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Technology Dictionary: Common Terms Defined

Listen to two tech-savvy people chat away and your head will spin: It’s all gigahertz this and megapixel that. Thankfully for those who can’t tell the difference between Blu-ray and Bluetooth, HDMI and HDTV, we’re happy to provide a handy glossary to several common acronyms, phrases and other industry jargon relating to televisions, computers, mobile phones and other consumer electronics:1080p

1080p: This term refers to the maximum resolution of some high-definition televisions (HDTVs). A 1080p-compatible television means all 1,080 lines on the screen can be displayed "progressively," or in sequential order (1, 2, 3, etc.), resulting in an ultra-sharp image, as opposed to older televisions that display lines in an "interlaced" fashion by alternating between even and odd lines (1, 3, 5, etc.). While television stations do not commonly broadcast in 1080p, Blu-ray disc players do, as well as some video game systems such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

120Hz: Most TVs display moving images at 60 frames per second, but many new HDTV models are offering 120Hz (pronounced "hertz") frame rate conversion that essentially doubles the per-second frame rate from 60 to 120. This technology, which is usually found in LCD televisions, helps to reduce motion blur. Some TVs now offer 240Hz or 480Hz technology for even smoother motion.


3G: “Third generation” (3G) mobile phones such as the iPhone 3G offer data speeds approaching a broadband connection at home or at the office (1G phones were analog and 2G were digital, by the way). This is ideal for smartphone users who want to download files wirelessly while on the go. This technology was embraced first by Asian and European markets, but has begun to catch on in North America. You might also hear about “HSPA” (High Speed Packet Address) phones capable of downloading data up to 7.2 Mbps, though capable of 14.4 Mbps with hardware and software upgrades.

802.11n: First there was 802.11b, then 802.11g, and now it’s all about 802.11n. This refers to the evolution in wireless networking (“Wi-Fi”) speeds and range. This is relevant when you’re shopping for a new wireless router to put in your home, which lets you surf the Internet cable-free on a nearby laptop or smartphone. It’s recommended to look for an 802.11n router which not only offers higher speeds (especially for those who want to wirelessly stream video over the airwaves or transfer large files between multiple computers), but also covers a greater distance, advice which goes double for those who live in a larger home.

ATSC: All HDTVs you buy will have a built-in NTSC tuner, which stands for National Television Standards Committee, the half-century-old video standard used by the television industry in North America and some Asian countries. But you might also see a new TV advertised with an integrated ATSC tuner, which stands for Advanced Television Systems Committee. Why is this relevant? Depending on where you live, you can receive free over-the-air high-definition broadcasts.

Blu-ray: While they resemble a regular DVD, Blu-ray discs can store up to 10 times more information – enough data to hold a high-definition movie, in fact, which looks amazing on an HDTV. Another way of making the comparison is as follows: A Blu-ray disc can display up to about 2 million pixels (the little dots that make up the image), compared to about 345,000 pixels for a DVD. Just as you would buy or rent a DVD movie to watch with your family, Blu-ray movies also provide instant home entertainment, although they do require a dedicated Blu-ray player to enjoy (starting at $150… note that models will play DVDs too). The format is expected to edge out DVD over time, but has yet to capture the lion’s share of the market.
Bluetooth: Despite its misleading name, “Bluetooth” isn’t a horrible discoloring dental disease or any such thing – it’s a smart wireless radio technology that’s making our high-tech lives less wired. Quite simply, Bluetooth devices replace those typically tethered by common cables. The most common application for Bluetooth today is a wireless headset, which lets you chat hands-free with your nearby mobile phone.


HDMI:  The preferred type of cable to connect devices to your high-def TV is called High-Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI, which carries high-quality uncompressed audio and video signals in one cord. Typically, you’ll connect an HDMI cable out of the back of your satellite or cable receiver (or Blu-ray machine or gaming system) and plug the other end into the back or side of the HDTV or supported audio/video receiver.

SSD: Rather than a traditional hard drive to store all of your PC’s data, systems with “solid state drives” (SSDs) use Flash memory – similar to what holds your digital camera’s photos or iPod nano’s music – which offers a number of advantages to today’s computer user. Solid state-based systems are smaller, lighter, more energy efficient, run faster, and are less susceptible to damage because there are no moving parts. They cost more than standard-issue hard drives, though, and do not store as much data.

Christopher Nickson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Chris Nickson is a journalist who's written extensively about music and related fields. He's the author of more than 30…
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