Television buying doesn’t have to be complicated, and we explain the best way to make TV choices and help understand all the jargon (HDR, HDR10, 4K, etc.). Lets start with the screen resolution, which is where you’ll find the terms HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, HDRLG, Dolby Vision, 4K and more. We’ll wrap up with some recommended TV deals.
What is HDR?
HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range”. It’s an industry term the manufacturers use for TV’s with superb contrast ratios, meaning generating much brighter whites and much darker blacks. This difference between the two extremes of light and dark is the dynamic range.
One thing to note is that HDR for television is different from HDR from photos / pictures, although both are related to better contrast and representation. There are already some great articles on WikiPedia for photography HDR, and from Nikon, so check those out if you are interested.
Now back to the TV’s. Let’s start with where the dynamic range originates, and with “nits”.
Measuring – Nits, Lumens, Candelas, Oh My!
A nit is unit of measurement of “luminance”, or “intensity” of visible light., where one nit is equal to one “candela” per square meter. For a visual aid, 1 nit is approximately equal to the light from a single candle.
OK, nits and candelas by themselves don’t really mean anything to most consumers. Think back to when LED lightbulbs first came out and we had to think in “lumens” instead of Watts. What is important for a TV choice are the absolute numbers, and the how far the spread between the light and dark nit numbers.
This gives us an actual number measurement for the dynamic range that we can use to compare TVs.
Numbers – By The Nit
The majority of non-HDR LED/LCD TV’s (and computer monitors) will have a nit number somewhere around 300 to 500. Compare this to a similar type of HDR TV, and you can expect at least 1,000 nits for peak brightness. Some higher end TV’s will output 2,000 or even 4,000 nits. But you’ll pay a lot for those.
For many viewers, even more important than how bright the TV can be is how dark is can go.
With LED or LCD screens, a good HDR black / dark level is around 0.05 nits. These types of TVs can’t actually turn a pixel “off”, so the number doesn’t get all the way to zero.
However, with the newer OLED TV’s (our article on that is coming soon), individual pixels can be turned off, and OLED black levels are 0, which is completely dark. But OLEDs typically don’t go as high on the brightness scale, and cost a little more.
What about 4K, 2160p, HDTV, 1080p?
These are some other specification for describing the number of pixels on the TV screen. Let’s explain.
“4K” has 3,840 pixels along the horizontal line of the display, and 2,160 pixels vertically (e.g., 3,840 x 2,160). This is sometimes referred to as “2160p”, since people are already familiar with 1080p, and 720p terms. It’s also called Ultra High Definition (“UHD”) for the same reason.
A 4K screen has 4 times the resolution as an HD screen, the next level down.
1080p High Definition TV (“HDTV” or “Full HD” or now just shortened to “HD”) has 1920 vertical columns and 1080 horizontal rows of pixels (e.g., 1920 x 1080). This is what you’ll see for the majority of the TVs on the market.
You’ll only find 720p (1280 x 720) on smaller screens, usually under 23-inches. This is to keep the cost down since you can’t really take advantage of the higher resolutions on the smaller screen.
If you were wondering about the “p” – that stands for “progressive” which 99% of all TVs are today. When HD first came out, many screens couldn’t handle updating the entire display at the same time, so they would alternate even and odd lines, only doing half the screen at one time. This was called “interlaced” (e.g., 720i, 1080i). Not a technical problem anymore, but we still have the “p”.
So, more pixels are better. But the number of pixels isn’t the same thing has how the pixels are viewed.
What Really Matters
Image going to the big box store and looking at similar TV’s. Most people prefer more contrast to more pixels. You might also feel that a HDR TV with only 1080p resolution has a “better” picture than a 4K TV that is non-HDR.
Contrast is king, and beats out pixel nearly every time.
But don’t skimp on those pixels! When you compare 1080p HDR with 4K HDR, that’s where you’ll really see the difference. With Netflix, Amazon and other providers streaming 4K content, the future is now for this technology. Many DVDs are also 4K, sometimes called “cinema quality”. This lets you experience the film exactly how the creators wanted it to be.
What about HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision?
If learning about plain HDR wasn’t confusing enough – here are a bunch of other configurations to think about when looking at the TV specs. Here’s the quick guide:
HDR10 is the open standard (e.g., anyone can use it without paying royalties, and it’s the same technical specs for everyone) of HDR. Basically, HDR is HDR10. This standard says it supports up to 1,000 nits.
HDR10+ is the competing standard to “Dolby Vision”. Like HDR10, the “+” is an open source, while Dolby Vision is a proprietary solution. HDR10+ is being built primarily on Samsung (the HDR10+ creator) and Panasonic TV’s. These give a jump in the nits, with HDR10+ going to 4,000 nits compared with 10,000 nits for Dolby Vision. Also, HDR10+ uses a 10-bit color palette versus 12-bits for Dolby Vision.
However, we didn’t find any consumer TVs on the market that support 12-bit color, so HDR10+ is the standard to go with for today. The future will tell if there is a market for the full performance capabilities of Dolby Vision.
For now, we’ll just skip HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), and Technicolor Advanced HDR, as they aren’t as widespread.
If you are looking for some good deals on High Definition Resolution televisions, or more product details, here are some great examples from Insignia and LG. It’s truly amazing the picture quality you can get starting at $250 for a 43-inch set.
These all feature true-to-life 4K Ultra HD picture quality with over 8 million pixels for stunning clarity, deep contrast, and vivid colors.
What we really like about these is the built-in Amazon Fire TV hardware. This lets you enjoy tens of thousands of channels, apps, and Alexa skills, including Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, and more. Note that some of these premium channels require an additional subscription.
With the Alexa AI, you can control your TV with the included Voice Remote. Change channels, adjust the volume, launch apps, search for titles, play music, switch inputs, control smart home devices, and more, using just your voice.
To keep the cost low, Insignia only provides the essential connections – 3 HDMI (including 1 with Audio Return Channel ,”ARC”), USB, composite input, antenna/cable input, digital output (optical), audio output, Ethernet.
One other cost saving measure is that the screen is actually LCD, with LED backlighting.
Insignia 43-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV HDR – Fire TV Edition – NS-43DF710NA19 (about $250)
Insignia 50-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV HDR – Fire TV Edition – NS-50DF710NA19 (about $350)
Insignia 55-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV HDR – Fire TV Edition – NS-55DF710NA19 (about $450)
These are full LED screens, with LED backlighting. The IPS (“in-plane switching”) technology provides rich colors and excellent wide viewing angles. There’s no bad seat watching these LGs.
Like the Insignia, these are 4K resolution.
While these particular TVs don’t include a Fire or Roku, they are compatible with Amazon Alexa (sold separately).
We really like how thin and light these are, making the installation easy.
For the higher price you get more options – 3 HDMI, 2 USB, 1 RF, 1 Composite in shared with component, 1 Ethernet, 1 Optical and Audio Return Channel Support via HDMI.
LG Electronics 49-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – 49UK6300PUE (under $400)
LG Electronics 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – 55UK6300PUE (around $475)
LG Electronics 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV – 65UK6300PUE (around $775)
Check the settings or “modes” on your TV. Find a “Cinema”, “Movie”, or similar type setting. This will tel l your TV to show the images as close as possible to what the director made when producing the content.
Whether you have HDR or not, this is one way to enjoy great content.
And don’t forget the audio! We’ve reviewed some great soundbars to go with your new TV.