Smart TV, LED, OLED, 4K, HDR. The TV world is getting better every day, but at the same time it’s getting even more confusing. Today, there’s an incredibly wide range of high-definition (HD) and 4K Ultra HD televisions in stores, from big-screen displays to high-end displays that can cost as much as a car. We are here to help you decide.
If you’re 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 guide below:
- Do not buy a TV with a resolution lower than 4K (for example, avoid 1080p) if you want a future-proof configuration.
- Expect to pay around $500 for a 50 to 55-inch 4K TV and at least $900 for a 65-inch model.
- Do not buy a TV with an update frequency of less than 120 Hz.
- 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 specifications of the contrast ratio: manufacturers falsify numbers. Trust your eyes.
- Look for at least four HDMI ports; those who buy a 4K TV should ask for HDCP compatibility.
- Curved televisions are in fashion, but do not benefit from image quality.
- Most TVs are “smart TVs” nowadays with easy access to Netflix and other online apps, this is not a problem at all, do not 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 provide protection for your purchase
- Screen size: what makes you more comfortable
If you’re looking for a basic or high-performance TV, the most important factor in your decision will probably be the screen size. Consider how many people in your family usually look at the same time and where you will place your new TV. So choose the largest screen size that fits comfortably in that space and your budget. Considering the price, performance and a typical living room, the TV should be between 55 and 65 inches.
The size of the screen also depends on the proximity to the TV. Basically, if you can see the individual pixels on the screen, you’re too close. A good rule of thumb is that you should sit at a distance three times the screen height 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 calculate the size of the TV screen based on the size of the room, as well as the resolution of the TV.
If you have the opportunity, go to a store (and maybe take your family) and watch the televisions.
In conclusion: choose the appropriate screen size and resolution based on the distance you are sitting on the screen. We start at 55 inches.
Screen resolution: 4K or HD?
The resolution describes the sharpness of the television image, usually in terms of horizontal lines of pixels. They are very rare at this point and should be avoided, but a TV in HD with a low price can only support 720p, which means that the TV displays 720 digitized lines progressively (or in a single pass).
Other HDTV support HD 1080p 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). 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 details, including sharper text. Overall, the images appear richer and more realistic than 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 has not yet fully embraced 4K, but DirectTV, Dish Network and Comcast Xfinity have started offering 4K movies. Although Ultra HD TVs can optimize existing HD content, the results can be mixed and not seem as crisp as the original 4K programming.
Under these conditions, ultra-HD TV models are replacing traditional high-definition televisions. For example, Vizio has left only one HDTV line.
In conclusion: Full HD 1080p is still the most common screen resolution today, but 4K is increasingly becoming the standard, and is a better choice if you want a future-proof investment.
HDR: get it if you want to have the most colors
The HDR is a new feature of the TV Ultra HD 4K and is synonymous with high dynamic range, a reference to its ability to provide more colors, more contrast levels and higher brightness.
The HDR is essentially an update of 4K or Ultra HD format (not applicable to HD 1080p televisions). For this new feature, TV producers are baptizing new monikers to distinguish standard 4K Ultra HD TVs.
Ultra HD Premium is the name adopted by UHD Alliance, an industrial commercial group. Dozens of companies are supporting these basic minimum HDR compatibility specifications, 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 compatible with Ultra HD Premium (like Samsung), others are compatible with Dolby-Vision (like Vizio and Sony) and some are compatible with both standards (like LG). Technicolor has brought its market standard, called Technicolor Advanced HDR, which should compete with Dolby Vision in the premium HDR space.
There’s not much HDR programming available, but it seems like it’s starting to improve a bit. There are a few dozen films in the new 4K Blu-ray format, with an increasing number of HDR shows available via streaming services, such as Amazon Prime and Netflix.
Some new 4K Blu-ray players also promise to be upgradable to handle new HDR discs, but check before buying. Finally, cable and satellite are getting their form of HDR, called Hybrid-Log Gamma (HLG), so you should start to see HDR pop-up from time to time for movies and even live TV.
In conclusion: do not choose a TV only for its HDR support because the standard has not yet been defined. However, if you want the best, buy a HDR television compatible with Dolby Vision, as this format seems to gain momentum.
Update frequency: faster is better
The refresh rate, expressed in Hertz (Hz), describes how many times per second an image is updated on the screen. The standard refresh rate is 60 times per second or 60 Hz. However, in scenes with fast moving objects, a refresh rate of 60 Hz can make images blurred or rough, especially on LCD HDTVs.
So, to create a firmer image, manufacturers doubled the refresh rate to 120 Hz (and in some cases up to 240 Hz).
Since there are not many images per second in the original video content, televisions manage the fastest refresh rates in different ways. One method is to simply insert black images between the original images, deceiving the viewer’s eyes into seeing a less fuzzy and firmer image.
Another technique is to generate and insert new images – showing a state of movement between the two adjacent images – to display a more realistic movement. However, depending on how video processing is performed, it can make a movie or a sitcom flat, or as if it were a poorly lit and longtime soap opera.
Some new models have high-frame rate (HFR) support, which means they have a higher refresh rate and greater support for content with frame rates above 60 Hz. With HFR content coming both from movies and from live broadcats, the HFR will be particularly suitable for live sports: it is a function to keep an eye on in 2018.
One caveat: watch out for terms such as “actual refresh rate”, which means that the actual frame rate is half the speed indicated (for example, an “actual 120 Hz refresh rate” is actually an update rate of 60 Hz).
In conclusion: do not buy a TV with an update frequency of less than 120 Hz.
HDMI and connections: read to know more
It may seem like an afterthought, but pay attention to the number of HDMI inputs when you buy a new TV. Manufacturers looking to reduce costs may offer fewer HDMI sockets on the back.
These ports can be used quickly: add an audio 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 an Ultra HD 4K, make sure your TV 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).
In conclusion: look for at least four HDMI ports; 4K buyers should request information on HDCP compatibility.
Types of TV: LCD, LED LCD, OLED
There are basically only two types of TV on the market: LCD and OLED. Unless you have a lot of money available, you would probably buy an LCD TV.
LED and LCD
Most televisions 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 illuminate specific parts of the screen and obscure other parts to better represent a mix of light and dark areas in a scene, a function known as active dimming or local dimming. The no-frills LED LCD TVs can be had for only $200 with a 32-inch screen, while a top-of-the-line 90-inch model can get up to $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 TVs 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 a more detailed image with contrast.
Full-array backlighting was reserved for higher-end models, but with Ultra HD lowering prices, this feature is becoming more common on TVs at a modest price. Another LCD technology, called quantum dots, is becoming more common, stimulated by the requirements of the HDR to produce a wider range of colors and greater brightness.
An LCD that uses quantum dots has basically another layer, or “binary” added, of nanocrystals points of different sizes that light up when the LED backlighting hits them. The result is a wider color spectrum and greater brightness.
We need to be aware of the fact that some brands offer confusing labels. The new Samsung TVs are nicknamed “QLED”. These are quantum dot LCD TVs – they do not have to be traded for OLEDs. And while quantum dot displays can not yet match OLEDs in terms of sharpness and real black levels, the gap is shrinking as manufacturers work to improve technology.
Pros: Wide range of prices, sizes and features, some affordable HD Ultra HD models, bright screens that are visible even in a sunny room, image quality is constantly improving with full matrix backlighting and quantum dot technology.
Cons: shows imperfections when displaying fast movements like in sports, loses some shadow details because the pixels can not become completely black (even with the backlighting of the entire array), the images dissolve during lateral viewing (off-axis) ).
OLED TVs work better than full-array LED-LCDs with just a few dozen lighting zones. Instead of backlighting, OLEDs use a layer of pixel-controlled organic LEDs to achieve absolute and surprising levels of contrast. (The images of fireworks against a black sky are the preferred demonstration of OLED technology).
LG is not the only company actively pursuing OLED technology in large screens, with the new OLED models coming from Panasonic, Philips and Sony this year. Most new models have an 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 65-inch Ultra HD 4K model.
Pros: the best TV image no one excluded, colors really pop, deeper blacks and a contrast and a detail of the shadows better than LCD TVs, maintains the image quality when viewed from the side.
Cons: stratospheric prices, lower peak brightness than some LCDs, uncertainty about how the screens will go over time, including if they will preserve “ghost” images (also known as “burn-in”) to display a static image for too long.
Curved screens: not necessary
Another innovation that attracts buyers’ attention are curved screens, mainly used for OLED and 4K LCD TVs. The idea, the producers say, is to make the experience of watching TV more engaging.
However, not only curved screens have no technical advantage over other televisions, but actually have some drawbacks. For example, the slightly curved appearance distorts the image and reduces the lateral viewing angles available, thus limiting the best view to a few people sitting in a tight central spot. LED models are also less likely to produce uniform brightness on the screen.
In addition, some testers, such as Consumer Reports, have reported the spectators’ tiredness caused by curvature. Conversely, other early owners reported that, after living with a curved screen, they did not notice the difference or find no 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 televisions – 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 image quality. Most companies are phasing them out.
Smart TV: most already are
A growing number of TV comes with integrated Wi-Fi for connecting Internet-based services such as Netflix for streaming video or running apps to watch special interest programs, download movies on demand, play games or even post to Facebook. The latest models can even search for content between live streaming and cable and satellite programming.
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 the economic televisions of Hisense, Insignia (Best Buy brand) and TCL.
Google provides its Android TV platform to companies like Sony and Westinghouse. While most smart TVs include core services like Pandora, Hulu and Netflix, make sure the TV you buy has the options you want.
In the past, you could have bought a cheaper “stupid” 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’re find yourself in a small business.
In conclusion: smart features are becoming a standard feature of televisions, so it is increasingly a deciding factor in a purchase.
Contrast ratio: unreliable numbers
The contrast ratio describes the range of brightness levels that a television can display. Better contrast ratios show finer shades and shades, and therefore a better detail.
However, the way manufacturers measure these relationships varies widely. In fact, the specifications have been discredited so completely that if a seller uses it as a point of sale, you should buy somewhere else.
We use the same method to examine the contrast ratios in all the televisions we test, so we can roughly say how they compare with each other. Nevertheless, it is even better to see for yourself how a TV shows the details of the shadows by finding a film with dark scenes and seeing how it reveals details in the shadows of a Harry Potter movie for example.
Experiment with the brightness, sharpness and other TV settings before making a final judgment. (Hint: select the “movie” or “cinema” mode on the TV.)
In conclusion: you can ignore the specifications of the contrast ratio of manufacturers, since they are not comparable between the various 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 look antisocial), buy a surround sound system (which can be a hassle to configure and produce confusion), or get a soundbar.
Soundbars are popular because, for $300 or less, they can significantly improve the cinematic experience and yet be installed in minutes. Take a look at our best soundbar choices. The latest models are thin enough to fit under a TV stand without blocking the bottom of the image.
Most can also be mounted under a wall-mounted TV. Several companies also offer audio speakers or supports that can slide under a television.
Some TVs and soundbars also support Dolby Atmos, a newer Dolby audio standard that includes ambient sound for a more complete listening experience. While the Atmos effect can be achieved using ceiling speakers, many soundbars have Atmos audio processing and built-in up-to-ceiling speakers to create more realistic sound that does not require multiple speakers to be placed.
In conclusion: film and sport benefit from the addition of a soundbar.
Extended warranties: save your money
One of the biggest generators of revenue for big-box electronics stores is the extended warranty. Because? Because it is not so necessary, especially for a flat-screen LCD TV. Most components of an HDTV are remarkably resilient; even the LEDs used to illuminate the image are practically shockproof.
Therefore, if you buy a non-functioning electronic device, it is likely that you can return it to the store within the first 30 days of ownership, which is usually the most common coverage period.
Beyond that, most manufacturers offer a one-year warranty. Credit card companies can offer additional automatic coverage on purchases, so you need to contact your supplier.
In conclusion: save your money and contact your credit card company to see if it has a price protection policy.