If you happened to pay attention to the technology news coming out of the International CES last week, you might have heard that the TV makers introduced their latest and greatest TVs — 4K, SUHD, OLED and LCD — with quantum dot or nanocrystal display technology.
I’m with you. The new displays shown off at CES were impressive, but their descriptions bordered on ridiculous. Unless you have an advanced degree in quantum physics, you’ll likely be in one of two categories of TV-buying consumers in the coming months: One who casually boasts to his friends that he’s got a “quantum dot TV,” without having any actual understanding of it; or one who stands in front of the shelves at Best Buy, befuddled about what it all means.
So here’s a guide to some of the new TV terms for 2015. These explanations are based on interviews with industry analysts, executives at companies that make TVs, and Dr. Ray Soneira, a physicist and the founder and president of DisplayMate Technologies.
Term: Quantum Dot Technology
Use in an actual sentence in a press release: “LG will be demonstrating the superb color reproduction of its ColorPrime series, which produces greater realism and depth either with Wide Color LED or Quantum Dot technologies.”
What it means:: Quantum Dot Technology is LCD’s answer to color-rich OLEDs.
Liquid Crystal Display panels, which have been around for decades, are backlit in two ways. Up until around 2005, all LCDs were backlit with CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps); then “white” LEDs replaced fluorescent lamps. Essentially, all mainstream LCDs now use LEDs, or light-emitting diodes.
When LCD technology is driven by what’s known as white LEDs, the color spectrum on those displays is very broad; in order to make saturated red or green or blues on an LCD display, you need narrow bands of light.
So what TV makers have done is incorporate a quantum dot film into the displays, effectively replacing the white LEDs. The quantum dot technology absorbs light from blue LEDs instead, and then it emits it at specific wavelengths to make colors look more vibrant and less “blah.”
This whole process is more power-efficient than the usual LCD backlighting process and less costly than OLED technology.
Still looking for a “real-life” example? According to DisplayMate’s Soneira, quantum dots will give more saturated reds and greens, so that when you’re watching TV in a brightly lit room (or looking at a QD tablet display outside), you actually see the color you’re supposed to see, and not a washed-out version of it.
Term: Nanocrystal Technology
Use in an actual sentence: “Utilizing proprietary, eco-friendly nanocrystal technology and intelligent SUHD re-mastering picture quality engine …”
What it means: Nanocrystal technology and quantum dot technology are, essentially, one and the same — although nanocrystals have other applications besides displays. TV makers are just picking and choosing which term they use to describe the technology in their latest displays.
Term: HDR (High Dynamic Range)
Use in an actual sentence: Sony’s “X-tended Dynamic Range Pro (75-inch model) and X-tended Dynamic Range (65-inch model) enhanced by the new 4K Processor engine to produce our best contrast ever — capturing every shade of light.”
What it means: You might already be familiar with High Dynamic Range, because you’ve seen it in your digital camera or smartphone camera.
If not, HDR means that the display is using software to process images that have a wide dynamic range — the ratio of light to dark in an image — “so that the dark shadow detail is enhanced for better visibility,” Soneira explains. He says HDR primarily enhances the dark shadow content that is often not easily seen well, although it may also help recover some overexposed image detail, as well.
Right now we’ve primarily seen this shown off in OLED TVs, although HDR can also be applied to LCD TVs, which have a more limited dynamic range.
Term: 8K Displays
Use in an actual sentence: “Samsung’s 110-Inch 8K Glassesless 3DTV is Beautiful and Awful.” (Not from a press release, in case it wasn’t obvious.)
What it means: Before we get into 8K displays, here’s a quick refresher on 4K. 1080p HD has a “resolution” of 1920 x 1080, which actually refers to pixel dimensions (width x height). 4K means that the display has a minimum resolution of 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels high.
8K, then, refers to a display with a resolution of 7680 × 4320, or roughly 8,000 pixels across.
Holy moly, that’s a lot of pixels! But what really matters is the viewing distance, together with the pixels per inch (PPI). So if you’re looking at something really close to your face — say, a smartphone or a computer monitor — 8K will look amazing. But if you’re looking at something nine feet away, like a TV set, the difference in sharpness is only going to be noticeable if you’re looking at a 120-inch display, experts say.
Use in an actual sentence: “Samsung SUHD TVs demonstrate groundbreaking advances in contrast, brightness, color reproduction and detail to deliver an overall superior picture quality experience.”
What it means: It may sound like a technical term, but Samsung has simply added the letter “S” in front of “UHD” to distinguish the product line from other UHD TVs. As Samsung Executive Vice President Joe Stinziano explained in an interview, “It stands for a lot of things. We use that S designation when we feel we have a real leap in consumer experience. So whatever adjective you want to put there — superior, for example — it’s a badge.”
So some of these terms are clearly jargon. Other terms refer to true advancements in display technology.
Just remember, when you’re standing there confused in Best Buy: A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a thousand words makes that picture better.