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Technology.

12 July 2021

TV jargon buster

Don't get bamboozled by sales talk while buying a new TV – you can use our independent guide to decode TV jargon and understand the connections on your TV.
Martin Pratt
Eating popcorn and watching TV

Buying a new TV can be an expensive purchase, and there's nothing worse than trying to decipher reams of jargon to work out whether it's worth spending more on the latest technology. 

Bewildered by backlighting, confused by contrast or disoriented by digital processing? We'll walk you through the key terms you need to know about when looking for a new TV, and show you what each connection on your TV does.

Ready to discover your next TV? We'll help you choose the right model for you with our expert, independent TV reviews.

Understanding the connections on your TV

As you can see from the table below, TVs can have dozens of different connections, so we thought we'd explain what they all do.

Name of the connection
What it does
What it looks like
Component
These video cables are usually combined with the red and white audio cables to provide video and sound. You'll find these on older devices, as newer ones favour HDMI.
   
Component-TABLE
Digital audio (coaxial and optical)
There are two types of digital connections for surround sound – coaxial (copper wire) and optical (fibre optic), also known as TOSLINK. Both connections can carry stereo signals and 5.1 surround sound signal, but optical is the better option if you can use it.
  
Optical connection
DLNA
This is an industry-wide standard for sharing digital media – such as photos, videos and music – between computers, mobile phones, TVs and other devices in your home.
   
Dlna-logo-TABLE
DVI port
A Digital Visual Interface connection is one way of hooking up your computer to your TV. It's commonly found on desktops rather than laptops and you may have to buy a HDMI to DVI cable first. If that's the case you'll need to connect a separate audio cable from your TV to your computer.
   
DVI connection
Ethernet port
If your TV doesn't have wi-fi capability, this port allows you to use an Ethernet cable to link a smart TV to your router.
   
Ethernet-TABLE
HDMI
This high definition video and audio input is your best bet for connecting any HD equipment, such as Sky boxes and Blu-ray players, because it sends video and audio signals. When buying HDMI cables, don't be tempted to spend lots of money – a £5 cable will do the job just as well as a £50 one.
   
HDMI-TABLE
HDMI 2.1
The latest version of HDMI input. It supports resolutions up to 8K and refresh rates up to 120Hz. If you use a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X/S then connect it to a HDMI 2.1 input.
   
HDMI ARC
This special Audio Return Channel HDMI socket is useful for connecting compatible home-cinema systems and sound bars as it sends video and audio signals both ways. It makes setting up your TV audio system much easier, plus you can control both your TV and sound bar/home cinema from the same remote.
   
HDMI-ARC-TABLE
HDMI eARC
An updated version of HDMI ARC. It works the same way, but supports more advanced audio formats. Connect your sound bar to this. 
   
HDMI MHL
Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) is a special wired connection for hooking up a compatible smartphone or tablet to your TV.
   
HDMI-MHL-TABLE
Headphone jack
Use this to connect your headphones. Bear in mind that headphone volume and TV volume are often adjusted separately.
   
Headphones-TABLE
Mini-HDMI
This smaller HDMI port can be used to connect laptops to your TV. If your TV doesn't have mini-HDMI then you can use a mini-HDMI to full-size HDMI cable.
   
Mini-HDMI-TABLE
Near Field Communication
If you have an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet, you can connect with a compatible TV by 'tapping' a special sticker, and then share content between them.
   
Nfc-logo-TABLE
RF input
An aerial socket that allows the broadcast signal to be received by the TV's tuner.
   
RF-Input-TABLE
Satellite antenna socket
Use this to connect a Sky or Freesat set-top box.
   
Antenna-TABLE
Scart
Rarely found on modern TVs, Scarts allow you to connect older standard-definition equipment like DVD players. Scarts that support the high-standard RGB signal give the best possible picture quality.
   
Scart-TABLE
USB ports
These ports are becoming more common, particularly as modern TV let you watch whatever's stored on them and record TV onto them. TVs tend to come with between two and three USB inputs.
   
USB-TABLE
Wi-Fi Direct
This wireless technology allows you to 'mirror' what's on your phone, tablet or computer on your TV by connecting to the same wi-fi network. It is also referred to as Miracast on some TVs.
   
Wifi-direct-TABLE

1080i vs 1080p

There are two main types of high-definition (HD) picture: 

  1. 1080i – this is what HD TV is broadcast in 
  2. 1080p – high-definition Blu-ray discs are recorded in 1080p, which is marginally more detailed and realistic. 

On 1080p, the 1,080 horizontal lines are scanned progressively, or one after another. 

With 1080i, even lines and then odd lines are scanned alternately to make up the picture, although the difference is really quite subtle.

3D TV

3D TV didn't really take off and as a consequence none of the major manufacturers make 3D TVs anymore.

3D TV offered a greater sense of depth than standard 2D television, making films and TV programmes appear as though they are ‘coming out of the screen’. To watch 3D TV, you need special glasses and there are two types:

  • Passive’ glasses are light and cheap, similar to the ones used in 3D cinemas 
  • Active’ ones are bulkier and more expensive, although they offer the best viewing experience. 

What is 4K/Ultra HD?

4K TVs – also referred to as ultra-HD or UHD – have four times the pixels of ‘normal’ HD 1080p TVs. Most of the TVs released are now 4K and they usually have screens 40-inches or over, as you need a larger display to really appreciate the extra detail in the picture. 

To watch 4K content you'll need to subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Video, or invest in one of the top five best Blu-ray DVD players and some movies. Eventually we'll see some 4K TV channels launch, too. 

To learn more, go to what is 4K TV? 

8K TVs

If you understand 4K, then 8K isn't too tricky to wrap your head around. 8K panels have the four times the number of pixels as 4K. 

These TVs can display incredibly sharp images, but 8K panels are uncommon, expensive, and there is precious little content to show off what these TVs are capable of.

Learn more about 8K TV.

Ambient light sensors

Available on nearly all TVs that are 32-inches or over, these sensors adjust the backlight of the screen according to the amount of light in the room. 

They can provide big energy savings, slashing power by around 30-50% when the TV is running with the backlight off.

Aspect ratio

This is the shape of the screen measured as ‘width:height’. Most TVs are now widescreen with an aspect ratio of 16:9. 

Digital TV is broadcast in a widescreen format. This is something which changes automatically depending on what show you're watching, but some TVs do let you adjust this manually if you're not sure you're watching something in the right ratio.

Audio description

This offers additional narration of TV for visually impaired people by describing significant visual information, such as body language and scenery. Most of the main channels now have audio description on at least some of their programmes. 

If you have problems distinguishing human voices from background noise, such as music, many TVs also offer voice-enhancement software.

Automatic volume control

This is software that prevents adverts from sounding too loud on your TV. It does this by compressing the dynamic range or better balancing the sound levels.

Backlit LED TVs

Also referred to as direct-lit, backlit LED TVs have LED lamps spread across the entire rear of the screen. 

Backlit LEDs aren't as slim as edge-lit models, but the consistency of lighting spread should be much better.

Use the results of our expert tests to make sure you buy the best TV for your budget – see our television reviews.

Black level control

This adjusts the pictures’ black level, which is useful when watching movies with particularly dark sequences.  

If your TV doesn't have it, you can use our free tool to help you get the best TV picture.

Contrast ratio

The contrast ratio is the difference between how dark and light the TV display will go. A high-contrast ratio should mean deeper blacks and crisper whites, with a good range of subtle colour gradients in between. 

Contrast ratio is considered vital for a great TV picture, but it’s not a linear value – so 12,000:1 is not ‘twice as good’ as 6,000:1.

Digital processing

Many fancy-sounding labels on TVs refer to the digital processing software used by manufacturers to enhance the picture. This software can improve the picture, but be aware that it can also change it for the worse at times.

Every big brand has its own name for digital processing software and technology. 

DLNA

An industry-wide standard developed to allow the sharing of digital media, such as photos, videos and music, between computers, mobile phones, TVs and other devices in and around your home. 

Want to know more? Read our dedicated guide to what is DLNA?.

Dynamic backlight

LED and LCD TVs feature backlights – lights at the rear or edge of the screen which illuminate the picture. Dynamic lights adjust according to the content on screen. So for a dark image, the TV will automatically dim the backlight. 

However, you can occasionally see backlights ‘working’ – the TV visibly dims, which can be off-putting. 

Plasma TVs don’t have backlights.

Edge-lit LED TVs

Edge-lit model LED TVs have LED lights just around the edge of the screen, enabling them to be super-slim. 

Early edge-lit models had problems with inconsistent lighting of the screen, and patchy colours. While you can still find a bad one, the technology behind edge-lit panels has improved significantly in recent years.

Electronic programme guide (EPG)

Found on modern LED, LCD and plasma TVs, this on-screen channel guide shows the TV schedule for the week ahead. 

An EPG allows you to select programmes, get more information and set recordings if you have a PVR.

What is Freesat?

A subscription-free digital satellite TV service. To watch it you'll need a Freesat set-top box, a satellite dish and ideally an HD-ready TV. Freesat offers more channels than Freeview.

How do you get Freeview HD?

Virtually all new TVs come with Freeview built in. It's a subscription-free digital TV service that provides television through an aerial. 

Freeview offers a combination of standard and high-definition channels.

Full HD and HD-ready

Full HD screen resolution is 1920 x 1080 and these TVs have superior picture quality when watching a Blu-ray movie. 

Cheaper 'HD ready' TVs have the minimum screen resolution (1280 x 720) to display a broadcast HD picture, but Blu-ray movies will not be as sharp as Full HD. 

(Screen resolution is the number of pixels, or lines, displayed on the TV, expressed as ‘width x height’.)

What is HDR?

HDR stands for high dynamic range. The technology is built into almost all TVs and it improves contrast so you see deeper blacks and brighter whites on screen. 

Not all content supports HDR though, so don't expect to see HDR in effect on BBC One. But you will see it on 4K Blu-rays and some streaming services. 

There are several different formats, including HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. To find out more about them go to what is HDR?

Hz processing

Standard 50Hz TVs are fine for watching broadcast TV, as it is recorded or broadcast at 50Hz (that’s 25 complete frames per second). In an attempt to manipulate the picture and create the illusion of smoother motion, many high-end TVs feature processing at 100Hz, 120Hz or even 200Hz, doubling or quadrupling the amount of times the image is produced on screen.

Our tests have shown, however, that this smoother motion doesn't always appear realistic to the eye and people can feel they get a better picture after turning such ‘enhancement’ features off.

LCD TV

Liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs use lamps to shine light through liquid crystal cells in the TV's panel, letting varying amounts of colour through to create a picture.

See all of our LCD TV reviews.

LED TV

LED TVs are the same as LCD sets, but the backlight lamps are replaced by tiny light emitting diodes (LEDs). These illuminate the screen for the picture to be formed. 

LED TVs are typically slimmer and more energy efficient than LCD ones.

Local dimming

This technique, also known as 'micro dimming', varies the backlight in different parts of the screen to give darker, richer blacks and brighter whites where needed.

What are OLED TVs?

Organic light emitting diode (OLED) TVs don’t need a backlight and so can be thinner even than LEDs. Since each individual bulb in the panel can be switched on and off, OLED TVs can display deeper black levels than any current screen type. 

You can find out more about this new display technology – go to what is OLED? 

What does PVR stand for?

A programmable video recorder (PVR) allows you to set recordings of live TV programmes using an on-screen menu and then choose to watch, keep or delete them. 

Some PVRs let you store up to 2TB of content and even pause live television. More and more TVs these days have PVR functionality built-in to the set, meaning you can attach a hard disk drive into the USB port and then access many of the features of a separate PVR. 

Find out how to buy the best PVR or set-top box.

What is a QLED TV?

The Q in QLED stands for quantum dot technology, where the back-light shines through a layer of quantum dots to produce colour supposedly allowing for increased brightness over OLED sets. 

Samsung is one of the only TV manufacturers not currently producing OLED TVs. Instead, the South Korean brand favours QLED for its premium TVs. 

To find out more, go to what is QLED TV?.

SD

Stands for standard definition, which is the lowest quality content you can watch on broadcast TV. 

What is smart TV?

Smart TVs give you access to a range of extra services via the internet. They connect to the internet using either an ethernet connection, wi-fi or an external device (such as a set-top box or games console).

You can stream movies on Netflix, catch up on TV shows via BBC iPlayer, download games, make Skype calls, interact with friends on Facebook and Twitter, or even surf the web using a browser. 

To find out and to discover which models are best, see what is smart TV? Best smart TVs

Subwoofer

A low-frequency subwoofer is a complete speaker system dedicated to reproducing the low-pitched audio, bass sound. 

They usually come with sound bars or as part of a home cinema surround sound system.

See our expert advice – sound bars vs home cinema systems: which is best?

USB

Some TVs have one or more USB ports that can be used to connect USB devices, such as USB memory sticks for viewing photos on the TV, or external hard disk drives for a TV's PVR functionality.

Now you know all you need to about TVs, let us help you pick the right model – see our independent, expert television reviews.