Buying a new TV can be a daunting experience. With an array of competing technologies and standards, it can feel like diving into an alphabet soup of acronyms and specifications. Fortunately, experts say the situation is improving as manufacturers have generally dropped conflicting technologies and agreed to shared standards. Here are some things to look for.
Less is more
Curved screens appear to be fading as a short-lived gimmick. Manufacturers had boasted that curves provide more immersive pictures, but reviewers and experts disagreed.
Curves look good if viewed from a “sweet spot” directly in front, but they otherwise distort images to anyone looking on from the side. Most buyers are sticking with flat screens as a result. “A curved TV looks good when you stick it on a tabletop, but many of our clients don’t have tabletop situations,” says Mike Jamison of Brentview Electronics in Toronto.
Takeaway: Curves are cool but they’re gimmicky too. For a better immersive experience flat screen TVs win hands down.
2. 4K Resolution
The new standard
4K refers to 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution, or quadruple that of regular high-definition televisions. Manufacturers have been pushing the higher resolution for several years and prices have come down quickly. Entry-level sets from established brands can now be had for around $1,000. “I don’t think there is another choice besides 4K,” says Roger Delarosbil, owner of Signature Audio and Video in Ottawa. “The whole industry is moving fast toward it because it’s not as expensive.”
More content is also becoming available. Netflix offers many of its original shows in 4K and most broadcasters are now airing sports in the higher resolution. More important than the step-up in pixels is the fact that 4K TVs also pack sharper contrast and wider colour palettes. “They have better picture quality that has nothing to do with the resolution,” says David Katzmaier, TV reviews editor for technology site CNET. “Most of the better TVs just happen to be 4K anyway.”
Takeaway: Sharp colour contrasts—and growing Netflix offerings—make 4Ks the undisputed best buy for almost everyone.
3. Screen Clarity
Going full spectrum
Consumers no longer have to worry about deciding between plasma, LCD or other screen technologies, since most TVs now universally deliver great pictures. OLED, however, is being hailed as the best. OLED technology boasts four sub-pixels within each pixel, adding an extra white-emitting element to the regular red, green and blue lights. Run-of-the-mill LCD screens transmit light to pixels that otherwise need to be black, but OLED doesn’t. Black pixels are instead totally dark, which gives them a deeper black and other colours pop more as a result. “There’s never been a better TV,” Delarosbil says. “There’s nothing that can touch it.”
Right now, LG is sitting on a monopoly over OLED production so sets are still expensive—$3,500 to more than $10,000. “If you have the money, go for it, but most people should definitely wait,” Katzmaier says.
Takeaway: Lighter, thinner, crisper, OLED TVs are the holy grail for true videophiles willing to pay dearly for it.
4. Screen Size
Bigger can be better
The “sweet spot” for screen size is creeping upward, with consumers wanting bigger TVs every year. While 55-inch TVs were the norm a few years ago, 65 and 70 inches are becoming the new standard.
Lower prices are contributing, but so is the move to 4K, since the higher resolution is more noticeable on larger screens. “Those kinds of TVs make the content look that much better,” Katzmaier says.
Takeaway: Screen size should be determined by the size of the room it’s going in. Then go up a bit—so there’s no regrets.
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