A Cheat Sheet for Decoding Television Buying Jargon (When it All Means Nothing to You)

published Jan 19, 2017
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(Image credit: Minette Hand)

Thanks to leaps in innovation, televisions with flat screens, curved screens, and super high resolution are getting more affordable by the day. Unfortunately, buying a TV is more complicated to navigate than ever, with all the acronyms, jargon, and numbers that mean…what, exactly? It’s as if the tech is evolving so fast that no one’s taking the time to explain it to the average buyer. So let’s break this all down into plain english. Here’s your cheat sheet to decoding television jargon—what matters, what doesn’t, and why.


We’re starting simple here, but want to make sure we cover all bases! It stands for “high-definition multimedia interface,” and really just means a port that connects your TV to a DVD player, game console, audio receiver, or any other device that needs to communicate with your television. You’ll want at least three HDMI ports, not only for the devices above, but for the growing number of streaming media devices that can plug into your TV…like Roku, Amazon Fire, or the Intel Stick, which can turn your TV into a computer. Extra points if the ports are located on the TV’s side—it’ll make it easier to plug in certain devices such as cameras (especially if you plan on wall mounting your screen).


We touched on the meaning of OLEDs and the next few in this previous article, but to recap, OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode” and simply refers to the way in which the TV’s display emits its own light.


In contrast, LCD displays are liquid crystal displays, and they use LED backlighting to illuminate the screen. The upshot is that OLEDs have stronger contrast with blacker blacks and whiter whites (this makes for a superior picture quality). They can also be made thinner than LCDs, and use less power, but they’re significantly more expensive than LCD displays, and many viewers say their eyes can’t tell the difference.


Plasma is the oldest of these technologies. It used to be the go-to for big screen TVs, but it stopped being made in 2014 because it had a limited screen size and wasn’t energy efficient.

(Image credit: Liz Calka)

Quantum Dots

Quantum dots (QD) are the new kid on the block. They’re actually LCD-LED tech that enhances color so it’s more accurate and brighter. They’re made of tiny particles that glow, and they’re comparable to the price of OLED. But do you need quantum dots? Probably not yet. I’d wait for this tech to become more widespread and less expensive.

SUHD and Super UHD

Marketing terms, invented by Samsung and LG respectively, to describe their top-of-the-line TVs. Means nothing.

780p & 1080p

Both these numbers refer to a TV’s definition—a calculation of the tiny dots that combine to make a picture. The higher the number, the more pixels (kinda like thread counts for sheets). But more isn’t necessarily better if you don’t watch movies or TV in HD. (That said, most channels are moving toward HD.) More importantly, the difference between 720 and 1080 is hard to see if your screen is smaller than 32″.


4K is Ultra High Definition, and it has four times as many pixels as a 1080p display. Amazon and Netflix are adding 4K content regularly, so while you may not need a TV with resolution this high right now, it will probably become more standard in the near future (definitely something to consider).


This means “high dynamic range.” It’s been around for about a year as an upgrade to 4K TVs, and makes images brighter, with truer colors and greater contrast. Expect to see most of the new generation of HDTVs boasting this technology.

(Image credit: Samsung)

Refresh Rate

This is the the rate at which images are flashed onto the screen to give you a moving image, and is measured in Hz. Current models range from 60 to 600Hz. Higher refresh rates will help you enjoy fast-moving sports or gaming. For the rest of us, 120Hz is sufficient to enjoy a movie or TV show.

Aspect Ratio

This is the ratio of the TV’s width to its height. A common one is 16:9 (that’s 16 units wide for every nine units of height), and it’s good for most shows you’ll see. Still, you will sometimes get those annoying black bars at the top and bottom of your screen (called letterboxing) if you try to view a super widescreen Hollywood blockbuster. If those are your go-to, you could look for a 2.4:1 aspect ratio…but keep in mind that even Hollywood movies are sometimes filmed to fit 16:9. So is a “higher” aspect ratio a must? Definitely not.


“DLNA” stands for an organization called the Digital Living Network Alliance, and it’s a non-profit that certifies products for connectivity. By “connectivity,” I mean an invisible bridge that allows all your gadgets to wirelessly work together. So if you have a DNLA-compatible TV, it’ll be able to show videos that are stored on your phone or on your PC. Apple, however, is not DLNA-compatible, so iOS folks, a DLNA-Certified TV may be unimportant to you.

Is there another TV term that you want explained? Ask me in the comments!

Looking for more TV buying advice? Don’t miss the rest of the Ultimate Guide to Buying a TV series: