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Tech talk: Contrast ratio

Consumer Reports News: October 20, 2008 05:08 AM

Q: I've seen HDTV ads where "contrast ratio" is highlighted. What is that?

A: "Contrast ratio" represents the difference between the brightest whites and darkest blacks that a television can display. But claimed contrast ratios can be misleading.

One ad might list a contrast ratio of 5,000:1 for one set, for example, while another ad for another set boasts about a ratio of 1,000,000:1. That's 200 times better, right? No!

There are many ways to measure contrast ratio, and the results aren't comparable. Also, they might be based on settings that wouldn't work in actual use, with picture brightness set too high and black level too low.

What you need to know: The best way to find a TV with great contrast is to check our HDTV Ratings (available to subscribers) and choose one that has an excellent score for picture quality. Contrast ratio is one of a few critical areas in which a TV must do well to earn that high score. You can rest assured that the scores for different TVs are comparable, because our engineers calibrate each set before testing and conduct the same exacting tests on every set.

To get a better understanding of what to look for when choosing an HDTV, watch our free online video: Buying a big-screen TV. You can also check our free HDTV buying guide on


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