Buying a new TV can be a unique stressful experience for a number of reasons. Most people tend to hold a TV much longer than, for example, hold a phone, so it feels like there is more pressure to make the right choice. There is also a frightening amount of jargon to dig through, with little real information about which functions actually lead to a better viewing experience.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect formula for buying the right TV. Just like with telephones, you cannot just look at the specification sheet of a TV and know how it will perform. Even if you could, everyone's needs are different.
You could try to find a review online – there are some great sites that specialize in TV reviews such as Rtings and HDTVTest – although they are useful, it is impossible for them to cover everything. And even watching a TV in a showroom does not give you the whole story about how a set will perform in your home.
So instead, we introduce you to all the important functions in modern TV & # 39; s. We will explain which functions may be important to you and which you can probably safely ignore. See this guide as a glossary: it does not contain all the answers, but it must arm you with the knowledge to make a better decision for yourself.
Which resolution do I need?
If you buy a TV in 2019, you should probably buy a 4K set. These TVs have a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is sufficient to fit in four pixels of 1080p TV & # 39; s. If you buy a smaller TV of less than 40 inches, you may find that you can only buy a 1080p model, but if it is an option and your budget allows, you should definitely choose 4K.
There are constant big arguments about whether your brain can actually perceive the full 4K resolution at the kind of distances people watch TV. But frankly, these conversations are not productive. 4K TVs not only have more pixels; they also tend to have a wider dynamic range and color gamut, ensuring better viewing experiences, no matter where you are or how large your TV is.
Maybe at some point in the future we will switch to 8K (four times more than 4K), but that future is so far away that it doesn't make much sense to make yourself future-proof by buying an 8K set now. Of course you can view 8K content on it one day. But by then, there will probably be other things that are outdated on your TV, whether it's the ports it uses, the apps that are running, or some other future features that haven't even appeared.
Which size is best?
There are various formulas that are recommended for choosing the best TV for your home. For example, Samsung recommends that you purchase a TV with a diagonal viewing distance of half your viewing distance in inches. So if you are 10 feet (120 inches) from your TV, you want a 60-inch TV.
But it is more complicated than that, as anyone with a small or oddly shaped living room can confirm. Sometimes you just need something that is slightly smaller, no matter how far you are from your TV.
The unfortunate reality is that many TV brands tend to prioritize their larger sets for their most advanced technologies before these functions could trickle into the smaller, cheaper sets. . OLED TVs (which we will return to in the next section) are a good example. They are currently not available in any size smaller than 55 inches – although there are indications that this may change in the future.
So if your budget and space allow it, it is often worth it to be on the larger side of buying a TV.
OLED or LCD or QLED?
One of the bigger decisions you have to make when buying a TV is what type of panel you want. These days your choice is actually between OLED and LCD. (The latter is a category that also includes QLED.) Plasma TVs have not existed for at least half a year and MicroLED sets are unlikely to be available everywhere for years.
OLED is generally considered the more premium of the two technologies, not least because it is much more expensive in most cases. Because it has no background lighting, each pixel can output its own light or switch it off completely. That gives OLED screens really dark black levels, which offers a great sense of depth. In addition, the viewing angles on OLED TV & # 39; s are excellent.
Another great thing about OLED's is that almost every model on the market, regardless of the manufacturer, uses the same panels produced by LG Display. This means that the picture quality is always good regardless of the OLED TV from the manufacturer that you purchase. The image quality is of course not identical, but unless terms such as "tonemapping" and "motion handling" mean something to you, it is unlikely that you care too much about the distinction. The bar is generally very high for OLED & # 39; s.
But they are not perfect. OLED & # 39; s cannot become as bright as LCD & # 39; s, which means they can be more troubled by reflections in bright rooms. You will probably also hear about a problem that & # 39; burn in & # 39; is called. This is when an image that is displayed on an OLED TV for a long time can be permanently etched on the TV & # 39; & # 39 ;. However, the latest report from Rtings states that this will not be a problem for most people unless you are someone who views a lot of similar content over time, such as a channel that always has the same logo on same place on the screen.
The vast majority of TVs that are on the market today are LCDs. The quality varies much more with LCD TV & # 39; s and there are also different types that are worth understanding. When it comes to LCD TVs, manufacturers usually use IPS or VA panels. IPS panels have better viewing angles and VA panels have better contrast. (TN panels are common on PC monitors, but I don't think I've ever seen them in a TV.)
sometimes see LCD TVs called LED TVs, but at the moment the two terms are fairly interchangeable. An LED TV only means that it uses a series of LED lighting as background lighting to illuminate its LCD layer, and on some models, these selectively dim parts of the image to achieve a better contrast between light and dark areas. (This is especially important for HDR content, which I will return to shortly.) TVs with direct LED backlighting (aka full-array local dimming) are better than edge-backlit TVs. here, and the more & # 39; dim zones & # 39; they have the better. For example, the Z9D TV from Sony has more than 600 individual dim zones, but it is much more common to watch TVs with one hundred or fewer. In general, everything above 50 dim zones is good.
Finally, there are QLED TV & # 39; s, which are usually comparable to OLED TV & # 39; s. These are essentially LCD TVs and they still use background lighting, but they rely on quantum dots to produce their pixels, which, according to Samsung, means that the TVs are brighter and display more vivid colors. They cannot reach the same black level as OLED TVs (after all, they still use background lighting), but QLED TVs excel in bright living rooms due to the increased amount of light they can extinguish. Just as LG produces OLED panels, Samsung sells these panels to other TV manufacturers for use.
I'm not going to claim that OLED or QLED is the better premium technology; they both have different strengths, depending on how bright your room is. LCD TVs can still look stunning, but they vary a lot more depending on the panel type and what kind of background lighting they use.
What about the operating system?
Nowadays, almost every TV is a smart TV. But there are many differences between the operating systems of each TV and which apps are available for that. Sony TVs run on Android, Samsung uses Tizen, LG uses webOS, TCL and Hisense use Roku TV, and there is also Amazon's Fire TV operating system built into some Toshiba and Insignia TVs. # 39; s.
So there are many choices there. One thing to know is that none of these operating systems is a complete car accident that should be avoided at all costs. One approach is to determine which streaming services you trust the most, and ensure that they are available for the operating system of your choice. And if your choice is not available, it is not the end of the world if you have to buy an external streaming box. Juggling two remote controls is a bit messier, but it's hardly a dealbreaker.
Please note that newer streaming services such as Disney + tend to come to streaming boxes before they are built into TVs. So you may have to use an accessory even if you have the most complete TV operating system.
Which TV functions do you really need?
The four major determining factors of modern TV & # 39; s are resolution, size, panel types and operating systems. However, there are many other terms that you will encounter when browsing through TV lists. The following section attempts to explain the most important of these and explains when you might want to watch a function and when it can be safely ignored.
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a function that matured around the same time as 4K TV & # 39; s. In essence, HDR TVs can display a wider range of brightnesses compared to Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) TVs, ranging from darker black to brighter white. When done properly, this gives an image more vibrancy and punch and, depending on the content, it can have more of an advantage for what an image looks like than 4K.
For the best HDR experience, you need an HDR TV that plays HDR content. Just as 4K TV & # 39; s 1080p content can scale up, some HDR TV & # 39; s SDR can scale up, with varying degrees of success. You can find HDR content on most major streaming services, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
There are several HDR formats that you should pay attention to. The baseline is HDR10, which is the minimum that you must choose. HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is also important if you want to make your TV future-proof, because this is the format in which HDR content is ultimately broadcast over the air.
Dolby Vision and HDR10 + are more advanced HDR standards. They add support for something that & # 39; dynamic metadata & # 39; , which benefits all movies or TV shows that contain both very bright scenes and very dark scenes. Dolby Vision is the most common of the two, and the competition between them has been characterized as a mini-sized war.
I would have placed Dolby Vision support in the "nice to have" category. It's an improvement, but it's marginal compared to the move to HDR in the first place. Given the lack of HDR10 + content at the moment, I don't think this should be at the top of your priority list.
If you are looking for Dolby Vision content, there is plenty to find on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu and Apple TV +. HDR10 + content is currently mainly on Amazon. Both formats can also be found on Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, but Dolby Vision is much more common there.
The bad news is that the quality of the HDR of a TV can be annoyingly difficult to quantify. There are many terrible TV & # 39; s that will technically do HDR and enjoy bragging about it. The best HDR TVs can become very clear and can produce really dark black, but it is rare for manufacturers to provide this type of information in their publicly available specifications. Watch out for the maximum brightness of a TV listed in "nits", where 1,000 nits is considered a good baseline for HDR on an LCD screen, while OLEDs tend to turn out slightly more than 500 don't worry, the HDR is just as good (if not better) because of the darker black levels.
In short: HDR10 good, Dolby Vision better, and not all HDR TVs are made equal.
HDMI for the past decade, HDMI is the only connector that you really need at the back of your TV. But as screen resolutions increase and new functions are developed, numerous new versions of HDMI have been developed.
If you buy a 4K TV, most sets nowadays come with HDMI version 2.0 ports. This is the HDMI version that most accessories currently use. It can do 4K content at 60 frames per second, and it's great for most people.
If you want to make your set future-proof, or if you plan to play a lot on your TV, it might be worth watching one with an HDMI 2.1 port. This standard has a lot of new features, including support for Variable Refresh Rates (VRR), a technology that reduces screen cracks while playing games. That is not so important nowadays, because the only consumer device that uses it is the Xbox One X. But with a new generation of consoles coming next year, that can change very quickly.
In short: HDMI 2.1 is great if you want to be future-proof, but for now, HDMI 2.0 is everything most people need.
Sound is an aspect of TVs that is not widely talked about, and that is probably because most modern TVs are terrible in it. Unless you buy a TV with a built-in soundbar or speaker on the front, it is probably hidden and produces sound by firing it down from the back of the set.
Soundbars and soundbases are a great upgrade for the sound of your TV and most modern models tend to connect via HDMI using an Audio Return Channel (HDMI-ARC).
So if you care about sound, buy a TV with a built-in speaker on the front or a soundbar, or make sure it has an HDMI ARC port so you can use an external speaker. HDMI ARC support for Dolby Atmos pass through is nice to have, but it is only relevant if your speaker system supports the audio standard.
Do I have to buy a curved TV?
Lol, no. Oh, and while we're on the move, don't bother hunting for a 3D TV. Most manufacturers stopped producing both years ago.
How much should I expect to pay?
This will be the most controversial part of this guide and there is no simple answer. If you get a high-end TV, the $ 1,000 mark is a good place to start. This is the price that 55-inch OLED TVs are known to go down in a good sale, and you can also get a very good LCD for this price.
When you start to get cheaper, the compromises are introduced. We would not say that there is a hard minimum for how much you have to pay for a TV, but pay attention to the specifications as soon as you have $ 500 or less.