The competition between TV and display manufacturers has been heating up rapidly, and everyone is talking about how many “nits” their displays have. But what even is a nit? And why should you care?

Nits Are a Unit of Brightness

No, we’re not talking about head lice here, but rather a piece of terminology used in the tech world. Long story short, a nit is the unit of measurement that describes how bright a television, smartphone, computer monitor, laptop screen, or another type of display is. The higher the number of nits, the brighter the display.

Sounds simple, right? But doesn’t “lumens” describe brightness? And why are nits so important to you as a consumer? Let’s answer some of these questions.

What Exactly Is a “Nit” Anyway?

Interestingly enough, nit (which comes from the Latin word nitere, meaning “to shine”) isn’t an official unit of measurement since it’s not technically a part of the International System of Units or any other measurement system. The official term is actually “candela per square meter.” But we guess “nit” is easier to remember.

So let’s break it down. Since you now know that “nit” is just slang for “candela per square meter,” then you also now know that a nit is measuring two things: Luminous intensity (the candela) and area (the square meter).

As you might have guessed, “candela” is Latin for “candle.” So one candela is equal to the brightness of a single average candle. Two candelas is equal to the brightness of two candles, and so on.

When you add in square meters, you now measure the luminous intensity spread out over a surface. So one candela per square meter (or one nit) is the brightness of one candle shining onto a surface that measures one meter across and one meter down.

Putting that into simpler terms, imagine that you’re holding a piece of poster board that measures one meter by one meter—which is about the size of an average poster board, by the way. You then light a single candle and hold it up in front of your poster board. The amount of light that hits your poster board from the candle is equal to one nit (or one candela per square meter).

If measuring brightness in terms of candles seems a bit strange, remember that we still use the word “horsepower” when talking about engines.

RELATED: How to Get the Best Picture Quality from Your HDTV

What’s the Difference Between Nits and Lumens?

You might be thinking that we already have a unit of measurement for measuring light intensity—the lumen. After all, it’s what we use to measure the light intensity of light bulbs, flashlights, projectors, and more. But nits and lumens measure different things.

One big difference is that lumens don’t indicate light over a specific area like nits do. Rather, lumens indicate the intensity of light coming from the source, however big or small it. Light bulbs, flashlights, and projectors are all measured in lumens.

Another way of putting it is that lumens indicate the amount of light that a projector itself emits, whereas nits measures the amount of light coming off of the projector screen.

Why Should You Care About Nits?

So now that you know all of the technical mumbo jumbo about nits, you might be asking yourself the most important question: Why should you even care?

RELATED: Should You Get an "Ultra HD" 4K TV?

The gist is that the higher number of nits a TV has, the brighter the display is. This may not be a huge factor for you when shopping for a new television, but for what it’s worth, the brighter a TV can get, the better the image will look in a bright room.

Nits are even more important when it comes to smartphones, which you’re more likely to use outdoors in the bright sunlight. A screen with a lot of nits will look bright and clear even on the sunniest of days.

However, I’d argue that when it comes to television shopping, you don’t need to pay super close attention to how many nits a TV has, and most people won’t even be able to tell the difference.

Profile Photo for Craig Lloyd Craig Lloyd
Craig Lloyd is a smarthome expert with nearly ten years of professional writing experience. His work has been published by iFixit, Lifehacker, Digital Trends, Slashgear, and GottaBeMobile.
Read Full Bio »