Shopping for and comparing HDTVs is fun, but it can also be confusing. Take, for example, TV contrast ratios. It’s an important specification to understand but it’s also one of the more misleading features on televisions today. That’s because even though TV contrast ratios can help you make a smart decision when it comes to buying an HDTV, it’s also a spec that doesn’t have an industry-wide standard of measurement.
To understand TV contrast ratios, you should first consider light and dark. Many television programs and movies will have a different mix of light and dark areas in a shot – for example, someone in a dark room peeking out a windowed curtain at a street lit by bright daylight. The TV contrast ratio measures the difference in display between the brightest white areas of the screen and the darkest black areas of the screen.
To some extent, knowing a set’s contrast ratio can help you understand how the television will render images. The larger the ratio – whether static or dynamic – the more detail you’ll see in all areas of the screen, both light and dark. But before you run out and buy an HDTV by choosing between two sets with different contrast ratios, consider what we said about there being no agreed upon standard of measurement in the TV industry.
Comparing the TV contrast ratio of two sets built by two different manufacturers is essentially useless because manufacturers may test television displays differently and label them differently, too. We recommend only comparing TV contrast ratios across sets built by the same manufacturer, but if you must compare it’s considered more reliable to compare static contrast ratios across manufacturers.
And remember that TV contrast ratio is just one of the many factors you should consider when buying an HDTV. What’s generally more important are the overall specifications of the TV. Look at the whole TV to see if it stacks up well in many areas.
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