What is Contrast Ratio? Monitor’s Contrast Ratio Explained

How many times did you get confused after reading the contrast ratio numbers on a monitor’s specifications? Not only the computer monitor, but all display products such as TV and projector also have a contrast ratio figure. In this article, we will discover what contrast ratio is and how it works.

You might assume that the higher numbers are better, technically the answer is yes. A high contrast display delivers better picture quality compared to a low contrast ratio display. Without knowing what is the contrast ratio, it is possible to get confused by different contrast ratio numbers.

What is Contrast Ratio?

To simplify the answer, the contrast ratio is the luminance difference between the brightest white and the darkest black that a monitor can produce. Luminance is used to measure the amount of light/candela per square meter or cd/m² on a surface.

Forget about the technical details, did you notice a brightness figure in the nits on your monitor’s specification? That’s the luminance, nits are just another metric to measure luminance.

For example, a 1000:1 contrast ratio means the brightest scene is 1000 times brighter than the darkest part of a picture. Pictures look washed out due to the poor contrast ratio mostly in a dark sense. The overall picture quality depends on the contrast ratio, a higher contrast ratio delivers better image quality.

high contrast vs low contrast ratio

Native Vs Dynamic Contrast Ratio.

The native contrast ratio is the default contrast ratio that the panel alone can do without any backlight undervolting. We refer to the native contrast ratio when purchasing a new monitor. Based on the panel, the contrast ratio also varies by a large margin.

Native Vs Dynamic Contrast ratio

Dynamic contrast ratio is also known as Advance Contrast Ratio (ACR) and sometimes Smart Contrast Ratio. This ACR ratio usually comes in a sky-high figure such as 50000:1 and monitor manufacturers often love to highlight this contrast value for attention.

Dynamic contrast ratio is nothing but a backlight trickery, underpowers some portion of the backlight to enhance the dark scene of the pictures. This technique makes the black deeper and shines the light area, making images look great but also a bit overexposed at the same time.

Contrast Ratio and Backlight

Each monitor or display unit must have a back-light source to display pictures. So how do these backlights work? Let’s assume that we turn on all available backlights for a completely white scene and simply turn off for a pure black scene. Well, some websites measure the monitor’s contrast ratio by this method, which is not the best way as real-life pictures are a mixture of dark and bright areas.

For a mixture image, some backlight is turned full-on for the brightest part, a few are dimmed, and the rests are completely turned off to produce black. That’s why we didn’t get pure black from the monitor rather than OLED. Technically, no monitor can produce pure black, pure black is only possible in the lab environment. Even some of the backlights are dimmed or turned off, few backlights remain on for the brightest part of the image.

HDR AND Local Dimming
Monitors with HDR (High Dynamic Range) have a better contrast ratio, shadow highlights, and deep black level. Most of these high-end HDR monitors have full-array local dimming backlight instead of the regular edge-lit backlight.

As a full-array local dimming backlight is distributed in several zones, it has much better light control to enhance the contrast ratio. Of course, not all HDR monitor has local dimming backlight. All entry-level VESA DisplayHDR 400 monitors are edge-lit but with higher brightness and HDR 10 support theoretically.

High Contrast Ratio VA Monitor

VA monitors have the highest contrast ratio after OLED panels. If you need a high contrast monitor at a reasonable price, VA monitors are the only option. Please note that this contrast ratio figure is based on our internal testing after proper hardware calibration. The official specification might be different. However, this result also can vary from unit to unit and how you tuned the OSD.

Product

Contrast Ratio

Resolution

Refresh Rate

Screen Size

Price

Samsung Odyssey G7

3953 : 1

2560x1440

240 Hz

32"

GIGABYTE G32QC

5148 : 1

2560x1440

165Hz

32" 

Samsung Odyssey G3

5106 : 1

1920x1080

 144Hz

24"

MSI Optix G27C6

4225 : 1

1920x1080

 165Hz

 27"

Dell S3221QS

3230 : 1

3840 x 2160

60Hz

32"

Pixio PXC327

3302 : 1

2560x1440

 165Hz

32"

LG 32GN50T-B

4012 : 1

1920x1080

165Hz

32"

Dell S2721HGF

3432 : 1

1920x1080

144Hz

 27"

High Contrast Ratio IPS Monitor

IPS panels are the most popular display type for their superior color reproduction and excellent viewing angles, but it also suffers from a poor contrast ratio. Even some top-selling IPS gaming monitors have serious contrast issues, though they have 1000:1 contrast figures in the specification, the real-world performance is 850-900:1 and sometimes even lower.

Some fine-tuned IPS monitor has an excellent contrast ratio, up to 1400-1500 marks, but they can’t match even lower end VA Panel which is a 2000:1 contrast ratio as a minimum.

Product

Contrast Ratio

Resolution

Refresh Rate

Screen Size

Price

ASUS ProArt PA32UCG

1428 : 1

3840x2160

120 Hz

 32"

Dell U3219Q

1413 : 1

3840 x 2160

60 Hz

 32"

MSI Optix G272

1406 : 1

1920x1080

144 Hz

27"

ASUS TUF Gaming VG259QM

1364 : 1

1920x1080

280 Hz

25"

Dell U2718Q

1317 : 1

3840 x 2160

60Hz

27"

CORSAIR XENEON 32QHD165

1129 : 1

2560 x1440

165Hz

32"

High Contrast Ratio OLED Monitor

OLED holds the crown for the best contrast ratio among all display panels. OLED backlighting technique is unique, individual lighting for every single pixel that results in pure black and very sharp details. The OLED contrast ratio is infinite, there are only a few OLED monitors available in the market, and most of them are out of reach for sky-high pricing. Some industry-leading display manufacturers including LG, DELL, SONY, ASUS already launched some top-tier OLED displays and the numbers will increase rapidly in near future.

Product

Contrast Ratio

Resolution

Refresh Rate

Screen Size

Price

Gigabyte AORUS FO48U OLED

Inf : 1

3840x2160

120 Hz

 48"

Alienware AW5520QF

Inf : 1

3840 x 2160

120Hz

 55" 

ASUS ProArt PQ22UC 

Inf : 1

3840 x 2160

60Hz

21.6"

INNOCN Portable  OLED Monitor

Inf : 1

3840 x 2160

60Hz

15.6"

UPERFECT Portable OLED Monitor

Inf : 1

3840 x 2160

60Hz

15.6"

The TN panels are known for the worst contrast ratio along with their bad viewing angles. The legacy TN tech is outdated now, and the numbers of TN monitors are decreasing rapidly every year. Only some eSports monitors use the TN panel as it has a really fast response time and low input lag. The average TN panel has an 800:1 contrast ratio while some best TN panels can rock the 1000:1 contrast range.

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