Bedazzled by all those TV options? Our handy guide will help whittle it down...
Need a new telly? Dazzled by the options? Here’s our handy guide
The television landscape has changed more than any other in the AV industry in recent times, so if you need two hands to count the years since you last bought one, your shopping experience will most likely be pretty different to your last.
Not only have TVS upped the picture performance game across the board (all but budget models have a 4K resolution now), there are also brand-new technologies to grapple with (HDR, OLED, QLED) alongside the basic questions of screen size, TV placement, number of inputs and “Does it have Netflix and BBC iplayer?”
Daunting, eh? To try to make it less so, we’ve come up with a comprehensive checklist that should help make your Tvbuying experience much less painful.
4K or not 4K?
This might seem like a no-brainer at first, but should you really go for a 4K TV over a Full HD set? The higher resolution sets – four times that of Full HD – have been adopted far quicker than 1080p was back in the day.
Despite still costing a pretty penny (especially if you’re going for a larger screen size), 4K TVS are very much affordable and mainstream these days. You can get a 50in 4K TV for just £500 – and one that performs well, too. How much you’ve budgeted for your new TV also comes into play. Full HD TVS tend to cost less than a 4K set, but we’d genuinely opt for Full HD only if you’re looking at screen sizes smaller than 40in.
For larger screens, the value you get from a 4K TV – superior picture performance, better features and interface – is definitely worth investing in. After all, with 4K Blu-ray players, 4K discs and 4K streaming now very much mainstream and affordable, it makes perfect sense.
What about HDR?
High Dynamic Range (HDR) is the TV buzzword that carries on buzzing, and tends to come hand in hand with 4K TVS. Essentially: the higher the dynamic range (brightness and colours), the more lifelike the picture. HDR offers greater subtlety and depth of colour gradation, plus stronger contrast.
There are various types of HDR out there, and with different TV brands backing different variants, it can be a minefield trying to find the best option.
We’ll start with HDR10 – it’s the standard HDR format that you’ll find in all Hdr-compatible content, from 4K Blu-ray discs to Netflix and Amazon shows. If you’re buying a 4K HDR TV, HDR10 comes as standard.
Then there’s Dolby Vision. Unlike HDR10 – which applies the HDR values on a scene-by-scene basis (ie. whenever the camera cuts to a new scene), Dolby Vision applies this image information (called metadata) on a frame-by-frame basis. This
“SHOULD YOU REALLY GO FOR A 4K TV OVER A FULL HD SET?”
dynamic form of HDR, when implemented properly, has the potential to improve upon the standard HDR10 presentation.
HDR10+ is a rival format to Dolby Vision. Created by Samsung, it similarly uses dynamic metadata, but, whereas Dolby Vision is licensed, HDR10+ is a free, open format that any company can deploy as it sees fit.
You’ll find Dolby Vision on select LG, Sony, B&O and Loewe TV sets, while Samsung, Panasonic and Philips are backing HDR10+. There’s plenty of Dolby Vision content available now across Netflix Original shows and 4K discs, but no HDR10+ just yet – although major movie studios and Amazon Prime Video have signed up to use the format.
And finally, HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) is an HDR format developed specifically for broadcasting by the BBC and Japan’s NHK. All the big TV brands – Samsung, Sony, LG, Panasonic and Philips – have adopted its support across the majority of their 2018 4K TV ranges.
So new buyers should be safe in the knowledge that when BBC’S 4K HLG trials – and more regular 4K HDR broadcasts further down the line – arrive, they won’t be left out.
What type of screen?
Whether you punt for an LCD, QLED or OLED TV may depend on how big you want your screen. OLED panels aren’t available in TVS smaller than 55in, and the baby screen for Samsung’s QLEDS is 49in. Looking for a smaller telly (maybe for a second room)? Standard LCD’S your guy.
LCD TVS (which require a backlight usually made up of white LEDS to show a picture on the LCD panel) are available in a wide variety of screen sizes and, thanks in part to the technology’s low cost of production, at affordable prices.
OLED (Organic Light-emitting Diode) is a panel technology that uses self-emissive particles – hence there’s no need for a backlight. This allows current televisions to be incredibly slim, while also offering convincing pitch-dark blacks, strong contrast and superb viewing angles. LG, Sony and Panasonic are the big-hitting brands with OLED TVS in their line-ups.
QLED (Quantum-dot Light-emitting Diode) is Samsung’s response to OLED. A QLED TV is an LCD TV but with a quantum dot coating over the backlight. However, the quantum dots (tiny semiconductor particles) in current QLEDS do not emit their own light. So QLED TVS, like conventional LCDS, rely on a backlight. The advantages of a QLED TV? You tend to get brilliantly bright, sharp and crisply detailed images.
Edge-lit or full-array backlight?
If you’re opting for an LCD TV, the LED backlighting comes in two different types: edge lighting or direct backlighting. The former is the most common and cheapest to produce. TVS are ‘edge-lit’ by a row of LEDS bordering and facing the centre of the screen, which disperse light across the screen. The benefit? Thinner TVS. The drawback? Often inconsistent contrast, with the edges of pictures brighter than the centre. Alternatively, you can have direct backlighting (or ‘full-array’), which sees LED lights uniformly placed behind the whole screen.
In theory, full direct backlighting typically improves local dimming (ie. contrast control – simultaneously keeping the dark parts of a picture dark, and the brightest parts bright). The one downside is that this method usually means a slightly thicker TV. “IT MIGHT BE TEMPTING TO THINK BIGGER IS BETTER...”
1 The controls are nicely damped and pleasingly precise. 2 We switch off the power meter backlight for a slight gain in transparency. 3 Connections include RCA line-level ins and balanced XLR options.