HDTV Contrast Ratio
I'm currently shopping for an HDTV. Several of the models I'm looking at have widely different Contrast Ratio numbers like 3000:1 and 800:1. Should I be concerned with contrast ratio in making my decision?
The short answer is, yes you should be very concerned with the contrast ratio of your HDTV screen. Contrast has a significant impact on how your picture looks. Coupled with brightness settings, it also plays into how easily you can make out onscreen details in a room with the lights on. In looking at a variety of HDTV screens the contrast ratio is all over the map, no matter how much you are paying for.
Those contrast numbers are the ratio between white colors and black colors on your screen. Using the two numbers you site above, in one case, the contrast ratio shows white being 3000 times brighter than black and in the other white is only 800 times brighter than black. In general lower contrast ratio numbers translate to coloration that may not match the video source as closely as a higher contrast output. Or simply put, bigger is better, in this case.
Be careful though. Manufacturers often overstate this number and it's a good idea to compare screens side-by-side with high contrast scenes, including dark shots in a mystery thriller movie where low contrast screens might reveal a bunch of grey blotches in areas that should be black and brightly lit scenes where whites play an important role in the color scheme.
Closely coupled to contrast ratio is brightness or black level. Brightness is the major determining factor in your ability to watch the screen in a lighted room. Contrast is the determinant between subtle black and white colorations while brightness influences the subtlety of those colors.
You can adjust the contrast and brightness of your screen to achieve a perfect HDTV viewing experience using free HDTV calibration slides.