Televisions

Televisions have moved on significantly in recent years. Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions have virtually been replaced by flat panel TVs using projection, plasma, LED and later technologies. Many are now suitable for high-definition content and more recently 3D TVs and content have become available.

Buying A New TV

There are a number of issues to be considered when buying a new TV and we suggest they are considered in this order of priority:

Connectivity

Televisions are generally used in two ways:

  1. As a stand-alone device with nothing connected to it.
  2. As a display for a range of devices from set-top-box (STB) to games consoles. In this configuration you will quite often find a home cinema amplifier (such as the Denon AVR-1912 we have) used to provide (and switch) the audio and in many cases, to also switch the video signals.

If you use a TV with lots of devices, then you may want a lot of input sockets on the back of it. If you use a home cinema amplifier that switches HDMI signals, then this is less of an issue. Either way, you need to be sure you can connect all of your devices to your TV.

Size

A major consideration when buying a TV is to get one that is suitable for your room size and your requirements. TVs are measured using a diagnogal line from bottom the bottom left corner of the screen to the top right corner.

Many people simply think bigger is better but, a huge TV can totally dominate a room. This may be the effect you want to achieve though. In a typical UK living room a 37" TV is fine and anything over 42" will initially look excessive. Having said that, the modern trend is for huge TVs in the lounge and 55" and 60" TVs are now very commmon. Some companies produce 80" or even 100" TVs now.

  • A TV displayed in a large showroom will look a lot smaller than it will appear when newly installed in a typical living room.
  • Over time, you will get used to the size of a TV and it will gradually feel smaller and less intrusive. People seeing it the first time may well consider it excessive though.
  • Once you get used to a large TV, you may feel the need to upgrade again.

LG 84 inch TV
In early 2012, LG announced this 84" TV.

Aspect Ratio

Philips 21:9 aspect ratio TV
Pretty much all of TVs on the market now have a 16:9 (standard widescreen) aspect ratio but a few high-end (and very expensive) TVs are available with a 21:9 aspect ratio (notably by Philips), to match the aspect ratio used in film production (more accurately 2.39:1).

Picture Quality

Resolution

A huge factor in the quality of the picture displayed on your TV will be its native resolution. This is the number of pixels (dots) that can be displayed on the screen in both a horizontal and vertical direction. Most telvisions are 'high definition' capable but this phrase is open to interpretation by the TV manufacturers.

A full HD capable TV should be able to display 1080p content at a resolution of 1920 x 1024 pixels. Some manufacturers use the term 'high definition' when referring to 720p content (1280 x 720 pixels) but this is not 'true' high definition.

In late 2011 TVs started coming on to the market with Quad-HD (also called Ultra Definition, 4K2K and 4K) resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels. We think this is going to bypass 3D as the next 'must have' feature on high-end TVs in 2012.

Display Technologies

There are various display technologies used in modern TVs and each has its own characteristics, that determine various factors in perceived picture quality. Things like contrast ratio, latency, brightness, colour accuracy, etc.

Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED)

These displays are considered the best due to their fast response times (good for fast moving action on screen), wide viewing angle, good colour reproduction, outstanding contrast levels, and high brightness. OLED displays are found on some of the more expensive Smartphones. The problem with this technology is that it is expensive and very hard to produce big displays reliably with this technology.

LG 55 inch OLED TV
OLED TVs were first being shown by vendors such as LG at CES 2012. The TV pictured is a 55" TV and is just 4mm thick. At CES 2013, LG announced it would be on sale in March 2013, starting at $12,000!

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

An LED TV is currently considered the best type of TV you can currently buy but, the other technologies described below also have some advantages over LED display technology. Many manufacturers call their TVs and LED TV when in fact it is a LED backlit LCD display. This is a marketing ploy and very misleading.

With LED backlighting, the picture quality has been improved over standard LCD and Plasma, because the range of colours have increased. Using LEDs as the light source instead of traditional lamps provides a higher contrast ratio and thus better quality images on screen. LED technology also consumes less power than traditional backlight TV technology and can also be made much thinner.

Plasma

Plasma TVs have an advantage of high contrast over LCD TVs.

Quantum Dot

CNET have produced a good article on quantum dot technology.

Sound Quality

Because of the shape of a TV, the audio is always compromised. No TV will ever sound as good a a half-decent home cinema amplier with a decent surround sound speaker set-up. The lack of space and the inability to take use the room on the front of the TV, means this will always be the case.

I like me you pass all audio through a home cinema system, then it doesn't really matter how good the sound is on your TV. In fact, I'd like to be able to buy a TV that has no speakers at all but, they don't really exist. If you plan to use your TV in stand-alone mode, then its quality of sound needs to be considered though and it should be higher priority than I've listed here.

3D TV

Everything we have talked about so far has assumed that TVs present a 2-dimensional (2D) image but in 2010 3D TVs made it onto the market. Television manufacturers are making a huge push with 3D TV because its a potentially huge source of new revenue. The underlying technology within a 3D TV is no more expensive than a 2D TV but, early adopters are paying a huge premium (often twice as much) to buy them. Not only do TV manufacturers think that they can justify charging more for 3D TVs but, they also see it as a way to encourage people to bin their perfectly good 2D TVs and buy a new one. This is why there is so much marketing activity around 3D TV.

Content

The biggest problem with 3D TV right now (Jan 2011) though is that there is not a lot of content available. A lot of the 3D films coming out have also been rushed to market and are just not very good. Worse still, a lot of 2D films are being 'reworked' and turned into '3D' films. The result is also not very good.

There have been very few outstanding 3D films in our view (Avatar being one of the best) but, they also only really work on a huge screen in the full cinema aspect ratio. You need to go to the cinema to see them at their best.

Standards

The other big issue is around standards. There are many different ways to present 3D content and few are compatible. Even technologies that look similar (e.g. 3D active shuttered glasses) often don't interwork across different manufacturers. Some also involve compromises such as reduced resolution (e.g. the side by side format).

Glasses

I'm not even going to go into the 3D glasses discussion here!

Summary

At this point in time, we can see little point in investing in a 3D TV, other than for the gimmick factor. The exception to this is if you are into gaming, because a lot of game titles are available in 3D.

Internet Connected TVs

I've left this bit till last because it's currently the most controversial aspect of TV. There are essential two camps when it comes to Internet Connected TVs: those that just want a dumb TV (us included) and those that want an all-singing, all-dancing TV with apps, Internet content and services and social networking.

The former is simply a power and extensible (via connectivity) display device for a wide range of hardware. It's cheap, reliable and relatively future proof. The quality of the display and the power consumption might improve but at the end of the day its just a display and is likely to have a usable lifetime in your home of around five or more years, before you feel the need to upgrade. In fact, the key decision to upgrade is likely to be driven by resolution improvements in the future (or 3D if you want it).

The latter is a cutting edge piece of consumer electronics with a powerful (at the moment) processor and some kind of operating system, to enable it to connect to the Internet and download (store) and playback content. Put simply, it has a traditional set-top-box embedded within it.

The Future

TV technologies don't stand still. Whilst OLED is still the most likely technology to get mainstream adoption in the TV market in the next few years, other technologies are being progressed:

Quantum Dot

Electroluminescent Quantun Dot LED (QLED) technology is described in this article. The benefits are brighter displays with better colour accuracy, requiring less power and space. CES 2015 had many TV manufacturers talking about this technology and it is now looking likley to leap-frog OLED by virtue of the improved picture quality, low power consumption and lower cost.

This is why we are currently holding out on buying a new UHD TV.

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