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Here's what to look for when choosing your display.
TV technologies are multiplying rapidly, and the terms to describe them can be both overlapping and confusing. Here's a brief guide to the basics.
Essentially, your choices start with a flat-panel set or a front projector. Flat-panel displays completely dominate the stand-alone TV market now, yet that has not simplified your choices. Look at a TV ad now and you'll see terms like LED, Full HD, Ultra HD 4K, smart TV, curved screen, OLED, and more. And that doesn't include each manufacturer's proprietary names for features (often very similar features using different terminology).
We'll go through what's available and what's coming and explain these terms and their relevance to a great home theater.
Flat-panel displays come in four basic types: liquid crystal display (LCD), plasma, organic light-emitting diode (OLED), and quantum dot. LCDs dominate, although there are still some great plasma choices. OLED and quantum-dot TVs are very new and only available in a few models—at the moment. All of these technologies will give you great picture quality.
Curved-screen TVs are simply flat-panel displays designed to provide a wraparound cinematic effect.
LCD screens are:
Light-emitting diode (LED) TVs are more correctly called LCD-LED. They're LCD displays that use LEDs for the backlight. Some of the least-expensive TVs still use cold-cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlights, but LED backlights allow thinner designs and have meaningful advantages in energy efficiency and potential picture quality.
Quantum-dot TVs are also LCD TVs. Used as a backlight component, quantum dots enable richer colors and better contrast, among other benefits. Several major manufacturers use this technology now in a few higher-end TV models.
Quantum-dot technology has significant potential in designing displays that will far outperform today's TV sets. Look for a rapidly growing number of these displays.
Plasma displays offer, in comparison to LCDs:
OLED TVs are new to market, and the first models have received some rave reviews for picture quality. They're very thin, as OLEDs produce their own light and thus require no backlight. At the moment, there's a very limited selection of models and sizes, and the sets are expensive.
Curved-screen TVs are meant to provide a wraparound effect. They don't use different technologies.
Until recently, the "gold standard" for resolution has been 1080p, generally called Full HD. Now, however, there is increasing emphasis on Ultra HD 4K sets (UHD, UHD 4K, or 4K in shorthand), which offer four times the resolution.
A 1080p display has a resolution of 1920 × 1080 pixels. An Ultra HD 4K display has a resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels (and would be called a 2160p display using that nomenclature). The minimum resolution considered HD (high definition) is 720p, corresponding to 1280 × 720 pixels.
What to get? The bigger the TV, the more important the resolution. On a 40-inch set, from 10 feet away, you may not be able to see the difference between a 1080p and a UHD screen. Take the screen size up to 65 inches in the same space, however, and you will appreciate the higher resolution.
Keep in mind that as of this moment, UHD standards have not been finalized, and not all UHD sets can play all UHD content. Essentially, for true UHD, you're tied to streaming services and only to the services your specific TV supports. (Some manufacturers provide a limited amount of UHD content on hard drives when you buy the TV.)
This will change, and soon. Once the standards are finalized, UHDTV sets should be as universally compatible as 1080p sets are now. In addition, upcoming Blu-ray™ standards will include UHD capability.
UHDTVs upsample 1080p programs—that is, they convert them to the higher UHD resolution—with generally very good results, but not as good as native UHD (and they are somewhat unpredictable).
Dolby Vision™ complements today's TVs with high dynamic range and wide–color gamut technologies that provide a dramatically different viewing experience on both 1080p and UHD TVs. You'll see much brighter highlights, darker blacks with great detail, and millions of colors that current sets cannot display. The stunningly vivid images on a Dolby Vision enabled TV deliver the full impact of entertainment. Dolby Vision uses specially mastered content for display on TVs that incorporate the technology. For complete information, visit our Dolby Vision pages.
Take your room dimensions into account, and then get the biggest set you're comfortable watching. Popular home theater flat-panel sizes go from 37 inches to as large as 85 inches or so. For anything larger, you'll need a front projector.
The only real alternative to a flat-panel display is a front projector.
A projector, screen, and professional installation can make front projection costly.
Nearly all of the higher-end TVs are now "smart" TVs. These TVs can connect directly to the Internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi™ (often both). They offer portals for direct access to many streaming services and often general Internet access as well. Smart TVs can serve as complete home entertainment hubs. Capabilities seem to increase daily—voice recognition, program recommendations, and so on. You'll need to look at the manufacturers' websites and literature to get details.
However, there is one important caveat for a home theater. If you want advanced audio, such as Dolby Atmos®, you'll need another component—a Blu-ray player or streaming player—as your primary audio source. (This limitation may begin to disappear soon.) Beyond that, a smart TV can greatly add to your home theater's capabilities.
Almost every display has a variety of connection options. Here are the most common.
HDMI® provides the best and simplest way to connect your TV to your home theater:
The more HDMI connections you have, the better for flexibility and future expansion. We recommend at least three for a TV display.
The current standard is HDMI 1.4, which is necessary for Dolby Atmos, and other advanced display and audio features.
3D was a hot topic a couple of years ago. But it never caught on, although 3D TVs continue to be available. 3D is no longer considered a selling point, and it's essentially a free feature now on many mid- and upper-end TV sets. There are no broadcast standards for 3D at present.
Most 3D TVs today use special active-shutter glasses and create separate left and right full-resolution versions of each image. The glasses sync to these images.
If 3D is important to you, here are some tips:
All 3D requires HDMI 1.4 or later. Any equipment labeled "3D ready" will have it, but if the signal is going through an A/V receiver, the receiver will also need HDMI 1.4.
Most displays are set up at the factory to look their best on a wall in a retail store. They're too bright and too blue. The display will often look a lot better in your home if it's calibrated after setup. Some retailers will do this for you, either for free or for a relatively small fee.
Otherwise, you have three choices for calibration:
Look at your room, at where you'll be sitting and where you plan to put the display, and go from there. Our chart gives you a starting point, with minimum and maximum viewing distances for standard TV sizes. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, not absolute rules.
Lots of jargon and claims accompany the available information on HDTV displays. Here are some clear explanations of various features and considerations you will encounter.
This refers to the type of backlight used for LCD TVs. For years, LCD screens used CCFL backlights. Now LED backlights are gaining popularity.
Compared with CCFLs, LEDs:
Local dimming creates a backlight image in sync with the LCD screen. This allows purer blacks, better detail resolution, and a wider dynamic range—which add up to a better image.
Most displays are set up at the factory to look their best on a wall in a retail store. They're too bright and too blue. The display will often look a lot better in your home if it's calibrated after setup. Sometimes the store will do this for you, either for free or for a relatively small fee.
The vast majority of HDTV sets now include an Ethernet connection and portals to popular streaming services. For a home theater, however, you may get better results connecting to the Internet through a different component.
See Streaming, Online, and Broadcast Programs.
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