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Every piece of technology has a specification (spec) sheet, and we often look at it before we make a purchase. In theory, a spec sheet is the very soul of objectivity. It doesn’t editorialize, or have opinions; it just shows a list of facts. How fast is the processor? What’s the resolution?
The numbers don’t lie, right?
Ah, but they do. And in some cases they’re specifically used to give absurd claims an aura of credibility. You’re likely reading this article on a product made by a company that has itself exaggerated, re-worded, and generally stretched the truth. I’m taking, of course, about your computer monitor.
A common claim on monitor spec sheets is an unfathomably high contrast ratio. Contrast ratio is the measurement of the ratio between the darkest black and the brightest white a display can produce. It sometimes reaches as high as 1,000,000:1, or in the case of the Samsung 200 Series monitors, “Mega Infinity Contrast Ratio” — yes, that’s a real term used by a real company. It’s absurd, and it’s untrue.
The best monitors we’ve reviewed barely break 1,000:1 when we measure them with a calibration tool. Televisions do better, but until desktop displays receive OLED technology, they’ll continue to lag behind. Monitors with a measured contrast ratio above 1,000:1 are the cream of the crop.
That’s static contrast ratio, as opposed to dynamic contrast ratio, which is what most manufacturers quote. Static indicates the widest distance between dark and light a monitor can project at a given brightness setting.
Dynamic contrast ratio uses a different measurement. Often, it involves measuring the absolute darkest black and the brightest white, even if each is measured at different display settings. The black reading might be taken with the display backlight nearly turned off, for example, while the white is taken with it at absolute maximum. Dynamic contrast ratio is not a standardized measurement so you can’t ever see all that contrast at once.
Manufacturers often only advertise the dynamic ratio. A third of the LCD monitors for sale right now on the popular retail site NewEgg are listed as having a 10,000:1 or higher contrast ratio. That’s almost 10 times higher than the best contrast ratio we’ve ever measured. 166 monitors (about 6 percent) list a contrast ratio of 10,000,000:1 — and all of them are from Acer or Asus.
Those companies have not perfected super-secret technology. It’s marketing baloney that we shouldn’t excuse.
Manufacturers have taken to using fancy Web gadgets and fabricated images to “demonstrate” the power of higher-resolution displays, refresh-management technology, and other advances. The idea of showing someone how good a monitor is by having them look at images on a different monitor is a difficult concept to begin with, but some companies go above and beyond the call of duty and create misleading images that have no basis in reality.