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How to Pick the Perfect TV and Understanding the Differences
TV technology is constantly evolving and can be hard to make heads or tails of, making purchasing a new television both an exciting and intimidating prospect.
Many consumers are left wondering what the differences are between the $700 65-inch 4K television they saw at Costco versus the same-sized screen they found for $2,500 at another store. From OLED to LED, refresh rate, available HDMI ports, and smart features, the answer to that question can be found in the details and understanding precisely what your needs and requirements are.
In this article, we will break down the key factors and tech specs you'll need to consider when purchasing the right TV for your space and lifestyle, from the ABCs of LED to the FYI of HDMI.
A good starting point when looking for a new TV is size. First, factor in your space's size, where you will place the set, how far you will sit from it, and what will work best for your budget. On average, a television screen between 55 and 65 inches will work best in terms of performance, price, and the ideal distance from the screen, based on most living spaces.
If you ever tried to set up your TV space and wondered what is the right distance to watch TV, you should give this TV size calculator a look. It is a tool that, based on the screen size and its resolution, chooses the optimal distance from the screen so that you can enjoy the best picture quality. Simply input the resolution of the television (i.e. 1080p, Ultra HD, 4K) and the screen size of your television. The result should be the size you need. For example, if you usually sit 8 feet from your television, then a 65-inch screen should be an ideal size for you.
Indeed, bigger can be better, and it will all come down to your personal preference and aesthetics.
Make a Resolution
The number of pixels that form the picture on a TV horizontally and vertically is known as resolution. The more pixels on display, the sharper the image becomes, which is why higher-definition televisions have come to dominate the market. With 4K resolution, ultra HD sets are also becoming more popular and affordable, providing images with rich, vivid detail. However, the difference between 1080p HD and 4K can be subtle and less noticeable from a distance and more pronounced when you get up close and personal.
One important thing to keep in mind is that not all content is available in 4K—like live television—therefore, you'll want to be sure that you can take advantage of your new shiny resolution. Many of the apps for the latest streaming services come pre-installed or can be easily downloaded to most Smart TVs. Popular streaming devices—like Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Stick 4K, Roku, and Chromecast with Google TV—also offer the ability to stream 4K content, and are often faster and offer more features than the ones built into your television.
Although 8K televisions have recently become available, you are fine avoiding them for now. The price is substantially higher, and there is no 8K content or services available yet. By the time there is, the technology will have improved (and likely become cheaper), making your "first adopter" purchase outdated and obsolete.
4K televisions also offer HDR, or High Dynamic Range, which produces more vivid colors, higher contrast, and greater brightness. There are currently five different HDR formats, but Dolby Vision is becoming the de facto HDR standard, with more and more streaming services offering the superior form of HDR. TV manufacturers like LG, Sony, Philips, and Panasonic offer the biggest selection of hardware that displays Dolby Vision, provided it's offered for the content you're watching; otherwise, it will display in the highest HDR format available.
It can be confusing to decide between LED, OLED, and QLED televisions, but it boils down to personal taste and budget.
On the higher end of the cost and performance spectrum, OLED panels (Organic Light Emitting Diode, meaning the pixels emit their own light) offer richer contrasts with the whitest whites and deepest shades of black. In contrast, QLED panels (Quantum Dot LED TV) produce bright, eye-popping colors, though with duller contrast. Between the two, OLED is considered to have the most consistent and superior picture quality, uniformity, and viewing angles, while QLED is generally less expensive, especially at larger sizes.
An LED-backlit LCD TV (Liquid Crystal Display) is far less expensive (think $800 model at Costco) than an OLED or QLED model. They can also often produce contrast levels that come close to more sophisticated models but can produce distracting light bleed.
Lastly, an LCD TV can be the most economical option—if less common these days—delivering a beautiful picture for less but are susceptible to dead pixels that cannot be repaired once they appear/develop.
At Any Rate
Refresh rate is the number of times per second (written in hertz, or Hz) a TV refreshes its image. The faster your TV refreshes, the smoother the picture will be. The standard refresh rate for televisions is 60Hz or 60 times per second. When watching scenes with fast motion, such as an action film, live sports, or gaming, a low refresh rate can cause motion blur, in which things appear blurry or jittery. Higher-end models offer 120Hz or 240Hz, with a price tag to reflect the performance increase.
For most, a 4K television at 60Hz will be more than enough. However, if you watch a lot of sports, play video games, or want top-end performance from your home theater, you may want to consider 120Hz or higher.
Many manufacturers have also started offering a High-Frame Rate (HFR) feature for TVs with the standard 60 Hz refresh rate, ensuring greater support for films and sporting events while keeping the price tag down. Current generation console gamers (PS5, Xbox Series X) should be on the lookout for 120Hz, while last generation consoles can produce a maximum of 60 frames per second, so be sure to carefully consider what devices you'll be connecting and what refresh rate you need to get the most out of them.
Make the Proper Connections.
Many TV manufacturers lower costs by reducing the number of available HDMI ports. So, that $700 65-inch 4K TV you saw at Costco may look enticing, but upon further inspection may only have two available HDMI ports. Depending on what kind of setup you have, these ports can be used quickly, including for soundbars, streaming devices, home theater components, and gaming consoles. To ensure you have enough ports for your entertainment system, four or more is usually the magic number to cover most connections.
If you choose a 4K TV or have a current-generation gaming console, take a closer look at your television's HDMI port specifications, along with the HDMI cables you are using. Ultra HD sources require HDMI 2.0 capability, and often only one port per television model offers this. HDMI 2.0 cables also support 4K resolution of up to 60Hz. An HDMI 2.1 connection is required to play your Playstation 5 at 120 frames per second, its highest output. HDMI 2.1 also supports 4K resolution up to 120Hz and will be especially adept once 8K TVs become more common. So if you're looking to future-proof your TV, you may want to pick up a few.
Also, bear in mind that due to the thinness of LCD, OLED, and QLED televisions, decent audio may become an issue. Our sound advice is to add a soundbar to your system to enhance your entertainment experience. They are easy to position without obstructing your view, especially if you have a media cabinet with a soundbar shelf built into the unit.
Price is Right
After deciding on the size you need and the resolution you would like, the final criteria for selecting the right TV is price. In today's competitive market, it is easy to find a quality, affordable TV. Smart 4K TVs are available from various brands with comparable pricing running around $500 for a solid 55-inch 4K model. Consider the pre-referenced points about size, resolution, refresh rates, and HDMI ports, and you should be able to narrow down your selection and find the best option for your home entertainment system.
Based on Consumer Reports studies, major brands such as Samsung, LG, and Sony fare best in longevity, quality, and customer satisfaction. Still, price differentials between different sized sets vary greatly depending on the company. For example, Sony focuses on premium TV models and shies away from lower performance sets, which results in higher pricing. Best Buy tends to favor its Insignia house brand. Costco members will often get double the time on the warranty and two years of tech support.
If shopping in-store, places like Best Buy are great for side-by-side comparisons due to the store's proper lighting. If you go to Target or Walmart, the TV sections might not have the same light management, making it harder to compare visually.
Finally, while shopping online used to offer the best deals on TVs, that is no longer the case. Online searches do produce reliable price comparisons on specific sizes of TVs, so you may want to start there, check that the model has the specs you're looking for, and then head to the store to get some personal screen time with your prospective new TV.
With so many eye-catching, reasonably-priced, state-of-the-art models to choose from, selecting the picture-perfect TV for your home—with help from this guide—is easier than ever.