Smart TV, LED, OLED, 4K, HDR. The world of TV is getting better every day, but at the same time it is becoming even more confusing. Today, there is an incredibly wide range of High Definition (HD) and 4K Ultra HD televisions in stores, from large second-hand screens to high-end displays that can cost as much as a car. We are here to help you decide.
If you are in a hurry, here are the most important things to consider before buying a TV. We explain each of these points in more detail in the text below:
- Don't buy a TV with a resolution lower than 4K (for example, avoid 1080p) if you want a future-proof setup.
- Expect to pay around € 500 for a 4- to 50-inch 55K TV and at least € 900 for a 65-inch model.
- Do not buy a TV with a refresh rate below 120Hz.
- Look for a TV with HDR, which offers more realistic colors and better contrast.
- OLED TVs look much better than a typical LED LCD, but they are much more expensive.
- Ignore the specifics of the contrast ratio - the manufacturers falsify the numbers. Trust your eyes.
- Look for at least four HDMI ports; those buying a 4K TV should ask for HDCP compatibility.
- Curved TVs are all the rage, but they don't benefit from picture quality.
- Most TVs are “smart TVs” nowadays with easy access to Netflix and other online apps, that's no problem at all, don't be fooled.
- Plan to buy a soundbar. TV speakers are worse nowadays because the screens are thinner.
- Avoid extended warranties. Your credit card company may already be providing purchase protection
- Screen size: the one that suits you most
If you're looking for a basic or high-performance TV, the most important factor in your decision will likely be the screen size. Consider how many people in your family usually watch at the same time and where you will place your new TV. Then choose the largest screen size that comfortably fits that space and your budget. Considering the price, the performance and a typical living room, the TV should be between 55 and 65 inches.
The screen size also depends on how close it is to the TV. Basically, if you can see individual pixels on the screen, you are too close. A good rule of thumb is that you should sit three times the screen height away from the TV and only 1,5 times the screen height for 4K Ultra HD. In other words, you can sit twice as close to a 4K UHD TV.
Here is a more in-depth guide to calculating the TV screen size based on the room size as well as the resolution of the TV.
If you have the opportunity, go to a store (and maybe bring your family) and watch TVs.
Bottom line: Choose the appropriate screen size and resolution based on the distance you sit from the screen. Let's start with 55 inches.
Screen Resolution: 4K or HD?
Resolution describes the sharpness of the television picture, usually in terms of horizontal lines of pixels. They are very rare at this point and should be avoided, but an affordable HD TV can only support 720p, which means the TV displays 720 digitized lines progressively (or in a single pass).
Other HDTVs support the 1080p HD format, also called Full HD, which has 1.080 lines of resolution.
This is because TV manufacturers are rapidly switching from HDTV to Ultra HD (also called 4K) televisions. These 4K models have four times the number of pixels of current HDTV screens.
We are talking about 2.160 horizontal lines or 3840 x 2160 pixels. The biggest advantage of 4K TV is that small objects on the screen have more detail, including sharper text. Overall, images appear richer and more realistic than on an HDTV, but the benefits can be subtle.
Ultra HD videos are great and searching is easier. Several streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Video, and even YouTube, have started offering 4K content, and ultra HD Blu-ray discs are becoming more common. Live TV hasn't fully embraced 4K yet, but DirectTV, Dish Network, and Comcast Xfinity have all started offering 4K movies. Although Ultra HD TVs can enhance existing HD content, the results can be mixed and not look as crisp as the original 4K programming.
With these conditions, ultra-HD TV models are replacing traditional high-definition TVs. For example, Vizio only left one HDTV line.
Bottom line: Full HD 1080p is still the most common screen resolution today, but 4K is increasingly becoming the standard, and it's a better choice if you want a future-proof investment.
HDR: Get it if you want to have most colors
HDR is a new feature in Ultra HD 4K TVs and is synonymous with high dynamic range, a reference to its ability to deliver more colors, more contrast levels and higher brightness.
HDR is essentially an update of the 4K or Ultra HD format (not applicable to HD 1080p TVs). For this new feature, TV manufacturers are baptizing new monikers to distinguish standard 4K Ultra HD TVs.
Ultra HD Premium is the name adopted by the UHD Alliance, an industrial trading group. Dozens of companies are supporting these minimum base specs for HDR compatibility, so you will see “Ultra HD Premium” on an increasing number of televisions this year.
There continues to be some confusion with HDR. Some TVs are Ultra HD Premium compatible (like Samsung), others are Dolby-Vision compatible (like Vizio and Sony), and some are compatible with both standards (like LG). Technicolor has brought its own standard to the market, called Technicolor Advanced HDR, which is expected to compete with Dolby Vision in the premium HDR space.
There isn't much HDR programming available, but it looks like it's starting to improve a bit. There are a few dozen movies in the new 4K Blu-ray format, with a growing number of HDR shows available via streaming services, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Some new 4K Blu-ray players also promise to be upgradeable to handle the new HDR discs, but check before you buy. Finally, cable and satellite are getting their own form of HDR, called Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG), so you should start seeing HDR pop-ups from time to time for movies and even live TV.
Bottom line: Don't pick a TV just for its HDR support because the standard hasn't been defined yet. However, if you want the best, buy a Dolby Vision compatible HDR television, as that format seems to be gaining momentum.
Refresh rate: faster is better
The refresh rate, expressed in Hertz (Hz), describes how many times per second an image is refreshed on the screen. The standard refresh rate is 60 times per second or 60Hz. However, in scenes with fast moving objects, a 60Hz refresh rate can make images blurry or shaky, especially on LCD HDTVs.
So, to create a more solid picture, the manufacturers doubled the refresh rate to 120Hz (and in some cases up to 240Hz).
Since there aren't many frames per second in the original video content, TVs handle the faster refresh rates in different ways. One method is to simply insert black images between the original images, tricking the viewer's eyes into seeing a less blurry and more solid image.
Another technique is to generate and insert new images - showing a state of motion between the two adjacent images - to display more realistic motion. However, depending on how the video processing is done, it can make a movie or sitcom look flat, or look like it's a dimly lit, longstanding soap opera.
Some new models boast High-Frame Rate (HFR) support, which means they have a higher refresh rate and greater support for content with frame rates above 60Hz. With HFR content coming from both movies and as live broadcats, HFR will be particularly suited to live sports - it's a feature to watch in 2018.
One caveat: beware of terms like "effective refresh rate", it means that the actual frame rate is half the indicated rate (for example, a "120Hz effective refresh rate" is actually a 60Hz refresh rate Hz).
Bottom line: Don't buy a TV with a refresh rate below 120Hz.
HDMI and connections: read to find out more
It may seem like an afterthought, but pay attention to the number of HDMI inputs when buying a new TV. Manufacturers looking to cut costs may offer fewer HDMI sockets on the back.
These ports can be used quickly - add a sound bar, a Roku or Chromecast and a game console and you've already used three ports.
If you've decided to take the plunge and buy a 4K Ultra HD, make sure your TV's ports support HDMI 2.0 to accommodate future Ultra HD sources. Many TVs on the market have only one port that supports the 4K copy protection scheme known as HDCP 2.2 (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection).
Bottom line: look for at least four HDMI ports; 4K buyers should inquire about HDCP compatibility.
TV types: LCD, LED LCD, OLED
There are basically only two types of TVs on the market: LCD and OLED. Unless you have a lot of cash on hand, you would probably buy an LCD TV.
LED e LCD
Most TVs today are LED and LCD. These HD and Ultra HD TVs use light emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the LCD screen and can be extremely thin.
Many of these TVs can dynamically brighten specific parts of the screen and darken other parts to better represent a mix of light and dark areas in a scene, a feature known as active dimming or local dimming. No-frills LED LCD TVs can be had for just $ 200 with a 32-inch screen, while a top-of-the-line 90-inch model can go for $ 8.000.
Most LCD screens use LEDs on the edge of the screen. The best of these models supports active dimming, but it takes some digital magic to do so by simply manipulating the lights along the edge.
Full-array LED televisions have light emitting diodes directly behind the screen, in a grid of "zones" that can be individually illuminated or dimmed. This arrangement makes the backlight more precise and allows for a more detailed image with contrast.
Full-array backlighting used to be reserved for higher-end models, but it's with Ultra HD that prices come down, this feature is becoming more common on TVs at a modest price. Another LCD technology, called quantum dots, is becoming more common. common, spurred by the requirements of HDR to produce a wider range of colors and higher brightness.
An LCD that uses quantum dots basically has another layer, or "binary" added, of different sized nanocrystal dots that light up when the LED backlight hits them. The result is a wider color spectrum and greater brightness.
Be aware that some brands offer confusing labels. Samsung's new TVs are dubbed “QLED”. These are quantum dot LCD TVs - they are not to be mistaken for OLEDs. And while quantum dot displays still can't match OLEDs in terms of sharpness and true black levels, the gap is narrowing as manufacturers work to improve the technology.
Pro: wide range of prices, sizes and features, some affordable Ultra HD 4K models, bright screens visible even in a sunny room, picture quality constantly improves with full matrix backlight and quantum dot technology.
Against: shows imperfections when viewing fast motion like in sports, loses some shadow detail because pixels cannot go completely black (even with the entire array backlight), images fade when viewed from the side (off-axis).
OLED TVs perform better than full-array LED-LCDs with a few dozen lighting zones. Instead of backlighting, OLEDs use a layer of pixel-controlled organic LEDs to achieve absolute and stunning levels of contrast. (Images of fireworks against a black sky are a favorite demonstration of OLED technology.)
LG isn't the only company actively pursuing OLED technology in large screens, with new OLED models arriving from Panasonic, Philips and Sony this year. Most of the new models have Ultra HD 4K resolution, but some cheaper HD OLED models are still around.
Prices range from around $ 2,000 for a 55-inch HDTV to $ 5000 or more for a 4-inch Ultra HD 65K model.
Banco ProBest TV picture bar none, really pop colors, deeper blacks and better contrast and shadow detail than LCD TVs, retains picture quality when viewed from the side.
Cons: stratospheric prices, lower peak brightness than some LCDs, uncertainty about how screens will perform over time, including whether they will retain “ghost” images (also known as “burn-in”) to display a static image for too long.
Curved screens: not necessary
Another innovation that grabs the attention of buyers is the curved screens, which are mainly used for OLED and 4K LCD TVs. The idea, the producers say, is to make the experience of watching TV more immersive.
However, not only do curved screens have no technical advantage over other TVs, they actually have some drawbacks. For example, the slightly curved appearance distorts the image and reduces the available side viewing angles, thus limiting the best view to a few people seated in a narrow center point. LED models are also less likely to produce uniform brightness on the screen.
Additionally, some testers, such as Consumer Reports, reported spectator fatigue caused by the warp. Conversely, other first owners have reported that, after living with a curved screen, they don't notice the difference or detect any distortion.
Curved models are more expensive - a 4K, 65-inch curved LCD model, for example, costs around $ 200 more than a comparable flat model. Samsung and LG - the two leading manufacturers offering curved-screen TVs - have almost abandoned the concept, offering only one or two curved models in 2018.
Please note: Curved TVs are primarily an extra fashion statement, without offering any appreciable benefit in picture quality. Most companies are phasing them out.
Smart TVs: Most already are
An increasing number of TVs come with built-in Wi-Fi for connecting internet-based services such as Netflix to stream video or to run apps to watch special interest shows, download on-demand movies, play games, or even post to Facebook. . The latest models can even search for content across cable and satellite streaming and live programming services.
Interfaces are generally improving. Vizio, LG and now Samsung use a convenient icon bar at the bottom of the screen. Roku offers its famous intuitive interface in budget TVs from Hisense, Insignia (Best Buy brand) and TCL.
Google provides its Android TV platform to companies such as Sony and Westinghouse. While most smart TVs include core services, such as Pandora, Hulu, and Netflix, make sure the TV you buy has the options you want.
In the past, you could have bought a cheaper "dumb" TV and made it smart with a streaming device like the $ 50 Roku Streaming Stick. But nowadays, it's hard to get a TV that's not smart, even if you find in a small deal.
Bottom line: Smart features are becoming a standard feature of televisions, so it's less and less of a deciding factor in a purchase.
Contrast Ratio: Unreliable Numbers
The contrast ratio describes the range of brightness levels a TV can display. Better contrast ratios show more subtle shadows and hues, and therefore better detail.
However, the way manufacturers measure these ratios varies widely. In fact, the specs have been so thoroughly discredited that if a vendor uses it as a selling point, you'd have to buy somewhere else.
We use the same method to look at the contrast ratios in all the TVs we test, so we can roughly tell how they compare to each other. Nonetheless, it's still better to see for yourself how a TV shows shadow detail by finding a movie with dark scenes and seeing how it reveals the details in the shadow of a Harry Potter movie for example.
Experiment with your TV's brightness, sharpness, and other settings before making a final judgment. (Hint: select "movie" or "cinema" mode on your TV.)
Bottom line: You can ignore the manufacturers' contrast ratio specifications, as they are not comparable between brands.
Audio: Buy a soundbar
Even the most beautiful and expensive HD TVs have an Achilles heel: poor sound. It is a consequence of the slim design of the flat panels: there is not enough space for the large speakers that produce a full and rich sound. So, you have three options: use headphones (which can make you sound antisocial), buy a surround sound system (which can be a hassle to set up and produce confusion), or get a soundbar.
Soundbars are popular because, for $ 300 or less, they can significantly enhance the movie experience and yet be set up in minutes. Check out our top soundbar picks. Newer models are slim enough to fit under a TV stand without blocking the bottom of the picture.
Most can also be mounted under a wall-hung TV. Several companies also offer audio speakers or stands that can slide under a TV.
Some TVs and soundbars also support Dolby Atmos, a newer audio standard than Dolby that includes ambient sound for a more complete listening experience. While it is possible to achieve the Atmos effect using ceiling speakers, many soundbars have Atmos audio processing and built-in firing up speakers to create more realistic sounding audio that doesn't require multiple speaker placement.
Bottom line: Movies and sports benefit from the addition of a soundbar.
Extended warranties - save your money
One of the biggest revenue generators for big-box electronics stores is the extended warranty. Because? Because it's not that necessary, especially for a flat screen LCD TV. Most of the components of an HDTV are remarkably resilient; even the LEDs used to illuminate the image are practically shockproof.
So if you buy a broken electronic device, chances are you can return it to the store within the first 30 days of ownership, which is usually the most popular coverage period.
On top of that, most manufacturers offer a one year warranty. Credit card companies may offer additional automatic coverage on purchases, so contact your provider.
Bottom line: save your money and contact your credit card company to see if they have a price protection policy.
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