One great example is 3D. A year or two ago, 3D home viewing was a serious selling point. Now, if you want a 3D TV, you can have it, but it’s not a huge driver of sales. The manufacturers put money behind it, charged the early adopters and it never truly caught on in the broader consumer base. That same philosophy also gave us great advances such as light emitting diode (LED) technology that made screens thinner than ever. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Because of the fickle nature of TV features, we’ll take a look at six basic things to consider when shopping for a TV, without dipping our toes into the world of curved screens and 3D and other bells and whistles that may come or go. By the end of this post, you’ll have a firm grasp of the basics of shopping for a new TV.
LCD, LED, Plasma and OLED
The first question you should ask yourself when shopping around is what kind of TV do you want: LCD, LED, plasma or OLED? It can be confusing and overwhelming at first, but when we’re talking about anything TV-related, we’re talking display technology.
LCD – Liquid Crystal Display
An LCD TV in basic terms, is a display that uses several layers of screens filled with liquid crystals over a cathode fluorescent lamp to produce images. Typically the cheapest option of all TV builds, they’re a great entry-level way to get HDTV into your home.
LED – Light Emitting Diode Display
LEDs are a type of LCD that uses light emitting diodes (LEDs) to provide the same amount of backlighting at a fraction of the energy of LCDs. An added benefit of LED displays is that their form factor is significantly slimmer than an LCD and their energy consumption is minimal when compared to the TVs on the market ten years ago.
In a plasma display, a grid of red, green and blue cells are switched on and off within a pixel to create a color. Plasma, once considered the pinnacle of display technology, is being phased out mostly because of the popularity and lower cost of manufacturing LED displays. They’re still highly sought after, primarily because of their high contrast, meaning plasma displays offer the truest blacks among all TV builds.
OLED – Organic LED
In an OLED TV, thin films of organic molecules produce light when a current is applied to them. OLED displays offer thinner, more energy efficient displays that offer images that are brighter and crisper. They’re also pretty pricey since they are the newest display technology on the market.
Cost varies widely between each type of display, so settling on which one you can afford might be the best place to start when considering a TV.
When it comes to viewing, bigger isn’t always better. Buy a TV too big, and you’re stuck with a screen that overtakes your household. Go with one too small and you just might need binoculars to watch a show. The great news is that larger TVs are more affordable than ever. Cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs used to max out at about 40”, but with technology being what it is today and capabilities being what they are, 70” TVs are giving new meaning to big screen.
The true measure of how big a screen should be is the size of the room itself. There’s a running philosophy that in order to get the most out of higher resolution TVs, you need a larger screen. But what good is a higher resolution if you can only sit three feet from your screen in a studio apartment? The bigger the room, the larger a TV it will accommodate.
Also consider the aesthetic implications of having a huge obsidian slate taking up one quarter of your family room wall. The smaller the TV, the easier it is to conceal within a cabinet or behind some decorative paneling.
Imagine you’re standing in front of a painting at a museum. From 10 feet, you can take in the whole work of art. From five feet, you can focus on one element of the painting, like a face or a shoe. Now imagine you’re standing six inches from the painting. If that painting were a TV, you would see that the entire painting is made up of tiny squares that display colors. Those squares are called pixels.
Resolution refers to the amount of pixels in a video signal or display. These days, TVs primarily come in three resolutions: 720p, 1080p and 4k. The higher the number, the higher the resolution of that particular TV. That means that a 720p TV has a lower pixel density, and the higher the pixel density, the higher the resolution.
You can find TVs that come in all three resolutions, but they vary widely in price. For example, 720p is considered low end and is most commonly found in TVs with a smaller screen size from bargain manufacturers. 1080p TVs are the most common and are found in most models. Technology has finally caught up to the manufacturing of TVs with 1080p resolution, so prices have come down quite a bit. A couple years ago, buying a sub-$1,000 1080p TV would be unheard of. Now it’s commonplace.
Of the three mentioned here, 4k is the highest resolution display, displaying nearly 4,000 pixels in the x-axis (the “k” in 4k is thousand). Considered ultra high definition, or UHD, 4k is four times the resolution of 1080p. In terms of future proofing your cinematic setup, 4k is a pretty safe bet. In fact, 4k is so high definition that the media and content are still catching up. True 4k media options are limited, but are making their way into the marketplace in the form of select Netflix streams and some Blu-ray movies.
A TV isn’t much of anything without anything to plug into it. Even today’s TVs can’t pick up an HD signal over the airwaves without an antenna. But if you’re looking to outfit your setup for some serious movie nights or multiplayer gaming, you’ll have to consider how many inputs your TV can take.
To get the most out of your super-duper big screen setup, HDMI is your best friend. And depending on how many devices you have in the TV cabinet, the more HDMI inputs you have, the better.
If you have a cable box, a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV and a video game console, that’s four inputs right there. Some models, even the high-end ones, only have four inputs. There is one workaround, however. An audio/video receiver acts as a hub for all your devices. All your devices plug into the receiver and the receiver then plugs into an HDMI input in the back of your TV.
Smart or Not So Smart
We live in an amazing age. Our TVs are capable of some pretty cool stuff, and with a click of the remote, you’ve got more watchable content than you could watch in a lifetime. Smart TVs make that happen.
A smart TV has a built-in operating system (OS) that puts a host of streaming media services right there on your screen. Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few drawbacks.
With every brand that has a smart TV in its lineup, there’s a smart TV OS. There’s no consistency across brands, so once you’ve settled on a smart TV you like, there’s a learning curve to get the hang of it. Also, not all brands have licensing agreements with all of the streaming partners, leaving gaps in your viewing experience.
A smart TV might cost a little extra, but having streaming capability built into your TV can be pretty convenient. But if you already have a favorite third-party streaming stick or add-on box, you just might be able to save yourself a few bucks.
What do you look for in a TV? What’s your setup like at your house? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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