A Glossary of TV Technology Terms


When you set out to purchase a new TV to anchor your home entertainment system, you can expect to be greeted by an alphabet soup of ever-changing technologies, standards, jargon and acronyms. To know exactly what you need and what you’ll get with each individual screen, we’ve compiled this glossary of the most important terms and abbreviations you’ll find on the sides of boxes and in the spec lists:

3D TV – The home version of watching a 3D movie in a theater. Some 3D TVs use the same simple passive glasses from the theaters, while others require battery-powered “active-shutter” glasses to add depth to the scene.

4K – Screens capable of displaying nearly 4,000 pixels per line for extreme image clarity. Also known as ultra-high definition (UHD) TV, the actual resolution of most 4K units is 3840 x 2160, quadruple the total pixels of 1080p or HDTV.

Aspect ratio – A display’s width-to-height ratio. The NTSC standard uses a 4:3 ratio that is closer to square than the widescreen 16:9 ratio used in HDTVs.

Bit rate – The rate at which a source transmits video data. Higher rates usually translate to better video quality. For example, Blu-ray discs may be capable of bit rates five times higher than a DVD.

Component video – A tri-cable connection that delivers better color accuracy than composite connections.

Composite video – Perhaps better known as “the old-school yellow cable.” Composite uses a single RCA jack to pass video to your TV. HDMI, S-Video and component video connections all deliver better quality pictures.

Digital television – Term for the broadcast TV standard that replaced analog broadcasting. HDTV and standard definition (SDTV) are both digital TV formats.

DLNA – Short for Digital Living Network Alliance. A standard to connect things like computers, media servers and TVs across a home network. Here’s more on how it works.

Dolby Digital – This multi-channel digital audio format is the official standard used in HDTVs and DVDs capable of surround sound. Competitor DTS is less compressed and arguably slightly more accurate.

Energy Star – An energy-efficiency certification. Energy Star certified TVs are generally 20-40 percent more efficient than conventional models.

HDMI – For High-Definition Multimedia Interface, the current king of the high-def connection hill. It can carry 4K video, surround sound and 3D video.

HDTV – Generally refers to 1080i, 1080p and 720p video formats, since exceeded in quality by 4K/UHD.

Interlaced scan – Refers to the way most TV signals create a picture by essentially alternating every other row of pixels for a fraction of a second. It uses half as much image data as progressive scan. Read up on the benefits and potential problems of interlacing.

Internet-ready/Smart TV – What it sounds like — TVs ready to connect to the Internet and run certain apps that are either pre-loaded or downloaded.

LCD – For liquid crystal display, the technology that underlies many TVs today. Typically an LED (see below) is used as the light source for an LCD.

LED – For light-emitting diode, this is what actually acts as a light source for most LCD displays.

OLED – For organic light-emitting diode. A self-illuminating LED tech capable of turning each individual pixel on and off. OLEDs are thinner, lighter and more efficient than LCD TVs.

Pixel – Abbreviation for “picture element.” A pixel is a single bit of video data. More pixels of smaller size in a screen increase resolution.

Plasma – A high-quality flat screen display technology that stopped being produced in 2014.

Quantum dots – Technology that uses a backlight shined through tiny nanocrystals (aka quantum dots) to provide more accurate and intense colors.

Refresh rate – A display’s video frame rate, measured in frames per second or Hz. Some TVs advertise higher refresh rates that process video in such a way to reduce motion blur.

Resolution – The amount of picture detail a screen can display, measured in horizontal multiplied by vertical pixels. More pixels equal more detail.

RF jack – Also known as the coaxial cable jack, it carries audio and video signals at the same time to your TV from sources like cable boxes or satellite receivers.

S-video – A 4-pin connector that is becoming far out of style. Some DVD players and other older equipment may only have composite or S-video ports.

SDTV – For standard definition TV. Pictures with a resolution below the 720p HD threshold, typically 480i or 480p. 

UHD – For ultra-high definition TV, also known as “4K” (see above).