Why are black levels so important for televisions?
If you’re shopping for a TV or just want to learn more about how to get the best picture performance from your existing TV, you may have heard of black levels.
Why are they so important, not just for TVs but for any screen? This guide will explain what black levels are and why they are so important and relevant in the age of HDR TVs.
Table of Contents:
- What are black levels?
- Which TVs offer the best black levels?
- How do I adjust the black levels?
What are black levels?
To give you a very simple explanation, the black level of a TV is the darkest on a screen. The holy grail of black levels is a pure black screen. The basis of good television performance is its black levels.
You can also hear black levels called brightness. In fact, adjusting your TV’s brightness is all about darkness, not brightness (at least in the conventional sense). Adjusting brightness isn’t about making the screen brighter, it’s about adjusting the depth of black levels.
The deeper the blacks, the more depth a screen can display, and the stronger the sense of contrast, which is the difference between the lightest and darkest part of an image, can be. Colors will appear stronger next to ‘true’ blacks, and the brightest parts of the image (the highlights) will stand out more because the depth of the black acts as a more effective contrast against it.
What you don’t want are levels of gray or “milky” black. This creates a feeling of reduced contrast, a flatter picture, weaker color rendering, and an overall washed-out appearance, especially if you’re watching TV in a dimly lit room. Low black levels can distract from what you’re looking at with your eye drawn to parts of the image that it shouldn’t be.
Which TVs offer the best black levels?
Everyone sings the praises of an OLED display when it comes to black levels, and with good reason. OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode and each pixel is self-emitting, meaning it can produce its own light when a current passes through it.
Because each pixel can be turned on or off, you get perfect blacks because when the pixel is off, no light is emitted. This also leads to OLEDs having what is called infinite contrast, the difference between the brightest and darkest point in the image being so great that there is no number to describe it. Having this infinite contrast makes the image more dramatic and vibrant.
LED LCD TVs can produce effective black levels, but they can’t completely turn off each pixel because they use a backlight. A backlight is a screen behind the TV screen that adjusts the light levels displayed.
Backlight bleeding on Sony XH95 TVs
LCD TV screens often pass light from the TV’s backlight to what you see on the screen, but with more advanced technology such as Full Array Local Dimming (or FALD), which separates the screen into zones to control better display of brightness and contrast. on screen, you can minimize blooming (halos around shiny objects) or bleeding (where light leaks around the edges of a screen).
An example of a FALD TV is the Sony X95J or a mini LED TV, such as the Samsung QN95B. These reduce the amount of light that leaks onto the screen, producing better black levels and better contrast for a stronger, more vibrant and richer image.
How do I adjust the black levels?
Although we suggest you leave the brightness levels as they are (they’re usually fine and don’t need to be changed often), if you think that’s the case, head to the settings area of your TV’s menu and look for the setting ‘Brightness’. It should be the same for any TV in terms of what it’s called.
The “Brightness” setting is usually a slider that you can move up and down and for all TVs it should be set to zero. Move the slider up and you’ll make black levels brighter – you can see more detail at the cost of washed-out, inaccurate colors. Move it down and it makes the image darker, but details are lost and colors are darker.
A TV’s cinema mode tends to offer the best black performance, and if you’re considering changing the brightness setting, we recommend using content you’re familiar with. We often use 4K Blu-ray V for Vendetta to see how good the black levels are on a TV.
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