Ultimate TV Buying Guide

Buying a TV used to be so simple – or so our nostalgic memories would have us believe, anyway. You’d just pick the size of screen you wanted and choose from a range of brands with their claims of incredible picture technologies. Then, you would pay a large sum of money and haul the thing home to sit in the corner displaying low-quality analogue pictures on a near-square screen. How far we have come in such a short time since the arrival of digital TV (and with it, 16:9 widescreen) and the advent of first DVD, then Blu-ray, then UHD, streaming video and more!

Suddenly, even the most basic of TVs you buy is capable of displaying video with a level of detail that matches most of the shows and movies you view on it. All from an impossibly thin, surprisingly lightweight screen that’s grown larger and larger. Plus, costs come down as interest in a cinema-like experience at home has gone up.

When you go shopping for a TV these days, you’re confronted by an eye-popping array of flat-screen offerings with screen sizes that start at “big” and go up from there. And there’s a whole bunch of features thrown at you, just to confuse things. Not only do you have the general TV industry terms like “Full HD”, Ultra HD”, “LED”, “OLED” “HDR” and the likes. But you’ll also see impressive-sounding brand-specific jargon like “Backlight Master Drive” or “Quantum Dot Technology”. Here’s the first tip: the latter – those marketing-driven, sci-fi-sounding features that seem impressive just from saying their name, are usually best taken with a grain of salt. That’s not to suggest that the features behind the marketing hype are bogus – they’re usually not. However, they should never be the primary consideration behind an expensive purchase like a TV. You need to cover the basics first, and narrow down the options to what suits you and your living space.

Ultimate TV Buying Guide

The things that don’t matter

Manufacturers love to load up their websites and brochures about TVs with features. They often sport silly names and sometimes you can do without them just fine. 3D is one of the biggest of those features you can do away with. If your chosen TV happens to support it, that’s great. But we bet you’ll hardly ever use it, if at all. The reason is simple – 3D is a pain. Not only does it require compatible hardware (Blu-ray player and AV receiver both need to support it), it also needs special glasses to view 3D content. The glasses need to be kept charged, which drastically affect picture quality and which inevitably adds extra costs to the price you pay for your TV. There’s very, very slim pickings in terms of actual 3D content out there – most of what’s on Blu-ray is “simulated” 3D anyway – and everyone watching is going to need their own pair of bulky glasses. 3D works great in the cinema as an event. At home, it’s not only not worth the extra money, it’s increasingly considered obsolete by TV manufacturers anyway.

The other briefly-hyped thing to definitely avoid is the curved screen. Cinemas back in the 1960s started using a deeply curved screen to try to draw audiences into the spectacle of the then-new widescreen movies. And it’s oh so tempting to try to replicate that cinematic curved screen at home. Only one problem – you’re not sitting as comparably close to the screen at home as you would be in a cinema. The curved screen might look incredibly cool. But unless you’re sitting right in the middle of the display, you’re going to get distorted picture and uneven lighting. Curved screens are great for computer monitors when your eyeballs are literally right in front of the screen, but for a TV, avoid them. They’re a pain to keep intact when you’re moving house, too!

What’s with all the letters?

OLED, LCD, LED, UHD… It’s a confusing world out there when it comes to the technology that is behind the TVs that you’re looking at. And that’s nothing new – the audio/video companies have been doing this for decades now. Let’s take a look at some of the current terminology, so you know exactly what it is you’re looking at in the store.

OLED

LG OLED55C7TPhoto: LG

LG OLED55C7T

LG has long been a supplier of LCD panels for TVs from other major brands. And as the main manufacturer of TV-sized OLED panels, they’ve stepped up their game recently to launch a range of TVs that have been winning praise and awards around the world. The C7 is quite a special thing, too. It’s got it all, from a gorgeous HDR picture with support for Dolby Vision, a fast 1ms response time that will please gamers, a quad-core processor driving the smooth and fully-featured smart TV interface… And of course, those perfect blacks that only OLED can truly deliver. It’s wafer thin and the screen’s almost borderless. Fed with a 4K source (whether it’s Netflix or UHD disc) the picture quality is breathtaking.

LOCAL-DIMMING LCD

Sony X94EPhoto: Sony

Sony X94E

This model features Sony’s new “Slim Backlight Drive+” to achieve local-dimming illumination. All without causing the TV to bulk out in thickness like the more complex (and much more expensive) full-array LED backlight, which more than doubles the price. It works beautifully, letting the legendary Sony LCD picture quality shine. Few manufacturers understand how to get the most out of LCD like Sony. This model is no exception, with superb video processing backed up by full support for HDR. It’s also powered at the “smart” level by Android TV, which gives you a crisp, fast and versatile interface. It not only comes with the usual apps for Netflix, Stan and the rest, but can directly stream movies from Google Play, has a Chromecast built in, and can download hundreds of additional apps to expand functionality.

STANDARD 4K LCD

Samsung UA55MU6100

This is a stunning LCD screen available at an incredibly low price – well less than half the price of the two models above. Samsung’s ultra HD TVs feature the company’s own LCD panels, which have been acclaimed over many years as the best around – even Sony uses them! There’s a lot of bang for your back here, with no compromises made on picture quality despite the lower price. Samsung’s well-liked SmartHub is the smart interface on this one. You’ll find apps for every streaming service under the sun along with a bunch of other useful things; it’s a well-supported platform. It also enables the use of your phone or tablet as a fully-featured remote control, complete with info about what you’re currently watching.

FULL HD LCD

Sony W85CPhoto: Sony

Sony W85C

An Android-powered full HD (1080p) TV for those who aren’t ready to head all the way to 4K, or simply find the HD delivered by Blu-ray, Netflix and free-to-air to be plenty of quality for them. Boasting Sony’s usual picture quality and graced with surprisingly robust speakers for a modern slim TV, this one looks great, sounds great and is a joy to use thanks to the Android interface. With voice search from the remote control and built-in Chromecast, it has more than a few party tricks up its sleeve as well!

Spoilt for choice

It’s a buyer’s market when it comes to big-screen TVs these days, and there’s a ton of value available even at the more budget end of the scale. The thing to keep in mind is that while “you get what you pay for” still holds some weight, most of the lower-end models from the respected name brands will deliver picture quality and performance you’ll be happy with. The TVs we’ve mentioned here are the “best of the best.” However, think about what’s important to you before making such a large investment. Extra tips:

  • Stick to the big brands – they’re the companies that actually make the tech in their TVs
  • If you don’t have any 4K sources (UHD player or game console) then you probably don’t need 4K
  • OLED is incredible tech, but currently has a shorter lifespan than LCD

Chances are you’ll be able to find a TV that suits your needs for a lot less than you think. But even at the higher end, the level of quality and features available on the pricier TVs is far, far ahead of what you would have gotten for the price even a few short years ago.