What You Should Know About Television Technology
There are many so competing technologies in televisions, it can quickly become downright confusing. We discuss a handful of them here including 4k / UHD, Framerate, OLED, HDR, Quantum dots, and Quantum LEDs
Game of Thrones never looked so good.
There's a dizzying amount of competing television tech out there. Even if you're armed with a technical background, competitors use similar terminology for varying performance features. The handful of technologies covered here will be 4k/UHD, Framerate, OLED, HDR, Quantum dots, and Quantum LEDs.
Resolution (4k, UHD)
One way to improve televisions is by upping the resolution. After we all noticed such an amazing difference between old TVs (480p) and newer HD TVs (1080p), companies are doubling down and going to even higher resolutions such as UHD and 4k TVs. However, the sneaky industry is now referring to the horizontal resolution instead of the vertical resolution.
To clear things up:
Standard HD is 1080 x 1920 pixels
The new 4k standard is 2160 x 4096 pixels
Ultra HD (UHD) standard is 2160 x 3840 pixels
(Sweet 34” gaming monitor that none of us can afford) Acer Predator X34 1440 x 3440 pixels
There are diminishing returns for consumers though, since from a certain viewing distance the increase in pixels is impossible to notice by the human eye. Here is a reference for noticeable resolution vs viewing distance vs screen size.
Have you ever seen a Blu Ray on a really nice TV and notice it looks strange, like a soap opera or like you're there watching it being filmed? This sometimes unnerving effect is due to framerate. Standard TV and movies have been shot around 30 frames per second (FPS), but soap operas and some movies have been shot at higher frame rates such as 60 fps (and getting higher). If your TV could display that higher framerate (look at your TV’s refresh rate), the motion seems more natural and colors don’t blur as noticeably. This is unfortunately associated with soap operas, so many people are turned off by it. However, the realism is amazing for sports and other live events and I imagine that we will gradually become more accustomed to the visual sensations.
Fallout 4 is at 30 fps. The gaming industry hasn't quite caught up.
Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are illumination technology that function as normal LEDs but are constructed out of organic polymers. These polymers can have a number of features that standard LEDs cannot. They can be flexible, extremely small, and transparent. Due to these features, they are changing what our TVs look like. OLED TVs are curved, flexible, and now can be completely see through, such as a window or mirror that, at the touch of a button, can become a display device. The issue with OLEDs is how difficult it is to make larger displays. Unless they can remedy the production issues, it is just asking to be replaced by a more scalable technology.
Samsung's very expensive but immensely cool see-through OLED display.
High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) emerged as a picture taking technology (our iPhones) that is now being implemented with displays. HDR pictures are composed of multiple pictures taken with different exposure times, allowing for blacker darks and brighter more vivid colors in lit areas. The video is similar but instead just weights pixel values toward higher and lower values. The effect we see is darker shadows and brighter lit areas. The current issue here is the isolation of dark and light regions. The pictures appear more vivid, but when the more extreme ranges are utilized, the darker and lighter areas seem to affect nearby pixels. This could be remedied by advancing shuttering technologies.
Currently, this is not a lighting technology as much as a light filtration technology. Utilizing existing LED lighting methods, there is an extra layer of “quantum-dots”--or as Samsung is calling them, “nano-crystals”-- that act as a light filter to create more vivid colors. They're still shuttered by an LCD layer. The current issue with this tech is the tendency for oversaturation. This is most likely due to the distribution of the dots in the substrate and will be remedied as engineers figure out how to better isolate and fine tune the concentration of the dots that operate at different wavelengths as well as how they are energized. Currently, a high energy blue LED is used and likely is causing the lower energy dots (red) to fluoresce more on average.
A technology related to quantum dots is currently being called “Quantum LEDs” or, with Samsung keeping lexically consistent, “Crystal LEDs.” From a physics viewpoint, they are very similar to quantum dots. However, when implemented in a TV, they are a new paradigm of display technology. Instead of using liquid crystals to shutter pixels that are backlit by a blue LED, each individual pixel is its own light source. This decrease in operational layers can speed up refresh rates and decrease the width of the TV. It can also scale to larger displays easier than OLEDs. The hang-up here is that the technology is still in its infancy even compared to OLEDs (electronics progresses faster than dog years).
In summary, there is no perfect technology for a TV. What the TV will be most used for (live sports events, binge watching series, gaming, watching kids’ movies over and over and over…) and what features each TV has are what ultimately make the biggest difference to the viewers’ experience. Hopefully you have an idea about how the different tech works and how it contributes to the vivid details of scenic cinematography. Happy watching!