When shopping for a new smartphone, monitor or TV, one of the most important feature one looks at is the display. But things can get confusing when looking at the display specifications of these devices.
It’s often difficult to tell which product is better when there are so many competing standards and new display specifications. Even panels manufactured by the same company can have vastly different features and specifications.
So in this article, we’ve compiled a list of display specifications common across monitors, TVs, and smartphones.
Let’s now take a quick look at what some of these buzz words mean and which ones you should pay the most attention to.
1. Display Resolution
Resolution is by far the single most prominent display specification these days. Simply put, a display’s resolution is the number of pixels in each dimension, horizontal and vertical.
For instance, a FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution simply means the display is 1920 pixels wide (horizontal) and 1080 pixels tall (vertical).
The higher the resolution the sharper the display, although the ideal resolution depends upon your intended use-case. A TV, for instance, benefits from a higher resolution display much more than a smartphone or even a laptop.
The industry standard for TV resolution is now 4K, or 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. 4K also commonly known as UHD or 2160p. It is not difficult to find content at this resolution.
Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ all offer a 4K tier.
Smartphones, on the other hand, are less uniform. Only a small percentage of devices offer 4K displays, such as the Sony Xperia 1 series. Other high-end smartphones with 1440p displays include the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Finally, the vast majority of devices offer 1080p displays.
2. Refresh Rate
A display’s refresh rate refers to the number of times per second that a display updates its image. We use Hertz (Hz), the unit of frequency, to measure refresh rate.
Majority of displays on the market today are 60Hz. That just means they update their image 60 times per second.
So, why should you care about a display’s refresh rate? Well, the faster your display refreshes, the smoother and more responsive your visual experience will be.
Simply moving a mouse cursor on a 120Hz monitor, for example, will appear noticeably smoother. The same goes for touchscreens, where the display will appear more responsive with a higher refresh rate.
This is why most smartphone manufactures are including higher-than-60Hz displays in their phones. You’ll also see computer monitors and laptops with refresh rates as high as 360Hz.
However, you’ll likely notice a very big difference going from 60Hz to 120Hz, the jump to 240Hz and beyond is not as striking.
3. Display Aspect Ratio
Display aspect ratio refers to the proportional relationship between the width and height of an image or video displayed on a screen. It is expressed as a ratio of the width to the height, such as, 1:1, 4:3 or 16:9.
The aspect ratio can affect the way the image or video appears on the screen, with wider ratios allowing for a more panoramic view, while narrower ratios may result in letterboxing (black bars on the top and bottom) or pillar boxing (black bars on the sides) to maintain the correct aspect ratio.
Whichever display aspect ratio you go for entirely comes down to personal preference. Different types of content are also better suited to a specific aspect ratio, so it depends on what you will use the display for.
For instance, most movies are universally shot in 2.39:1, this is ratio is pretty close to most ultrawide displays, which have an aspect ratio of 21:9.
Most streaming content, on the other hand, is produced at 16:9 to match the aspect ratio of televisions.
In terms of productivity-related use cases, laptop and tablet displays with 16:10 or 3:2 aspect ratios have recently become more popular. The Surface Laptop series, for example, has a 3:2 display.
These have more vertical space than a standard 16:9 aspect ratio. This means you can see more text or content on the screen without having to scroll.
If you multitask frequently, the 21:9 or 32:9 ultrawide aspect ratios may be preferable because they allow you to have multiple windows side by side.
4. Display HDR
Display HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a technology that allows for a wider range of colors and brightness levels to be displayed on a screen, resulting in more lifelike and vivid images.
It achieves this by increasing the contrast ratio, peak brightness, and color depth of the display.
This makes highlights brighter, shadows darker, and colors more vibrant and accurate, providing a more immersive and enjoyable viewing experience.
In a nutshell, the best HDR displays tend to offer exceptionally high contrast levels and brightness, in excess of 1,000 nits. They also support a wider color gamut, like the DCI-P3 space.
Smartphones with proper HDR support are common these days. The iPhone 8, for instance, could play back Dolby Vision content in 2017. Similarly, Samsung flagship smartphones’ displays boast exceptional contrast, brightness, and color gamut coverage.
Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are newer, more advanced formats than HDR10. If a television or monitor only supports the latter, research other aspects of the display too. If it doesn’t support a wide color gamut or get bright enough, it’s likely no good for HDR either.
5. Display Contrast Ratio
Display contrast ratio refers to the difference in brightness between the brightest and darkest parts of a display. It is calculated by dividing the luminance (brightness) of the brightest pixel by the luminance of the darkest pixel.
The average contrast ratio lies between 500:1 and 1500:1. This simply means that a white area of the display is 500 (or 1500) times brighter than the black portion.
A higher contrast ratio typically means a more vivid and immersive visual experience, as well as better readability of text on the display. Display contrast ratios are commonly used as a key performance metric for monitors, televisions, and other types of displays.
If a display doesn’t produce perfect blacks, darker portions of an image may appear gray instead. Naturally, this is not ideal from an image reproduction standpoint.
A low contrast ratio also affects our ability to perceive depth and detail, making the entire image appear washed out or flat.
Imagine a dark scene such as a starry night sky. On a display with a low contrast ratio, the sky won’t be pitch black. Consequently, individual stars won’t stand out very much reducing the perceived quality.
At a minimum, your display should have a contrast ratio above 1000:1. Some displays achieve significantly higher contrast ratios thanks to their use of newer technologies. This is discussed in the following section on local dimming.
6. Display Local Dimming
Local dimming is a feature in LCD displays that allows for specific areas of the screen to be dimmed or brightened independently of the rest of the screen.
Displays using OLED technology tend to boast the best contrast, with many manufacturers claiming an “infinite:1” ratio. This is because OLED panels are composed of individual pixels that can completely turn off to achieve true black.
Traditional LCD displays are not made up of individually lit pixels. Instead, they rely on a uniform white (or blue-filtered) backlight that shines through a filter to produce colors.
An inferior filter that doesn’t block enough light will result in poor black levels and produce grays instead.
Local dimming is a new technique for improving contrast by dividing the LCD backlight into distinct zones. These zones are essentially collections of LEDs that can be turned on and off as needed.
As a result, simply turning off the LEDs in a specific zone produces deeper blacks.
While local dimming is becoming a fairly common marketing term, keep an eye on the number of zones and how they are implemented.
The only proper implementation of this concept is full array local dimming. Local dimming techniques that are edge-lit or backlit typically do not improve contrast as much, if at all.
So there you have it, if you’d like to read more about display terms and specifications, have a look at this blog post by Android Authority.