The contrast ratio is a property of a display system. It is determined by calculating the ratio of the luminance of the brightest color (white) to that of the darkest color (black) that the system is capable of producing. A high contrast ratio is a desired aspect of any display. It has similarities with the dynamic range.
There is no official, standardized way to measure contrast ratio for a system or its parts, nor is there a standard for defining "Contrast Ratio" that is accepted by any standards organization so ratings provided by different manufacturers of display devices are not necessarily comparable to each other due to differences in the method of measurement, operation, and unstated variables. Manufacturers have traditionally favored measurement methods that isolate the device from the system, whereas other designers have more often taken the effect of the room into account. An ideal room would absorb all the light reflecting from a projection screen or emitted by a cathode ray tube, and the only light seen in the room would come from the display device. With such a room, the contrast ratio of the image would be the same as the contrast ratio of the device. Real rooms reflect some of the light back to the displayed image, lowering the contrast ratio seen in the image.
Static contrast ratio is the luminosity ratio comparing the brightest and darkest color the system is capable of producing simultaneously at any instant of time, while dynamic contrast ratio is the luminosity ratio comparing the brightest and darkest color the system is capable of producing over time (while the picture is moving). Moving from a system that displays a static motionless image to a system that displays a dynamic, changing picture slightly complicates the definition of the contrast ratio, due to the need to take into account the extra temporal dimension to the measuring process.
A notable recent development in LCD technology is dynamic contrast (DC), also called advanced contrast ratio (ACR), and various other designations. When there is a need to display a dark image, a display that supports dynamic contrast underpowers the backlight lamp (or decreases the aperture of the projector's lens using an iris), but proportionately amplifies the transmission through the LCD panel; this gives the benefit of realizing the potential static contrast ratio of the LCD panel in dark scenes when the image is watched in a dark room. The drawback is that if a dark scene contains small areas of superbright light, the resulting image will be over-exposed.
The trick for the display is to determine how much of the highlights may be unnoticeably blown out in a given image under the given ambient lighting conditions.
Brightness, as it is most often used in marketing literature, refers to the emitted luminous intensity on screen, measured in candela per square meter (cd/m2). The higher the number, the brighter the screen.
It is also common to market only the dynamic contrast ratio capability of a display (when it is better than its static contrast ratio only on paper), which should not be directly compared to the static contrast ratio. A plasma display with a 4,000,000:1 static contrast ratio will show superior contrast to an LCD (with LED or CCFL backlight) with 30,000,000:1 dynamic and 20,000:1 static contrast ratio when the input signal contains a full range of brightnesses from 0 to 100% simultaneously. They will, however, be on par when the input signal ranges only from 0 to 20% brightness.