Whether taking advantage of discounts around Black Friday, Cyber Monday or all the other days between now and the holidays, a lot people are shopping for a new TV. And I’m one of them.
About a decade ago, I bought a 55-inch Vizio 1080p high-definition, which has worked out great. Until recently, 1080P was the standard for larger high-definition TVs, and the picture quality is stunning compared to the cathode-ray TVs they replaced.
But now – except for very small TVs – almost every set on the market is 4K, with prices ranging from under $200 to several thousand.dollars.
I spent the better part of Wednesday shuttling between Video Only, Best Buy and Costco in Mountain View which, happily, are in very close proximity to one another. With a couple of exceptions, the differences in how the picture looked at the stores were pretty minimal.
There were a few that looked a bit washed out and some of the super-high ones were noticeably better, but there’s no way I’m going to spend $2,000 or more on a TV. The ones for under $1,000 — even those below $500 — looked very good. And the good news is that once you take one home, you won’t be looking at them side by side. Yours will look just fine.
In addition to looking at specifications and reviews – the best way to know what to buy is to take a look, which is a good reason to consider buying from a store where you can compare them rather than shopping online. But if you do go to a store, try to find one that has the same image on all the sets you look at. I found that to be mostly the case at the Video Only store.
They had an entire wall of TVs running the same cable TV channel, which is a much more realistic image than when they play a canned loop especially designed to show off the best features of the TVs. But even if they do show a canned loop, it’s best if you can compare TVs showing the same images at the same time, which sadly isn’t always the case at retail stores. Even at this store, some of the TVs were running different videos.
Even though nearly all 4K sets look great, it is worth looking at some online reviews and learning a little about the specifications and buzzword though I try not to get too hung up on specs.
Nearly all 4K TVs have the 3840 x 2160 or 2160p resolution, compared with 1920×1080 resolution in 1080p sets. Because there are more pixels on the screen, the picture is crisper and sharper which many (but not all) people find to be more engaging. Resolution matters more if you’re closer to the screen. I’ll get into distance from screen later, but 4K sets look better than 1080p for those who are sitting relatively close.
Here are some factors to consider:
- Dimming zones sometimes called local dimming zones dim the backlight behind parts of the screen that are displaying black, which can result in blacker blacks, especially in dark rooms. In general, the more dimming zones the better, but whether this is noticeable to you depends on what you’re watching and could be subjective.
- HDR, which stands for High Dynamic Range, enables the set to display more accurate colors and darker blacks. HDR10 is an open standard that’s supported in most 4K sets. You may also hear about Dolby Vision, which is a licensed technology that some content providers use. If you must choose between HDR10 and Dolby Vision, HDR10 is more popular, but some manufacturers, including Vizio, offer both.
- Brightness, measured in nits, can also be important. The more nits, the brighter the screen, which not only means it looks better in a brightly lit room but also in dimly lit rooms because it allows for greater contrast on the screen.
- Refresh rate is the number of times the screen is refreshed per second. Most 4K sets are at 120 hertz but some are 240. In theory, more are better, but unless you’re using the screen for gaming, you probably won’t notice the difference.
- HDMI ports are used for streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV but also DVD players and sound bars. The more ports you have, the more devices you can add. I recommend you get a TV with at least four HDMI ports.
Because today’s TVs are very thin, there isn’t room for large high-quality speakers. I highly recommend you spend between $100 and $300 for a sound bar to provide great sound. I recently bought one with two small surround sound speakers and a subwoofer which, to me, adds more to the enjoyment of what I’m watching than the small differences in TV-set quality.
Unless you don’t mind wires across your floor, look for one with a wireless subwoofer. Newer TVs have what is called ARC (stands for “audio return channel”) — a special HDMI port that lets you connect the soundbar so that you can control it with the same remote as the TV. Be sure the soundbar also supports Arc.
Size does matter with TVs, and there is such a thing as too big and too small. If the set is too large relative to where you’re sitting, it can be overwhelming. It’s very subjective, but a rule of thumb is to multiply the size of the screen by 1.5 to determine the right distance between you and the set. For example, if you have a 55-inch set, you’d want to sit about 82 inches or 7 feet from the screen.
A 65-inch set is good for about 8 feet. But this is a general rule. Some people would be happier closer and others farther away. I recommend you start by measuring the distance between your seat and where you plan to put the TV and then bring a measuring tape with you to a store to look at several size sets from that distance.
Don’t worry about the brand when you’re trying to get a measure – just how different sizes look and feel to you at that distance. And pay no attention to that old adage that you can go blind by sitting too close. It was never true and is even more nonsensical with 4K TVs where the resolution is high enough to never see the distance between pixels as you can at close range with lower resolutions sets.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
Published at Thu, 28 Nov 2019 12:00:42 +0000