Get Caught Up on TV Buzzwords

A glossary for 2017 TV buyers

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With each new year, TV makers seem to spend just as much time manufacturing new buzzwords as they do new TVs. While technology reporters like us lives and breathe all this jargon, most people shopping for a TV may find themselves confronted with a wall of impenetrable acronyms.

Here’s a brief primer for your journey towards the checkout counter.

4K

4K refers to the resolution of a TV, specifically a TV that has approximately four thousand lines of resolution. That’s about twice as sharp as a high definition (HD) TV. 4K has been around for several years and the price has dropped significantly in that time. While most broadcast and cable channels are not broadcast in 4K, there are several Netflix and other streaming options that do. Don’t worry, though—a 4K TV still looks good when displaying HD, or even standard definition, programming.

UHD or Ultra HD

Short for ultra high definition, UHD is frequently used interchangeably with 4K, though they’re not technically the same. UHD is an umbrella term for a few different standards. All current UHD TVs have a resolution of 4K, but the UHD standard also encompasses the next generation: 8K. But don’t expect to see any of those for a few years.

HDR

HDR is short for high dynamic range. HDR isn’t technically a type of TV; it’s a format that a TV can play. In effect, when you watch HDR-mastered content on a TV that supports HDR, you get a wider range of brightness levels, richer colors, and higher contrast (brighter whites and darker blacks). Overall, the picture is more lifelike, though it's also tied to how much brighter and more colorful the TV is than a non-HDR TV.

HDR10

One of two major HDR standards, which has major improvements to color, resolution, and contrast compared to high definition and even early-generation 4K TVs.

Dolby Vision

The other major HDR standard. It is a little more ambitious than HDR10, but less commonly supported. For most people, the differences are very technical and not noticeable at this point.

LCD

Short for Liquid Crystal Display, LCD technology is like the cat with nine lives. Every time it seems like its possibilities have been exhausted, somebody finds a way to tack a new innovation on top of it and make LCDs relevant again. Any TV that is not an OLED is an LCD TV, including “LED TVs.”

LED

Short for light emitting diode, LED TVs are just a clever rebranding of LCD TVs. What changed? In the past LCD TVs used fluorescent bulbs for the backlighting. When that backlighting was upgraded to LED, most companies rebranded the whole TV as “LED” to give it a fresh face.

OLED

Short for organic light-emitting diode, OLED refers to the material used in the TV’s screen. Unlike LED displays, when an OLED’s pixel is black, zero light is emitted. That makes OLEDs very good at displaying shadow detail—a trait highly prized by enthusiasts and TV nerds. Currently, only LG has the ability to produce large, high-quality OLED panels at scale. While other brands may sell one or two models with OLED, those panels are all manufactured by LG.

SUHD

Samsung’s former marketing term for a wide array of higher-end TVs that share a common set of characteristics. All SUHD TVs use 4K LCD panels, and since 2016, they all feature quantum dots. For 2017, it appears that Samsung is ditching the SUHD brand in favor of QLED.

Quantum Dot

Quantum dots are a material used in an LCD panel to create the onscreen colors. Quantum dots are much smaller and more tightly engineered than previous materials, which allows them to both get brighter and to render colors previously not possible (sometimes referred to as an “expanded color gamut”).

QLED

Starting in 2017, QLED is Samsung's new branding for its series of high-end TVs. The term QLED existed before Samsung commandeered it. Specifically, refers to a particular type of quantum dots. Samsung's 2017 line-up of QLEDs are backlit by LED lights, but in the future they could be developed into directly emissive dots like OLED.

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