YUV is a color encoding system typically used as part of a color image pipeline. It encodes a color image or video taking human perception into account, allowing reduced bandwidth for chrominance components, thereby typically enabling transmission errors or compression artifacts to be more efficiently masked by the human perception than using a "direct" RGB-representation. Other color encodings have similar properties, and the main reason to implement or investigate properties of Y′UV would be for interfacing with analog or digital television or photographic equipment that conforms to certain Y′UV standards.
The scope of the terms Y′UV, YUV, YCbCr, YPbPr, etc., is sometimes ambiguous and overlapping. Historically, the terms YUV and Y′UV were used for a specific analog encoding of color information in television systems, while YCbCr was used for digital encoding of color information suited for video and still-image compression and transmission such as MPEG and JPEG. Today, the term YUV is commonly used in the computer industry to describe file-formats that are encoded using YCbCr.
The Y′UV model defines a color space in terms of one luma component (Y′) and two chrominance (UV) components. The Y′UV color model is used in the PAL composite color video (excluding PAL-N) standard. Previous black-and-white systems used only luma (Y′) information. Color information (U and V) was added separately via a subcarrier so that a black-and-white receiver would still be able to receive and display a color picture transmission in the receiver's native black-and-white format.
Y′ stands for the luma component (the brightness) and U and V are the chrominance (color) components; luminance is denoted by Y and luma by Y′ – the prime symbols (') denote gamma compression, with "luminance" meaning physical linear-space brightness, while "luma" is (nonlinear) perceptual brightness.
The YPbPr color model used in analog component video and its digital version YCbCr used in digital video is more or less derived from it, and are sometimes called Y′UV. (CB/PB and CR/PR are deviations from grey on blue–yellow and red-cyan axes, whereas U and V are blue–luminance and red–luminance differences respectively.) The Y′IQ color space used in the analog NTSC television broadcasting system is related to it, although in a more complex way. The YDbDr color space used in the analog SECAM and PAL-N television broadcasting systems, are also related.
As for etymology, Y, Y′, U, and V are not abbreviations. The use of the letter Y for luminance can be traced back to the choice of XYZ primaries. This lends itself naturally to the usage of the same letter in luma (Y′), which approximates a perceptually uniform correlate of luminance. Likewise, U and V were chosen to differentiate the U and V axes from those in other spaces, such as the x and y chromaticity space. See the equations below or compare the historical development of the math.