HDR, UHD, OLED: How to Buy the Latest TVs

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The latest smart televisions offer spectacular quality ("It's wrong to love an appliance this much"), but understanding the array of acronymic choices requires a glossary.

Buying a new smart TV can be like spooning through a bowl of alphabet soup. Sets now come with specs like UHD, HDR, QLED and OLED. And then there's the question of whether to add components such as Roku's built-in software, Dolby Atmos immersive sound and Alexa compatibility.

"I love to watch movies, TV shows and sports, especially my Chicago Bulls, at home in the best possible way," says Black and Blue director and Hidden Empire Film Group founder Deon Taylor, a fan of LG Signature's new Z9 88-inch Class 8K Smart OLED TV ($30,000) with AI ThinQ, the brand's artificial-intelligence technology. "It's got Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos and has Air Play compatibility for my iPhone and iPad, plus Google Assistant and Alexa. This TV is dope."

The Hollywood Reporter sifts through the jargon to help make finding the right set as satisfying an experience as the one sound mixer Ben Wilkins had when he recently purchased his Samsung RU7100 65-inch Smart 4K UHD TV ($700) with HDR and Alexa compatibility: "It's wrong to love an appliance this much."

HDR

Sometimes a TV image that should look deep black — like outer space — looks milky gray. And that's where HDR (high dynamic range) can be helpful. HDR means the TV produces a wider range of colors: blacker blacks, redder reds. Some TVs support Dolby Vision (Dolby's brand of HDR) and others lean toward nonproprietary formats. Today, numerous streaming services such as Disney+ offer some HDR, and many Blu-ray Discs tout HDR. Broadcasters are not using HDR yet, but will have the option to deliver it as the new over-the-air broadcast standard rolls out in 2020.

UHD 4K/8K

Ultra HD TVs, those that support a resolution higher than high-definition, have become fairly common. This category includes 4K (four times more pixels than an HD image) and 8K (16 times more). Most streaming services produce their new content in 4K, but broadcasters deliver only HD. Availability of 8K content is still a ways off in the United States, though this higher-resolution standard is already in use in Japan.

OLED/QLED

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and Samsung's quantum dot light-emitting diode (QLED) describe how pictures are displayed to viewers. OLED sets, which review site CNET has dubbed "the pinnacle of picture quality," use pixels that glow when electrified, resulting in dark blacks and a high contrast ratio. QLED TVs have minuscule electron-transmitting crystals embedded in their display that enhance image color and brightness.

FILMMAKER MODE

Last summer, directors such as Martin Scorsese, Ryan Coogler and Patty Jenkin steamed with the UHD Alliance — a coalition including Hollywood studios and electronics manufacturers — to introduce a new TV setting aimed at preserving creative intent. The Filmmaker Mode for supported TV models delivers a consistent, cinematic representation of images as filmmakers envisioned, in terms of color, contrast, aspect ratio and frame rates. Knives Out director Rian Johnson recently explained the level of fidelity with a sci-fi analogy: "Your Skynet is motion smoothing … Luckily, our John Connor has arrived."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.