4k_silverware

This week marks the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), an orgy of gadgetry where companies big and small show off what we’re told is the latest in state-of-the-art technology. And yet the event has become so tiresome for some tech reporters that Wired went so far as to turn its coverage into a competitive reporter-vs-reporter “thunderdome” just to keep it interesting.

There are a few reasons many of us tune out CES-mania. One is a general feeling that tech innovation has stalled, a sentiment that’s lately become in vogue to express.

Another possibility, however, is that much of the reporting on CES turns into a torrent of specs and jargon: 4K, UHD, OLED… What do these specifications mean? And which ones of them should average consumers really care about?

To help clear things up, we created a simple glossary of CES terms to help you determine what’s really worth paying attention to at this year’s event.

4K

4K measures the resolution (sharpness) of a television screen. It quite literally means a screen has a resolution of at least 4,000 horizontal pixels. For comparison, a standard HDTV has 1920 horizontal pixels so 4K is twice as sharp.

But is 4K really necessary? That depends on two things: How big your TV is, and how close you are to it. For example, according to this chart published by Engadget, if you have a 60-inch TV and your chair is seven feet away from the screen, then anything stronger than a standard HDTV will be a waste of money because your eyes won’t notice the difference. If you have a 120-inch TV and you want to sit closer than 10 feet from the screen, then your eyes will notice the difference between standard HD and 4K. One final caveat: Like HD, 4K requires special 4K-optimized content to be served up for it to make any difference, and we’re only beginning to see content providers get on board (though today Netflix announced it will stream the 2nd season of House of Cards in 4K)

UHD

UHD or Ultra-HD is more or less another way of saying 4K (It’s a resolution measurement of around 4000 pixels or more). So when you see UHD, the writer pretty much means 4K (There are subtle distinctions but they probably won’t matter to most consumers).

OLED

Like 4K, OLED pertains to television screens. But while 4K measures resolution, OLED is used to describe the physical makeup of the screen. OLED stands for “Organic Light-Emitting Diode” which means that the substance used to create light in response to an electric current is organic (meaning it contains carbon).

What does that mean for the viewer? The big difference between OLED and, say, liquid-crystal display (LCD) TVs is that OLEDs do not use a backlight, resulting in better contrast ratio (the difference between the darkest part of an image and the brightest). Also, notice how most TVs still emit light even when displaying black? OLEDs take care of that problem by having the ability to shut pixels off entirely.

The big drawback for OLED TVs? The cost: Current models start at around $9000.

Quattron

Quattron is a proprietary television screen technology developed by Sharp which can split pixels in half so it can have the appearance of displaying twice as many pixels without relying on expensive 4K technology. That makes Quattron TVs more affordable than 4K TVs (though according to Gizmodo’s Eric Limer, the difference between Quattron and 4K is noticeable).

WebOS

WebOS is an operating system that, while originally designed for smartphones, is now used for smart TVs. The Linux-based system has been around for a few years, but this year LG drastically simplified it for its new line of TVs. In the Verge’s rundown of the new changes to WebOS, Dieter Bohn writes that he’s “impressed by the clarity of vision behind the new interface,” but “doubtful that it was up to the task of convincing people that it would be worth buying a new TV for.”

Haswell processor

Vizio and Toshiba both unveiled laptops today boasting a “Haswell processor,” which is just a fancy name for Intel’s 4th generation processor. While that may sound nice on a list of specs, the processor has been around since July and has already been available on many laptops including the MacBook Air. Meanwhile, people are already anticipating the fifth-generation processor which is expected to be released this year.

BONUS: Teledildonics

Teledildonics was coined by Ted Nelson in 1975 to describe sex toys controlled by computers. Two years ago, the field had a big day at CES when the RealTouch interactive dildo was released. Now there’s a new smartphone-controlled pleasure gizmo making a splash at CES: It’s called the the blueMotion massager and it’s basically vibrating underwear. “It’s a really fun way to control vibrations without anyone knowing what you’re doing because the remote is on your phone,” Brian Dunham, the CEO of OhMiBod which manufacturers the product, told Mashable.

Um okay, but I’m pretty sure if the vibrator’s doing its job, somebody would notice?

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]