TV Contrast Ratio Explained

What is contrast ratio on a TV? The simplest answer is that the contrast ratio is the difference between the darkest and brightest your TV can be. It’s also one of the most misleading features to use for comparison when you are buying a new TV. Contrast ratio can often be stated as identical on two different models, but the contrast can be different. The reason to this is that there is no industry standard when it comes to contrast ratio measurement. Despite all this, it is an extremely important factor when TV’s are involved.

Also read our other FAQ articles if you like this article about TV contrast:

How Does it Affect Viewing Quality?

In a nutshell, contrast ratio directly impacts the amount of detail you will be able to see when looking at a live TV image. If you are looking at two identical images on two TV’s with different contrast ratios, one image might produce much more detail than the other. This is due to one TV’s contrast ratio handles differences between bright and dark colors better, making them more distinct on the screen. It measures the difference between the brightest and darkest colors that are produced by TV’s display. This translates into the following. If you see that a certain type of TV has a contrast ratio of X:1 (X represents any number), it means that the brightest white the TV is able to produce is “X” times brighter than the darkest black. But it isn’t that simple. Dynamic contrast ratio needs to be taken into the equation as well since the two are completely different. Let’s say that you have a TV with X:1 contrast ratio and a TV with Y:1 dynamic contrast ratio. How to decide which of the two TV’s are better? The answer is you can’t decide. They are two completely different things, therefore they are incomparable. It’s like you are trying to compare weight with distance.

Which Contrast Ratio to Choose?

Native contrast ratio (or simply, contrast ratio) is what the screen alone can do. These contrast ratios have greatly improved over the last few years, and they have been more than sufficient even for the most demanding users out there. TV’s with dynamic contrast ratio make the LED backlights on the TV vary, achieving better contrast in the process. The intensity of these LEDs is dimmed when the scenes are dark and they brighten up when the screens are supposed to be bright, achieving a better picture quality. Again, native contrast ratio and dynamic contrast ratio are completely different units of measurement and they can’t be compared. They are simply different technologies when it comes to contrast.

Industry Standards

It is impossible to compare contrast ratios of different manufacturers since there are no industry standards when it comes to this specification. It is impossible to know how contrast ratios are tested by different TV manufacturers, and as a result you can only compare contrast ratios of the same manufacturer. However, if you must compare different manufacturers and their ratios, it’s best to compare native contrast ratio rather than dynamic one as native ratio is more consistent and reliable. Also, compare only static to static, and dynamic to dynamic.
In the end, contrast ratio is just one of many things equally important when choosing a TV. Focusing on a single specification rather than looking at the entire package can cause more damage than good.