Whatever screen you’re reading this on, it probably emits several hundred candles of light per square meter. That’s right – candles are still the basic unit of measurement for light, and if you shop on-screen you will likely come across the “nit” unit, which tells you how many candles per square meter your. screen can emit. Nits (not to be confused with head lice) can be important if you plan to use your device outdoors often, but the brightness of nits is only one part of a high-quality display.
Candelas, nits and lumens 101
Imagine having a candle inside a cube with a total area measuring one meter by one meter (about the size of a bath towel or 20 iPads that have been turned into a cube). The total amount of light coming out of this candle at its source is approximately “one candela”.
All the light hitting the walls of the cube is equivalent to “a slow”, which is technically defined as “one candela per square meter”. Each additional candle you add to the cube will add another candela of brightness and, therefore, another slow one, as the square meter now contains more light. If you could manage to get 400 candles / nits into the cube before it ignites, the light per square meter would be 400 nits, making it a very nice laptop screen.
Since this is a measurement per square meter, screen size and nits are unrelated. Cinema screens, which are exclusively used in dark environments, are typically around 50 nits, while smartphones, which are used a lot outdoors, tend to have a brightness of at least 300 to 400 nits.
A cinema projector probably emits more total light (measured in lumens) than any smartphone, but the phone packs more light into a smaller space. That’s why using a phone during a movie is so taboo: With at least ten times the candela per square meter of the screen, it’s essentially a magnesium rocket in a dark theater.
If you’ve gone all the way to the end hoping to find the summary super simple, here it is:
- Candle = about the light of 1 candle
- Night = the light of 1 candle per square meter
- More nits = more candles per square meter = brighter display
How do nits compare to lumens?
You’re probably more used to hearing lumens compared to nits, which is probably what you’re wondering – “what is a slow” – when you encounter the measurement. It is important to know that the brightness of nits is not an official measurement. It comes from the Latin word “nitere”, which means to shine. However, nit is often used in place of candela to avoid giving the impression that you are measuring brightness from candles, even if technically you are.
So how does a slow differ from a light? While nits measure both the intensity of light and the amount of light per square meter, lumens are more general. For example, you will see flashlights and light bulbs measured in lumens.
Lumens measure the overall intensity of a light source. For example, the total illumination caused by your TV screen could be measured in lumens. The total brightness on the screen itself would be measured in nits. It’s a bit confusing, but think of nits as the measurement of the area, while lumens are the total illumination.
What are nits used for?
If you’ve ever tried using a low-light device on a sunny day, you’ll understand why nits matter. Your screen must be brighter than the light sources around it to be clearly readable. On the flip side, if your device never leaves the basement, you probably aren’t fully increasing the brightness anyway, so having more nits wouldn’t help much.
Unless this device is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) TV, that is. All that makes these TVs better is that they can show brighter lights and true black. A prototype HDR TV from Sony was able to achieve 10,000 nits, although most HDRs peak at around 2,000.
Which nits brightness is best for which devices?
We don’t use candles anymore, and inserting them into sensitive electronic devices is a terrible idea, so it’s hard to tell how many of them you want on your screen without looking at a few numbers. As a rule of thumb, more nits are always better, so if everything else is equal, you can’t go wrong with higher numbers. As long as you don’t maximize your brightness when you don’t need it, it won’t have any negative effect on your battery.
Here’s a breakdown of the max nit capacities you should be looking for.
Smartphones / tablets: 200 to 1000+ nits
As they are commonly used outdoors, smartphones are definitely in the “more nits is better” category. Technically, a device begins to be considered “sunlight readable” when it hits at least 1,000 nits, but very few mobile displays reach that level. As a rule of thumb, anything over 400-500 nits will do just fine on a sunny day, but at 200 nits you may need to find some shade to respond to texts.
Laptops / Monitors: 200 to 600+ nits
Laptops and PCs are mostly used indoors, so they don’t need to be so bright. 200 is on the low end but still usable, while above 400 is above average. Few computer monitors go over 500 or 600 nits, and you probably won’t need to use all the brightness on one of them very often. Again, however, you can’t go wrong getting more nits if you have the chance.
Televisions: 100 to 2000+ nits
Older TVs are probably in the ~ 100 nits range, but most modern non-HDR displays fall in the 200-500 range. HDR TV performs best with a high number of nits and generally requires a minimum of 500, with many models aiming for at least 700. High-end HDRs can reach 2000 nits or more.
How important are nits?
Nits are important but shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing your display unless you specifically need something above a certain brightness level for HDR or outdoor use. Resolution, contrast ratios, black levels, sRGB color, and other factors also affect the quality of your screen, and as long as you’re not in the lower end of the nit range, you’re fine. . The most important thing is just knowing what a low, medium, and high nit count looks like for a given device so that you can make an informed decision.
Are you looking for a new TV and don’t know how to choose? Find out what to look for when choosing the best option for your home theater. We can also help you choose the best laptop screen for your needs.
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