Television technology landscape has seen a significant change and improvement, with plethora of technologies coming up from OLEDs to QLEDs, webOS to Android OS, HD to Ultra HD, thus making a decision to buy a TV nothing short of acronym for overload. With the advent of internet TV, users now watch what they want, when they want and how they want. In this article, we will see what made this possible, how lively the TVs have become and why TV viewing experience has changed enormously, thanks to class-leading innovations that have emerged recently.
4K – Next Generation of High Resolution
Resolution has been the main playground for improvement over the years and we have moved now from HD to 4K. It might sound a little overstatement, but prominent TV innovations would not have been possible if it wasn’t for high definition technology.
Let’s look at how resolution has evolved over the years. The first in this series, comes the HD or High Definition generally provided in budget TVs which provide the resolution of 1280×720. Also called 720p where p means progressive scan. Above it comes Full HD, usually seen in mid-range TVs which provides the resolution of 1920×1080. Also called 1080p and uses the aspect ratio of 16:9. And again above it comes, as many might have already guessed is 4K or UHD. Though its correct but then there is a difference between 4K and UHD too, though they are often used interchangeably. UHD or Ultra High Definition which has the resolution of 3840×2160 which is precisely twice that of Full HD and thrice that of simply HD. On the other hand, the true 4K has the resolution of 4096×2160. So, rather being simply 4x of Full HD, 4K derives its name from measuring 4000+ pixels on its longest side. Though in a bid to better market their products, brands like Netflix and Google refer UHD as 4K.
If these terminologies have already confused you, there is one more to add to this misery! Its Ultra HD Premium which is another class of HDs whose main significance is that they are certified. This trusted certification is issued by UHD Alliance group which is composed of cross-body industries like film studios, consumer electronics manufacturers and content distributors. There are around 35 companies part of it which includes reputed names like Disney, Amazon and Netflix. Presently only top brands, Samsung, LG and Panasonic have their TVs which are Ultra HD Premium certified. Its bit surprising to know that Sony is not the part of this elite list, as they haven’t decided to go for this certification for their TVs yet. But as a cover up Sony uses its proprietary Triluminos technology in the LED display to produce wider palette of colour so viewers can enjoy more vivid and true-to-life colour.
Usually 4K is available from TVs of 40 inch and above, but to truly get the visual impact of 4K, the TV has to be big enough. Ideally a TV of size 49 inch or bigger is best suited for 4K. Also the content available on 4K in India is currently limited to a few sports channels and National Geographic (source: Wikipedia). So unless you watch a lot of Ultra HD movies, you will not get a lot of 4K content in India. But thanks to up-scaling available in most 4K TV, your regular full HD content will get up-scaled to 4K, but it may turn out a bit grainy in huge TVs.
OLED vs QLED are redefining TV panels and colors
Just like smartphones, there is big battle going on the LED panel segment, with the most sought after being OLEDs and QLEDs.
LG is the forerunner of OLED technology and it supplies OLED panels to other TV manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, Philips etc. Now, OLEDs are Organic Light Emitting Diode panel TVs which uses organic material that glows when electricity is passed through them. On the contrary conventional LED TV displays comprise of LCD screen that needs LED backlight to make the colors visible. Now when we say LCD screen, it should not be confused with old LCD TVs which used much older technology which uses fluorescent backlight and not the LED. The most prominent difference between LED and OLED is that the OLED lights up individual pixels while the normal LED (non-OLED) displays light up the complete screen. This difference helps to get the real contrast because it’s possible to reproduce true blacks as they can be completely turned off. Also, it has the massive lead over conventional LEDs in terms of response time, because OLEDs are touted to be 1,000 times faster, implying there would be no discernible blur with fast-moving images. Following the footsteps of its Korean neighbor, Pannasonic too has launched OLED TVs in India this year.
To take on OLED Samsung has come up with its own QLED technology which sounds quite similar to the former. QLEDs are Quantum-dot LEDs which are nothing but microscopic molecules (nano-sized semiconductor crystals) when hit by the incident light would emit their own differently coloured light. They possess good light absorbing and emitting capacity which makes it a great choice for vibrant pictures and are also energy efficient. QLEDs can achieve the pinnacle of brightness with peak brightness being 1500 to 2000 nits. Samsung has released this QLED models in its latest Q series offerings.
HDR in TVs are changing picture quality
Another biggest and latest thing making rounds in TV world is HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR significantly expands the range of two important factors—contrast ratio and color accuracy, thus bright parts of the image gets much brighter, so it seems image possesses more depth. Color range expands to show brighter blues, greens, reds and everything in between. Thus HDR-compatible movies push TVs to their limit, with brighter highlights, perfect blacks and wider color gamut. Combining this with the mesmerizingly powerful resolution of 4K, movies would look nothing lesser than stunning. But its available in multitude of formats presently which would be little tricky for novice buyer to choose the right one for their 4K TV purchase.
HDR10 is the most frequently used and easily available HDR format. Being an open source (just like the Android) format, it’s much easier to implement by manufacturers without needing to pay licensing fee. Moreover, the manufacturers do tweak this format to optimize and customize their UHD or 4K offering. Most of the HDR Blu ray discs available in the market features HDR10 format.
Dolby Vision is another major HDR format, which essentially is the video response to Dolby’s Atmos sound systems. It is a proprietary format which features in only selected models of premiere brands like LG, Philips and Vizio offers this HDR format. Though both requires minimum of 4K resolution support, Dolby Vision outshines by support of up to 10,000 nits peak brightness vs 4,000 nits of peak brightness support available in HDR10. Also, Dolby Vision supports 12-bit color depth against 10 bit in HDR10.
Besides Dolby Vision and HDR10 there are other lesser known formats like Hybrid Log Gamma and Technicolor HDR. Hybrid Log Gamma, format developed by BBC and NHK exists specifically for satellite broadcast purposes. While Technicolor HDR solely used in Europe as of now with a purpose to move away from digital-only encoding which other HDRs use, to allow HDR to be set to traditional gamma curves, for example, allowing playback of HDE content on SDR devices.
Improved Picture Engines By Premium Brands
To deal with the ever-increasing pixel count and deliver crisp & clear picture companies provide with different picture engines. For 4K TVs, Sony offers X Reality Pro engine which intelligently upscales every pixel to provide unmatched clarity. To do so, it adds the missing colors, lustre, vibrancy, texture and details to the given picture. LG on the other hand provides with Triple XD engine which works in 3 important parameters—contrast, color and noise. It enhances picture quality by increasing black levels and brightness, altering color tones and provides analog & MPEG noise reduction algorithms. To unleash enthralling entertainment with outstanding picture quality, amazing depth, brilliant colours, Samsung used 3D Hyper Real Engine. It is the brain of Samsung 3D television, governing the color, contrast and motion to its optimal level. Though the premium range of TVs offers stunning 4K resolution, most of the sources, especially in India don’t provide with native 4K content. This means there is the need to upscale them when aired on the TV, but then they are on the risk of appearing blurry or grainy. To cope up with this, Panasonic has used 4K Fine Remaster engine.
webOS, Android and SmartHub improving SMART TVs
If you decide to buy a Smart TV you will come across ample of operating systems (OS) just like you find them in your laptops and smartphones. LG’s webOS is one of the best TV systems you can rely on. But in India, presently only 55LJ550T model comes with webOS. This OS is built around the taskbar which runs at the bottom of the screen. First introduced in 2014, UI hasn’t changed much but there have been some gradual improvements over the years matching the need of the hour. The main advantage of webOS is that its exceptionally user friendly, stable, fast, least prone to slowdowns. But on the downside, it lacks broader ecosystem apps which Google can offer.
Android, like smartphones, is aiming to gain leadership in Smart TV OS market. Many manufacturers including likes of Sony are using Android OS in their Smart TVs. To be fair, Android is pretty much work in progress, with couple of features in beta (and testing) stage. Android is considerably future proof, for Google is working heavily on this project and its bound to get couple feature enhancements and upgrades.
Just like LG, Samsung too hosts its own operating system, Tizen in its Smart TVs. Samsung calls it SmartHub and its UI draws lot of inspiration from webOS specially in the way it uses overlaid menu comprising of big colourful icons. It also offers One Remote which lets the user control and easily sync everything connected to the Smart TV, through its universal remote capability. It also offers Smart sharing app to connect the smartphones, tablets and other such electronic devices to the TV and enjoy the pictures, videos etc on the bigger LED screen.
There is another important TV OS, but off late it’s development on a decline. It is Firefox OS and presently shipped with selected Panasonic devices. Though it’s one of the clean, fresh and easy TV systems around, opting for it is little dicey, since Mozilla foundation have confirmed its withdrawal from this segment. This means future support and development in the TVs powered by Firefox OS is apparently in jeopardy.
Blur Free Picture with improved Motion Rates
Motion rate is one of the important parameter in the list of TV specs, but seldom given much attention like other parameters. This obscurity gives an opportunity to manufacturers to conceal true numbers and to even fake the actual figure. Most of the TV manufacturer have exaggerated the refresh rates of their TVs, often using their own lingo to camouflage the true numbers.
Refresh rate is the number of frames a TV can display per second, measured in Hertz (unit of frequency). So, a TV with 50 Hz refresh rate displays 50 images per second. In India, our AC mains i.e electricity supplied to the households, runs at 60 Hz, so that is the rate of the source which TV can run at. This is the norm since the age of old CRT TVs, our entire system is based on it, so there is no point of changing it. Since the past few years TV manufacturers have started marketing their TVs with higher refresh rates. These began with 120 Hz but now even 240 Hz isn’t new or surprising. Though the thumb rule is the higher the number the better it is, but TV manufacturers seldom reveal the true refresh rate, instead give their own fancy name to refresh rates and balloon up the numbers. Because it’s quite expensive to make TV panels that actually refreshes at higher rate but it’s easier to put on big numbers, to persuade unsuspecting customers with the escalated numbers.
Samsung brand renowned for its creative marketing style (LED was coined by them!), calls it Clear Motion Rate (CMR), It claims CMR considers combination of 3 factors: panel refresh rate, image processor speed and backlight technology; but in reality, actual refresh rate can be anything from double to quadruple depending on the model. Similarly, LG calls it TruMotion, which it claims drastically reduces blur and yields crisper details for a fast-action video like sports, so the users won’t end up missing out on anything. Just like LG, Panasonic too uses twice the actual rate for the what it calls, Image Motion Rate. Sony lead the pack in this rat race world of exaggeration using its term, MotionFlow XR, which is four times the actual refresh rate.
Thus, we cover the latest TV technologies, that would play decisive role in selecting the best TV of your choice. We saw different TV resolutions and realized that there is a difference between a true 4K TV and Ultra HD, which many believe are on and the same. Similarly, we saw innovations in the display panel tech and various formats of HDR technology. We then went on with the coverage of different picture engine manufacturers used to improve the color and the contrast and also compared the operating system they use. Finally, we saw how refresh rate has become marketing gold for the TV brands who smartly market this, using their own intriguing names with exaggerated numbers. Hope with this information you’ll stay abreast with the latest technical innovations in the Smart LED TV market.
About the Author:
Hussain Kanchwala is an Electronics Engineer from University of Mumbai. As an Analyst at BijliBachao he keeps a tab on latest technologies in gadgets and appliances, tracks businesses of white goods companies and monitors the consumer behavior. With a background in engineering, penchant for detail, and flair for writing he regularly write reviews about brands and their products. More from this author.