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The 6 Different Types of Televisions (based on TV Technology)


About 4 years ago we upgraded from a 32" TV to a mammoth 65" smart TV. What a difference it made. Just for fun we added a Bose speaker system. While 4 years old, we still watch in awe. These days, TV technology continues to move forward with some incredible different types of TVs. Read the latest TV tech here.

Woman watching television in living room

Thinking about updating your television viewing experience? Feel like your TV is outdated after a few years?

You’re not alone. The average household gets a new TV every 6.9 years, and that timeframe is expected to decrease as the pace of technological advances continues to increase.

These days, buying a TV can be a frustrating experience because there are so many choices and understanding the differences to make a decision can be tough. Here, we’ll go through each type of television available on the market today, explain the technology behind the model, and address the pros and cons of that particular approach for TV viewing.

To understand our model choices today, it’s helpful to understand the first technological mechanisms of televisions to see how our current choices have evolved.

Related: 16 Types of TV Stands

A. How were televisions invented? How did the first models work?

The first technological advances allowing for the simultaneous viewing and listening of broadcasts were developed in the late 19th century by a number of European, American, and Japanese physicists spanning decades and countries. The original television was mechanical, meaning that viewing the image relied upon the spinning of a disk for viewing.

These mechanical TVs, which were first commercialized in the late 1920s, were basically radios with the spinning disk television device attached. As such, they were massive, bulky, and heavy. The image the disk created was only the size of a postage stamp, requiring the addition of a magnifier to be built into the system as well. With a resolution of at best 30 lines of pixels and a frame refresh rate of “several” frames per second, mechanical televisions needed a new mechanism to improve the instantly popular TV viewing, radio combo.

That new technology came in the form of cathode-ray tubes, which consist of a vacuum with an electron gun that produces an electron beam, and a phosphorescent screen onto which the electron beam is modulated to create images. Developed at the beginning of the 20th century, cathode-ray tube technology for televisions was a huge hit, expanding the resolution of screens to 600 or more lines of pixels each direction and a frame refresh rate of sixty time a second (60 Hz).

In the 1950s and 1960s, the addition of transistor electronic circuits allowed for TVs to become more compact and portable. At the same time, color TV was created using three electron guns and phosphorescent screens in red, blue, and green repeating strips. Cathode-ray tube TVs dominated TV technology until the invention and commercialization of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) in the early 2010s. Since then, even more TV types have appeared on the market, making it difficult to decide which TV is best for you.

B. Types of Televisions by Technology

The fast pace of technological advancements in the last few decades have greatly diversified our television viewing experience beyond the cathode-ray tube TVs of the 20th century. But what are all the options available today, and most importantly, which one should you get? While your decision ultimately depends on your style, preferences, and needs, let’s go over each TV type as a function of technology and discuss the pros and cons.

1. Direct View

Direct View old school television

Direct View TVs are a rebranding of the classic, century-long dominance of the cathode-ray tube TVs. Unfortunately, if you’re looking to buy a new direct-view TV you’re probably out of luck. Most TV manufacturers have ceased production on these models in most countries in favor of newer technologies. However, don’t completely disregard the cathode-ray tube TV as an option to keep around. If you’re into gaming, especially older gaming, having a direct view TV may be important. Many classic video games were developed specifically for the cathode-ray tube technology. Older games played on newer TVs can look torn or lag in ways that aren’t a problem with direct view TVs. Nintendo’s Zapper light gun used with Duck Hunt works by detecting the modulating electrons on the projected ducks to determine a hit or miss. These can be modified to work with other technologies, but require extensive modifications. Cathode-ray tube TV technology may feel outdated now, but in the future may be reclassified as vintage and enjoy a resurgence. And while you can’t get new direct-view TVs anymore, there are still plenty of used options around for super cheap.

2. Plasma Display Panels

Plasma TV

Source: Ebay

Beginning in the 1990s, plasma display panel TVs became the first flat screen alternative to cathode-ray tube technology. Plasma displays are designed as a cellular grid with pixels that contain plasma, an ionized gas that responds to electric fields. The plasma layer is flanked by electrodes, with glass panels in the front and rear. Plasma TVs use similar phosphor screens as cathode-ray tube TVs, making the color depth similar in both technologies. However, plasma screen technology has considerable faster frame response over cathode-ray tubes, refreshing up to 600 times a second (600 Hz). Plasma TVs are also easily scalable — the first flat, big screen systems were all plasma displays.

While an improvement in many ways over cathode-ray tubes, plasma TVs were still bulky, and they were and are susceptible to “burn-in,” or image retention, over time. Newer plasma TVs with updated compact designs were still on the market into the early 2000s, but most companies discontinued their plasma TV production in 2015. So if you’re interested in plasma, look for used and refurbished models. Their biggest advantage? Affordability, and a step up from cathode-ray tube technology.

3. Digital Light Processing (DLP)

DLP television

Image Source

Digital Light Processing (DLP) TVs were invented by Texas Instruments in the 1980s, using a completely novel technological approach. DLPs use an optical semiconductor chip with over 1 million mirrors that process digital signals by tilting to varying degrees, reflecting light in deferent directions to create an image. The resulting smooth viewing experience has several advantages over cathode-ray tube and plasma TVs, including longer lifespans, lighter weight, and 3D projection compatibility. However, newer technologies that are thinner, quieter, have faster response rates, and use less energy have also caused the shutdown of DLP TV production as of 2012. Used and refurbished models are available, with costs comparable to similarly dated plasma TV models.

4. Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) television

Liquid Crystal Display TVs are by far the most common TV type available today. First conceived in the 1960s, LCD technology uses a unique state of matter called liquid crystals. In this state, molecules are fluid but retain a specific crystal structure such that they are all oriented the same way. For LCDs, each pixel of the display contains several precisely oriented liquid crystal molecules that are aligned between two electrodes and two polarizing filters. When the screen is inert, no light can pass through. But when an electric field is applied, the liquid crystals rotate to a degree dependent on the voltage applied, which lets a corresponding amount of light pass through the screen at that pixel. So, by applying different voltages to different pixels across the screen, an image can be viewed. Most LCD TVs today are backlit with LED lights, and are sometimes just referred to as LED TVs.

LCDs have been used for almost all screens produced in the last decade (2010s), including, among others, computers, clocks, smartphones, and watches. This is in part due to the versatility of the LCD technology, allowing screen sizes ranging from small watches all the way up to very large TVs. And unlike previous TV technologies, LCD screens are all flat and lightweight.  LCDs also offer the highest resolution of all technologies discussed thus far, at 1080p (1,080 × 1,920 pixels), with similar or higher frame refresh rates of 60 Hz up to 240 Hz. LCD TVs also have a growing market for use as outdoor TVs, with model features including use in extreme temperatures, waterproof casings, and extra bright LEDs.

LCD TVs today are also affordable, medium to large-sized TVs run at only a few hundred dollars. So LCDs are sounding pretty great – what’s the downside? One of the biggest drawbacks of LCD TVs is they can suffer from ghost or motion blur under slow response times. This is where anything moving on the screen looses its sharp edges and softens more than other objects on the screen that are stationary. However, LCD TVs have so many advantages, they should be a contender for new TV purchases.

5. Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) Display

An organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display contains an organic compound that emits light in response to electricity. The organic compound, which can be small molecules or polymers, is situated between two electrodes, at least one of which is transparent for viewing the fluorescent compound clearly. Unlike LCDs, no backlighting is required since the compound itself is light-emitting, so OLEDs can display deeper blacks than LCD screens and generally display greater contrast ratios in ambient light. They can also be even thinner and lighter than LCDs because filter layers are not required.

The first OLED TVs hit the market in 2012 and have been a steady competitor of LCD TVs ever since. In addition to better color quality, OLED technology allows for much faster response times over the LCD mechanism. OLEDs can in theory transition images 1,000 times faster than LCDs, reaching refresh rates of 100,000 Hz, though practically this hasn’t been achieved just yet. Because OLED TVs don’t require backlighting, they also use approximately 40% less power than LCD screens, saving you money on energy bills in the long run. Lastly, OLED technology is exciting because it has the potential to grow in ways we can’t even image yet. OLEDs can theoretically be printed onto any substrate, including flexible plastics. You may have heard about smartphone companies working to develop foldable screens — that’s possible because of the OLED technology. And in addition to endless application possibilities, OLEDs have the potential to be cheap, even cheaper than LCD screens are today.

While there are many advantages of OLED technology and OLED TVs have started slowly to replace LCD TVs over the last decade, the take over isn’t nearly as fast or sure of victory as the transition from cathode-ray tubes to LCDs for our television viewing. And that’s because, even with all the excitement in and potential of the technology, there are still some significant drawbacks. The biggest problem with OLEDs is a finite lifespan on the light emitting fluorescent materials, resulting in a much shorter lifespan than LCDs. How much shorter depends on your tolerance for washed out images. In 2008, a study on the lifespan of OLED TV screens found that after 1,000 hours of use, the blue luminance degraded by 12%, the red by 7% and the green by 8%. The lifetimes of these emissions have improved since then with the newest models citing stats of 100,000 hour lifespans, but the degradation of the organic material, particularly in the blue spectrum, is still an ongoing issue with the technology and will cause a decrease in color vibrancy over time.

The other major hurtle of OLED screen technology is the capacity for burn-in of an image. When an imaged is paused for long periods on an OLED screen, the image can be permanently retained. Many companies are working on this problem, but OLED TVs currently on the market will suffer from burn-in, which contributes to the limited lifetime of the television. Like LCDs, OLEDs can also suffer from the same blurred motion effect when response times are slow. Unlike LCD TVs, OLED TVs are quite pricey, ranging into the thousands of dollars at a minimum.

6. Quantum Light-Emitting Diode (QLED)

Samsung QN65Q7FN Flat 65" QLED 4K UHD 7 Series Smart TV 2018

Click image for more info

(picture: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/jakarta-indonesia-may-17-2019-samsung-1400305955)

Just a few years old, quantum light-emitting diode (QLED) displays are the next generation of LCD displays. Tiny nanoparticles called quantum dots are emended in the LCD display, which dramatically improves color and brightness.  OLEDs still have better contrast ratios over QLEDs, but QLED screens can be larger, last longer, and are not susceptible to burn-in. Plus, QLED TVs are more affordable than OLED TVs, ranging between LCDs and OLEDs in price.

By Screen Type

Until recently, all screens were flat.  Now you can buy curved screens which is supposed to provide better view of the picture when viewing directly in front as well as from the side.  Given how large TVs are getting the curved screen apparently assists in better viewing of the entire screen.  I’m not so sure that the curved technology is the way to go.  After all, movie theater screens are flat and they’re huge, but test it for yourself.  Go to a local Best Buy and watch on a curved screen. If you like it better, buy it.

1. Flat

Here’s an example of a flat screen:

Samsung QN82Q70RAFXZA Flat 82-Inch QLED 4K Q70 Series Ultra HD Smart TV with HDR and Alexa Compatibility (2019 Model)

Click image for more info

2. Curved

Here’s an example of a curved screen:

Samsung UN65NU8500FXZA Curved 65" 4K UHD 8 Series Smart LED TV (2018)

Click image for more info

Are curved screens more popular than flat screens?

No, not based availability. Far more models are flat… for now.  For example, at the time this was published out of hundreds of TV models available at Best Buy, only 3 are curved.

By Resolution

Resolution refers to the number of pixels vertically and horizontally for video display. The higher the number of pixels, the better the resolution.

What are the resolution options for TVs? 

Here are the screen resolution options for televisions.

  1. 720p (HD)
  2. 1,080p (Full HD)
  3. 2,160p (4K)
  4. 4,320p (8K)

By Features

1. Smart

A smart TV describes the technological convergence of a TV, computer, and a set-top box (think cable box), and are cable of accessing the internet. Smart TVs can, and are, used with multiple types of TV display technologies. As of late 2019, all major TV manufacturers only produce smart TVs.

2. High Dynamic Range (HDR)

What is HDR TV?

HDR refers to a technique to heighten a picture’s dynamic range – the contrast between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks.  The theory is: the higher the dynamic range, the closer a photograph gets to real life. HDR for televisions is basically the same idea.

– Source: WhatHiFi.com

3. Voice Activated

More and more TVs include voice activation tech such as Google Assistant.  I’m not big on using voice activation on devices, but I’m sure I’ll come around.  I don’t use on my iPhone and doubt I’d use it on a TV.  However, since we watch more and more streaming services, that’s a technology that works better for voice activation because you can actually start the show.  “Ok Google, play Animal Kingdom.”  I suppose it could be convenient for going to different channels.  “Ok Google, go to channel 563” or “Ok Google, go to ESPN.”

Television technology in the works

There are so many TV types available today, we hope this guide has helped explain the field of choices. The rate of technological advances means that even more viewing technologies will soon be on the horizon. Some of these we can’t even image yet, while others are in the theoretical testing stages, like field-emission displays (FEDs) and surface-conduction electron-emitter displays (SEDs). Both FEDs and SEDs work by electron emissions, and in some ways circle back to the original cathode-ray tube technology. Offering advantages like high contrast levels, fast response times, and less than half the power of current LCDs, these technologies are currently under development as the next wave of high-end home entertainment options. But for now, we wish you happy TV shopping with the great choices available today!

TV FAQs

TV FAQs

What type of TV is a Smart TV?

A smart TV describes the technological convergence of a TV, computer, and a set-top box (think cable box), and are cable of accessing the internet. Smart TVs can, and are, used with multiple types of TV display technologies. As of late 2019, all major TV manufacturers only produce smart TVs.

What’s the difference between HDTV, 4K, and 8K TVs?

High-definition television (HDTV) provides higher resolution than standard-definition TV (SDTV). HDTV resolution was possible even on cathode-ray tube screens. Advances in TV display resolution now allow for 4K ultra-high definition (UHD: 4,000 pixel resolution, 3840 × 2160 pixels) and most recently 8K UHD (8,000 pixel resolution, 7680 × 4320 pixels).

What’s a voice-assistant TV?

Voice-assistant TVs are TVs with voice control technology built in, often with Google, Amazon, or Apple artificial intelligence. Many high-end TV models today offer this as an option.

Have improvements been made to LCD screens to compete with the OLED screen?

Yes, some companies have been experimenting with LCD screens using quantum dots in combination with more traditional liquid crystal molecules, see the QLED section above. Another competing technology are micro-LEDs, where microscopic LEDs make up each pixel of a screen. Both of these approaches address color depth drawbacks of LCD screens and are theoretically on par with OLED color ratios. QLEDs are on the market, but still don’t quiet meet the color depth of OLED screens. Still, keep an eye out for news on these technological advances in the future.

Have there been improvements to the sound quality of TVs?

The bulky outer casing required for cathode-ray tube TVs allowed ample space for large speakers, providing high sound quality. The rise of the flat-screen TV has left little room for speakers, and in particular, these speakers lack base response. While TV display technologies have advanced dramatically, no TV manufacturers have addressed the sound issue in their current models. However, several companies offer sound bars for enhancing TV sound quality.

How big are TVs?

They keep growing. You can still buy small TVs but you can also buy TVs up to 98″.  No doubt the size will keep growing until our TVs take up entire walls.

Related: Master Bedrooms with TVs | Living Rooms with TVs

Tags: Categories: Smart Home