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Making sense of new TV features in 2022

Buying a TV can be a confusing ordeal, but it doesn’t need to be

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Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Every year after CES, there can be a new pile of buzzwords and technology shorthand that can go up and over the head of many consumers — even when those acronyms often describe meaningful advancements that are worth knowing about.

So with all the latest TVs from Samsung, LG, Sony, TCL, Hisense, and others now announced and due to ship over the next few months, it seems an opportune moment to review the features you should be looking for when TV shopping.

Stay tuned over the coming months for TV and soundbar buying guides. But if you’re in the market for a new TV right now, these are the terms you should be looking for when comparing products.

What TV hardware features mean

ALLM: Auto low latency mode is a useful feature that detects when you’ve plugged a gaming system into your TV (or have started playing a game on a streaming box) and automatically activates the TV’s “game” mode with optimized settings that produce the lowest possible input lag. This means there will be a minimal delay between you pressing a button on the controller and seeing the resulting action in the game.

Dolby Atmos: An immersive surround sound format that goes beyond previous experiences by introducing height channels, which make audio more three-dimensional. Atmos home theater systems and soundbars often include up-firing speakers to make some on-screen action sound like it’s happening overhead.

eARC: The enhanced audio return channel is usually labeled on one of your TV’s HDMI ports. This is the port you’ll want to plug your soundbar or home theater system into. On modern TVs, eARC allows for the transmission of uncompressed, immersive 7.1 Dolby Atmos surround sound and eliminates the extremely frustrating audio sync frustrations that can be present when using soundbars on some older TVs. Definitely make sure your next TV has eARC among its features.

HDMI 2.1: The “definition” of HDMI 2.1 was recently thrown into disarray when it was discovered that a device or HDMI cable being labeled as compliant with the 2.1 spec doesn’t actually guarantee anything. Instead of focusing on HDMI 2.1, the best practice for consumers is now to check for the specific features like 4K at 120Hz, VRR, and others mentioned in this list. In terms of cables, looking for something that supports 48Gbps throughput is also important.

How did we get here?
How did we get here?
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

HDR: High dynamic range is a must-have feature for any TV in 2022. It produces much brighter highlights and deeper, more vivid colors when playing HDR content. Aside from the basic, widely supported HDR10 format, other HDR formats include Dolby Vision, which allows for different picture optimizations on a frame-by-frame basis, and HDR10 Plus, which offers similar benefits but with a smaller content selection.

MicroLED: Throw out everything you know about regular TVs. Samsung’s MicroLED displays bring together the best features of OLED — self-emitting pixels, perfect blacks, and so on — without most of the drawbacks. MicroLEDs use microscopic, inorganic LEDs that individually produce light and color. 

A close-up of Samsung’s MicroLED display technology.
A close-up of Samsung’s MicroLED display technology.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

These micrometer-scale LEDs are transferred onto tile-like modules, allowing for a display of various shapes and potentially any size. Samsung also sells more TV-like MicroLED displays at preset sizes. But, unfortunately for most of us, since MicroLED is still a new and costly technology, it’s wildly expensive, and these displays cost more than most cars. (Think over $100,000.)

Mini LED: For the past several years, many of the best LCD TVs have used a backlighting system called “full-array local dimming” with a number of individual LEDs behind the screen that illuminate and dim in accordance with the content being shown. These LEDs form dimming “zones” that allow some areas of the screen to be very dark while other sections might simultaneously be powerfully bright with HDR content. 

Image: TCL

Mini LED iterates upon that approach by shrinking the LEDs significantly — and cramming many, many more of them into the backlight array. The end result is more precise contrast and less “blooming,” which occurs when a halo of light can be seen around bright objects or text on screen. Mini LED doesn’t eliminate blooming altogether, but it’s often less noticeable. All those tiny LEDs also make for better overall brightness uniformity across the TV’s display. 

OLED: They’ve long been hailed as the best TVs you can buy for a reason: OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs offer perfect blacks thanks to their self-emissive pixels and no need for a traditional backlight. Viewing angles are stellar, contrast is unrivaled, and OLED can make practically anything you put on the screen shine.

OLED TVs offer unbeatable, perfect black levels.
OLED TVs offer unbeatable, perfect black levels.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

That said, OLED TVs aren’t perfect at everything: they usually trail LCD TVs in overall brightness, and the possibility of permanent burn-in hasn’t yet been overcome, even if LG, Sony, and other OLED TV makers have measures in place that make the problem very unlikely.

QD-OLED: CES 2022 marked the big debut of QD-OLED panels on both TVs and gaming monitors. These quantum dot OLED displays are made by Samsung Display and differ from those manufactured by LG Display because they offer true RGB color reproduction and can maintain vivid colors across the brightness range. 

Traditional OLEDs emit light through a color filter, but QD-OLED beams blue light through quantum dots to create red and green and produce the rest of the color spectrum. This more efficient approach has benefits, including improved overall brightness levels and even better viewing angles than OLED already offers. 

What’s the difference between OLED and QD-OLED?

QD-OLED screens differ from the traditional OLED panels that’ve long been manufactured by LG Display in the way they produce an image. LG’s displays are considered WRGB OLED, because they use blue and yellow OLED compound to generate white-ish light pixels that are passed through color filters to produce red, green, and blue sub-pixels. More recent OLED TVs also have a fourth unfiltered / white sub-pixel meant to enhance brightness — especially for HDR content.

QD-OLED changes this up by emitting blue light through quantum dots to convert some of that blue into red and green without any need for the color filter. (Blue is used because it has the strongest light energy.) This leads to greater light energy efficiency; since you’re not losing any light to the color filters, QD-OLED TVs should offer brightness gains compared to past-generation OLEDs.

A simplified breakdown of QD-OLED.
A simplified breakdown of QD-OLED.
Image: Samsung Display

They should also be able to maintain accurate, vivid quantum dot color reproduction even at peak brightness levels, whereas WRGB OLED can sometimes exhibit some desaturation when pushed that far. The already-superb viewing angles of OLED are claimed to be even better on QD-OLED at extreme angles since there’s more diffusion happening without the color filter in the way.

The possibility of burn-in isn’t eliminated by QD-OLED, but the hope is that these panels could exhibit a longer overall life span than existing OLED TVs since the pixels aren’t working as hard. Samsung Display is using three layers of blue OLED material for each pixel, and that could help to preserve longevity.

The first QD-OLED TVs are expected to ship in 2022 and are likely to cost noticeably more than those from LG, so we’ll need some actual hands-on time to determine if these upgraded panels are worth the price premium. But it’s still exciting to see the best TV tech (that normal people can potentially afford) continue to evolve.

VRR: The latest TVs with variable refresh rate allow games on a PS5 or Xbox Series S / X to adjust their refresh rate at up to 120Hz for much smoother on-screen action. (In 2022, some TVs will increase this as high as 144Hz for PC gaming.) VRR also proves helpful at smoothing out any brief hitches or drops in frame rate to the point that they’re often unnoticeable, letting you focus on the game itself instead of your console’s technical performance. 

Terms you should ignore and / or avoid in 2022

8K: Manufacturers continue to produce new 8K TV models each year, but the entertainment industry as a whole still hasn’t made a dent in the biggest problem area: there’s still a dearth of native 8K content that’s easy to stream. 

Edge-lit LED: Cheaper LCD TVs will often have edge lighting — with LEDs around the perimeter of the screen instead of behind it — that results in significantly worse picture quality, uneven uniformity, and mediocre black levels compared to sets with local dimming. It can be enticing to buy a giant-sized TV at a low price, but as the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.