The TV market has been changing a lot recently, both in terms of technology and price. New types of screens with organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panels and ultra-high definition (UHD, or 4K) is replacing the 1080p standard we’ve become used to. But which one should you buy? Here are the main points to consider when shopping for a new set, as well as the best TVs we’ve tested.
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Which Is the Best TV to Buy?
Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are a relatively new physical media format similar to Blu-ray discs. Don’t expect to play them on your current Blu-ray player, though; you need a dedicated Ultra HD Blu-ray player or a Microsoft Xbox One S to handle the format. The good news is that it stores 4K video with HDR (explained below), and even can handle advanced surround sound audio if your speaker system supports it. Since it’s a physical media format, you don’t need to worry about your internet connection to be sure you’re getting 4K, either.
Should I Wait for 8K?
8K is 7,680 by 4,320 resolution or four times the number of pixels of 4K. For the last few years major TV manufacturers have been showing off big-screen 8K TVs as proof-of-concept models, but they haven’t become much more than that. Currently, there are no 8K TVs available to buy in North America, and there aren’t any on the horizon. According to the HDMI Forum, only 400,000 8K screens will ship in 2018, and they’ll almost entirely ship in China. Even by 2020, that number will only hit 900,000 worldwide, of which only a fraction will be in North America.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
While 4K is now established as a no-brainer, there’s a new next-step video technology to consider when shopping for a TV. High dynamic range (HDR) content gives much more information to the display than a standard video signal. The resolution remains the same as UHD, but the range of color and amount of light each pixel can produce is significantly broader.
Thanks to new LCD and OLED panel technology, high-end televisions can display wider color gamuts and finer gradients of light and dark than before. Standard video was built around the limitations of older televisions, intentionally using a set range of color and light information in the signal. HDR breaks those limitations and uses expanded ranges with finer values between them. Basically, this means HDR displays can produce more colors and more shades of gray (or, rather, luminance values) than standard dynamic range displays.
Shopping for Sales
Most TV manufacturers unveil their new models for the coming year at CES in January. This doesn’t necessarily mean the prices for the current models will drop quickly, though. New TVs don’t usually hit shelves until spring, so you’re looking at a solid three or four months where you know what new TVs are coming out. If you can find deep discounts for the previous year’s models in January, and you know they’re good performers based on our reviews, you should go for them.
Are Cheap TVs Worth the Price?
Budget-priced TVs can be very appealing, especially if you haven’t yet made the jump to 4K and are daunted by $1,000-plus price tags. Be careful when you see a great deal on a TV, though, even if it says 4K HDR. It could be a steal, or it could be a disappointment.
Performance among budget TVs varies wildly, and trends toward the mediocre. You’ll find a few very good deals, like the TCL P-series that manages to combine excellent picture quality with a low price. You’ll also find a sea of cheap TVs that don’t measure up.
What’s the Difference Between OLED and LED?
Plasma TVs were the only flat-panel models available when they were first introduced more than a decade ago. They’re now a dead category, and you won’t see a major television manufacturer offering a new plasma television any time soon. That means your choices will mostly consist of LED-backlit LCD TVs (also simply called LED TVs), as well as much less common, much more expensive OLED displays.
What Screen Size Should I Get?
A big TV that’s too close can be just as uncomfortable to watch as a small one that’s too far away, so don’t assume that the biggest screen available is the best choice. There are a few different rules of thumb regarding TV screen size based on your distance from it. Generally, the distance of your couch to your TV should be between 1.2 and 1.6 times the diagonal measurement of your screen. So if your couch is six feet away from your screen, you can comfortably watch a TV between 42 and 60 inches. If your couch is five feet away, a 37- to 52-inch screen should work well.
TV Refresh Rate and Contrast Ratio
Refresh (or response) rate, the speed at which your TV’s panel refreshes its image, is expressed in hertz (60Hz, 120Hz, 240Hz, 480Hz, or 600Hz). The theory is that a faster refresh rate results in a smoother image. But in reality, there are several reasons this simply isn’t true, and it’s not worth paying more for a set with a faster response rate. In many cases, 60Hz will do just fine for films and 120Hz will be plenty for video games and sports (though you should probably turn off those higher refresh rate modes when watching most shows and movies, or else you’ll get that jarring soap opera effect).
Smart TV Apps and Services
Almost all TVs now offer web apps and built-in Wi-Fi. These features let you connect your television to the internet and access online services like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and YouTube. Many also integrate social network services like Facebook and Twitter, and many manufacturers offer entire downloadable app ecosystems with other programs and games you can use on your TV. Some manufacturers like Samsung and LG develop their own connected platforms for their smart TVs, while others like Insignia, Sony, and TCL use third-party systems like Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Roku TV to give their TVs apps and online services.
Getting the Right Connections
Your ideal TV should provide enough video connections not only for now but for the foreseeable future as well. The most important input is HDMI, which supports all major forms of digital video sources including Blu-ray players, game consoles, set-top boxes, cameras, camcorders, phones, tablets, and PCs through a single cable. Most TVs have three or four HDMI ports, but some might only have two.