a backlight. With no backlight, plasma doesn’t have reduced contrast when viewed from wide angles, so if you have a giant, dark living rooming or your favourite chair is in the corner of the room, plasma might be best for you. However, if you’re an reckless-pauser who leaves games and movies paused for hours at a time, be wary of image burn-in on plasma televisions.
  • LED: LED (light emitting diodes) is marketing speak for LCD TVs illuminated by LED instead of CCFL. While they typically cost more than an LCD, LED-powered TVs consume a little less power, so if you’re power-consumption-conscious, it’s the way to go.
  • Dynamic backlight and local dimming: The other stat related to the picture you’re likely to see on a box is either “dynamic backlight” or “local dimming”. Dynamic backlight means the display can automatically adjust the brightness of the light being pushed behind it, while local dimming means that each LED or group of LEDs can be turned on and off independently. Most modern sets employ these techniques and you can ignore it as a selling point.
  • When it matters: Plasma is best for darker rooms and sports. LCD is good for everything else, but if you’re looking for a super-thin and slightly less power-hungry display, the LED lighting is better.

    Photo by christine.

    Refresh Rate

    The refresh rate might be one of the most confusing stats you’ll run into on a set. Typically, you’ll find one of three different numbers: 60Hz, 120Hz and 240Hz. These numbers refer to how often a TV changes the picture. The theory, according to manufacturers, is that the higher the refresh rate, the smoother the video.

    When it matters: Here’s the thing about the refresh rate, for most purposes, it doesn’t matter. Television, movies and games are all produced at 60Hz and adding more doesn’t add anything to the quality of the image. It may make video appear smoother at the store, but that’s artificial and not reflective of the media’s natural state. Basically, ignore this number on the box; it’s not going to be a noticeable difference either way.


    The connections don’t matter as much as they used to, but if you’re using a mix of hardware, it’s still worth paying attention to what you have. These are the connections you’re most likely to come across:
  • HDMI: HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is an all-purpose HD input used for both audio and video. When you’re picking out cables, remember the price doesn’t matter, so just find something cheap.
  • Component Input: Component video is the pre-HD, analogue version of HDMI. You would likely want to use these for DVD players, Wii or other older hardware that supports both 4:3 aspect ration and 16:9.
  • S-Video: S-Video never really picked up much traction in its integration into devices, but TVs continue to support them just in case. If you’re using one, you’ll know it, but if you don’t, it will most likely come packed with your TV anyway.
  • Composite Video and RCA: Composite video and RCA cables are the yellow (video), red and white (audio) cables. For the most part, if you’re purchasing an HDTV, you won’t use these for much, but the input is nice to have around for older gaming systems or cable boxes. They cannot carry an HD signal and the display ratio is locked at 4:3.
  • When it matters: Modern streaming and disc boxes use HDMI, so you want to make sure the TV has enough inputs for the devices you have. If you have an Xbox, a Blu-ray player and a pay TV box, for instance, you’ll want at least three. If you’re using older hardware, say an old gaming system, make sure the TV has what it needs.

    Photo by Chris Kelly.

    All the numbers and stats can be confusing, but hopefully this will help you make a bit more sense out of it all. Once you’ve picked a TV out, make sure you properly calibrate it for the best picture quality.


  • Hate to say it, but this is a way too light review to be helpful in any way whatsoever – in fact, I would even say it’s the complete opposite.

    Little more than just a guide for someone whose old 20inch B&W CRT box died a few months ago, and really just wants something about the same size to plug the Atari into, when not watching Mass for You at Home.

    • I disagree. But for your situation I would recommend just a simple SANYO 22inch LED TV from Big W. I’ve had mine stuck to the wall at my desk and it never fails. If you want to watch blu rays it’s also good because it shrinks down the 1080p video ( High Definition ) to a smaller size and it still looks really great.

  • As I recently purchased a TV, I would like to throw in a few points about HDMI. While it’s true price doesn’t matter, you want to make sure you get a cable that supports the latest 1.4 standard. It has some added functionality it supports.

    You ideally want to get a TV that supports HDMI ARC, and the CEC functionality. The ARC is audio return channel, so you only need 1 HDMI cable to connect to your sound setup (if supported on the other end). It is able to send the TV audio back to the speakers, while receiving the normal inputs from your stereo.

    The HDMI-CEC allows you to control your devices through the HDMI cable by using your TV remote. Again, this is only supported on the latest hifi equipment.

    Also, what about smart TV functionality, like DLNA support? And, I guess 3D. I bought a recent samsung TV that had built in wifi too. Which is great for my apartment.

  • Are you absolutely sure about the refresh rate not mattering?

    They really do the hard sell on refresh rates for making sports games smoother.

    If you are right then it is the biggest scam ever.

    Do you have some references to back your argument?

  • Yeah +1 on the refresh rate. I recently went out and got a Sammy LED 200mhz tv. its EXTREMELY noticeable when you go back to watching screens that are 100mhz or less. the 200mhz mdels (and even the 100mhz to a degree) have no stuttering when the camera pans, its so smooth it makes the panning smooth as butter.

    If you havent noticed it before, go to JB or NH, watch something in under 100mhz, then over. youll be shocked at the difference.

  • “people have argued over whether the higher resolution makes a difference in the viewing experience.”

    I notice the difference almost immediately on my 42″ 1080p LCD.

    The channel logos are a dead givaway – after watching mostly 780p, when you flick to a show in 1080p, the logos are suddenly super crisp and not blurry. Same goes for sub-titles and other non-natural objects on screen.

  • I completely disagree that a different Refresh Rate wont give a noticeable difference. The higher refresh rate with “smoother” images bother me a lot, they look far less natural and far more “videoy” as they take a step away from emulating a film look -which is supposed to emulate real life.

    I can almost appreciate the point that it makes sports better to watch is the higher refresh rate lowers perceived motion blur but in my opinion it just looks plain worse. It makes me feel a little queazy and is often distracting.

    I only ever buy TVs with native refresh rates (50hz here in australia because our video is 25fps and maybe something to do with our electrical signals?) or at least ones where you can turn off the super-duper refresh rate mode

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