TV Buying Guide: What You Need to Know

November 2nd, 2017 No Comments

In our last blog post, I gave you the highest level of things you need to know when considering a new TV for your home – the ‘acronyms’ and what they mean, a description of screen resolution, how to determine size and accurately measure, and a bit about audio. In this post, I’ll cover even more things to consider along with some recommendations.

LED/LCD TVsTV Buying Guide: What You Need to Know

Most TVs today are LCD (liquid-crystal display) flat screens, which replaced the cathode ray tubes and the old, bulky TVs of years gone by. The majority of these today use LED (light-emitting diodes) to illuminate the screen, specifically at the edge.  With ‘active dimming,’ the display can better distinguish between light and dark areas in a scene, creating a better contrast.

Full-array LED uses backlighting for even more contrast and a sharper picture. These light-emitting diodes are arranged in a grid directly behind the screen. As with other technology, this feature was once offered on the higher-end models but is now common on even the modestly priced sets.

Another technology that is becoming more common for LCDs is Quantum dots. These are an added layer of nanocrystal dots of various sizes that light up when backlit, offering a brighter, more colorful picture. Some manufacturers have labeled this as QLED for quantum-dot LCD TVs. Be cautious: this is not the same as an OLED TV!

OLED TVs

Hands-down, the OLED technology offers the best picture but is significantly more expensive. To achieve the blackest blacks and dramatic levels of contrast, the OLED TVs use a layer of organic (that’s what the O stands for) LEDs that are controlled at the pixel level in place of the backlight. These have dozens of lighting zones and produce superior contrast and precision. The OLED TV can also be watched from a wider viewing angle with reducing contrast or color.

These TVs, however, are not as bright overall as LCD TVs. This could be an issue with the high dynamic range (HDR) feature used to enhance the color, contrast, and brightness of the 4K TVs.  And because they are fairly new, there’s no history of image retention and lifespan.

Color and More Color

The newest technology with the most colors is a feature of 4K Ultra HD sets called HDR, or high dynamic range.  The standard for this has not been established yet; however, Dolby—a name we know and trust for sound—has a version of HDR that seems to be gaining popularity.  Consider upgrading your 4K TV with HDR that is compatible with Dolby Vision. Just like the Ultra HD, the programs that reflect the absolute best in the color spectrum are those that are recorded with this technology.  There are a growing number of movies and shows now streaming in the HDR format.

Refresh Rate

Hertz (Hz), aka the refresh rate, indicates how many times per second the picture is refreshed on the display. The standard refresh rate is 60 times per second, or 60 Hz. This rate can make fast moving objects appear blurry, especially on LCD HDTVs. To prevent this, TVs now offer a refresh rate of 120 Hz (and in some cases up to 240 Hz).

Connections

It is important to note the number of HDMI inputs the set has. Even if you have no plans to add anything to your TV now, consider the future. (You want your investment to be viable for at least several years.) You’ll need those ports to add a Roku, a game console, or external speakers. We recommend no less than four.

For 4K Ultra HD TVs, make sure the ports support HDCP, or high-bandwidth digital content protection.

Smart TVs

Smart TVs have built-in Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth to connect to Internet-based streaming services and even other smart devices such as mobile phone and tablets. The quality of these services and online apps may differ greatly between brands. Be aware that the “smart” interface of many brands is over-kill, providing an array of apps you’ll never need or use. For this purpose, look for clean, simple, clutter-free screens that are easy to use.

Wall Mounting?

Yet another thing to consider before making your purchase is whether you plan to mount your set on the wall. If so, make sure the set you want is designed to be used with a mount and meant to be as close to the wall as possible. There are many mounting options to choose from (this is a separate purchase), so be certain your set has wall mount screw positions compatible with the industry standard, ‘VESA.’

Wall mounting may impact the size you’re looking for, so again, use a cardboard mockup to be sure the size you choose is right for your wall. Consider also the viewing angles, especially when placed higher on the wall.

And finally, we highly recommend you hire a licensed professional to install your new set. This protects your investment and your walls!

Ready to Buy?

You may be tempted to go for the latest technology to hit the market, but if you want a good price, you’re better off waiting several months. Because there are new versions coming out each year, last year’s sets can be had at a bargain because retailers need to move their inventory.  In many cases, when you compare this year’s model with last, you’ll find that the improvement is a small one, and last year’s model will give you a similar experience for a fraction of the cost. For sets that introduce something new over last year’s model, you’ll have to do a bit more research to determine if last year’s technology will take your set into the future.  Check the Ultra HD Premium, a buying guide that contains the standard specifications across all the major TV manufacturers. Be aware that not every company has adopted this, and there is still a lot of consumer confusion.

Timing

Once you’ve made the decision on which set you want, do some comparison of pricing on that set. Check the cost across different retailers both on- and off-line. Once you know the best possible price, you have a baseline for which you can compare and look for bargains. The absolute best time to buy is Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and many retailers are extending those offers in an effort to clear their shelves. If buying online, check out Amazon Prime Day, held in July, and reportedly offering prices that rival Black Friday. And if you miss either of those opportunities, you can usually find some great bargains prior to a major sports event like the Super Bowl.

Summary

To ensure your purchase carries you into the future, I recommend that you buy a TV with…

  • the best resolution that you can afford; that is, skip the 1080p and go with 4K
  • HDR-compatibility for more realistic colors and better contrast (applies to 4K TVs only)
  • a minimum 120 Hz refresh rate
  • at least four HDMI ports (and HDCP compatibility for 4K)
  • a soundbar or surround-sound system

The fact that you’re reading this puts you at an advantage when shopping over those who don’t understand the jargon. Be aware of sales pitches that hype the following:

  • Contrast-ratio specs: Manufacturers often manipulate these numbers. Trust your eyes. If you like the way the picture looks, that’s what matters.
  • Curved TVs: This is simply a ‘style’ and offers no enhancement to the image.
  • Smart TV: This has become a standard in all TVs and is no longer a “selling feature.” Most include the major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, while the other services may vary between brands.
  • Extended warranties: Your credit card may already offer protection for your purchase.

Head spinning? Ambiance Systems can help you through the process, from making the purchase that’s right for you to a professional install and setup. Give us a call. The holidays are just weeks away, and Super Bowl is just around the corner!

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