CNET Dishes On Dynamic Contrast Ratios

If you missed the latest podcast from our friends over at CNET, I'll fill you in. Eric Franklin and Dong Ngo have a lively conversation about one of the latest marketing ploys, or as they put it, "company shenanigans."
The ploy? Dynamic contrast ratio.  Oooh, sounds impressive. Kinda like contrast ratio, only more, well, dynamic. Unfortunately, this falls into one of those misleading specs - the kind that have no meaning in the real world. What is this sexy spec, and why is it so misleading?

As Eric Franklin explains, contrast ratio is a real measurement. A luminance meter measures the difference between the darkest black image on a monitor showing a black image and the brightest white. It should be noted that he deals mostly with LCD computer monitors, and that's his field of reference. A typical LCD monitor will have a contrast ratio of 1,000:1.

All is good and well until manufacturers started touting their more impressive dynamic contrast ratios of 5,000:1 or higher. What is this magical dynamic contrast ratio?

Some LCD monitors have a switchable feature that turns off the backlight when the screen is showing nothing but black. The backlight, which controls the brightness, goes into a standby mode; the screen goes to sleep. It's from this standby mode that the dynamic contrast ratio is measured. The blacks in this mode can be ten times darker, so the ratio is quite exaggerated.

Specsheet This measurement has nothing to do with the quality of a real-life viewing situation, such as movie-watching, gaming, or even working - the screen is basically shut down. It's a measurement in a laboratory, with no basis in the real world; a measurement with no context.

Franklin's suggestion? Find the monitor with the best picture for the type of application you're using, make sure it has the connection options you need, it's the right size, and the price fits your budget. Don't let dynamic contrast ratio influence you at all. No matter how impressive the spec. It just doesn't matter.  -Leslie Shapiro

Listen to the podcast here.