While what we do here at Pricemaker makes shopping around for a great offer easier, it does not necessarily help with first understanding what type of item you want to buy.
So I figured it would be a good idea to shortcut some of the research for you, by providing some useful articles, resources, and opinions – starting with TVs.
First off, I am not a television engineer. I don’t understand the fundamental difference between CCFLS and LED back lighting, or how exactly electrons pass through positively-charged gasses inside tiny light bulbs to create plasma televisions. I am on the other hand quite research savvy, and hope that I can use these ‘skills’ to guide you through your research & decision process.
What are you going to use your TV for?
There is a recurring pattern in advice found online: different features and functionality in a TV is good for different kinds of use. So as you research, keep in mind what you want to use your TV for most of all. Depending on whether you want to watch sport, high-definition movies, play games, or just watch TV after work, different technologies will work in your favour.
1. What’s the difference between LCD, LED, and Plasma?
LCD and LED use largely the same technology, with different methods of backlighting. LEDs are brighter, sell more, and have lower power consumption, whereas plasmas have better picture quality, deeper blacks, and are generally cheaper.
‘Plasma, LCD or LED?’ from Consumer.org.nz provides a great, simple summary, covering pros and cons of each type of television – and is pretty easy to get through. You can buy access to the whole article for $26, including what models they tested, and which they recommend.
On the other hand, ‘LCD vs LED vs Plasma 2013′ from Rtings.com goes into some serious comprehensive detail, and is probably better for those who want to know the different average black luminance in cd/m^2. (It should be noted that Rtings.com think LCD TVs “are becoming obsolete”, so they are disregarded from their research.)
2. Is 3D TV worth it?
If you’re interested in how 3D TVs work, Rtings.com explains it well.
There are mixed opinions online about 3D TV. The Daily Mail’s interview with David Attenborough for example says it’s great for big TV events like royal weddings, or world cup finals, but that “you become very unaware of the person next to you”, and that it’s not so great for everyday TV viewing.
Whereas Forbes, Cracked.com and many others think the technology is (or was) a fad, and that it is already dead. What’s more, a 2010 Nielsen study suggests that “consumers are less interested in owning a 3D HDTV once they actually see on[e] in action.” [sic]
My opinion, you ask? If 3D TV is something that interests you, go into a retail store that has a home entertainment theatre set up, and try it for yourself before you fork out extra for something you may never actually use. Try out both active and passive 3D and then work out what’s in the budget for your viewing experience. (Also, if you’re like me, and get tingly feelings in your stomach for new science and technology, check out no-glasses 3D TV).
3. What size should I get?
Rtings.com have two useful calculators, one for working out a size and one for working out a distance. They use a formula for each resolution, which translates into the graph below. As an example 1080p 55″ televisions have an optimal viewing distance between 2.2m and 3.2m.
I get the feeling most of you are going to want at least 1080p. Rtings.com are just working out optimal viewing angles and distances for a fuller, more immersive television watching experience – whether their calculations actually matter to you comes down to the size of your wallet.
In saying that, if you’re after a 3D TV, is quite important to get this right. How far you are from the screen directly affects how well 3D viewing works, and how fast your eyes adjust.
4. Is Smart TV any good?
Smart TV brings computer-like functionality to your TV with web browsing, video streaming and apps. Whether this is right for you again depends on what you want to use your TV for – and how much you’re willing to spend.
Rtings.com, who are quite tough on whether these ‘special features’ are just marketing rubbish consider Smart TV to be pretty legit. Techradar.com recently released an article, titled 6 best Smart TVs in the world 2013, which placed LG Smart TV and Samsung Smart Hub as the top 2, praising their simplicity, integration with other devices, and sheer number of apps.
On the other hand, online opinions sway more toward using external devices like an Xbox 360 / PS3, Apple TV, Roku Box, or the new Chromecast to get this kind of functionality – especially if you’re going cheap.
5. What about all the other jargon?
Aspect ratio: 16:9, or 4:3 for example. This is the ratio between the width and height a video. For example most HDTVs nowadays are 16:9 (16 units wide by 9 units high) or 16:10.
Black Level: The level of light produced on a screen when it emits no light at all. Black is the absence of light, so to create the black parts of a video’s image, a display must be able to shut off as much light as possible. Plasmas tend to have a lower black level than LEDs, as their technology allows them to completely shut each pixel off – making them better if your priority is watching HD movies.
Burn-in: Also known as ‘ghosting’, it is when an image remains on screen for an elongated period of time (like a paused video) and remains once the image changes, having been ‘burned into’ the screen – and eventually fading away. This was a problem with early plasmas, but changes in technology are making it far less common.
Contrast ratio: Measures the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks that a TV can display. “The higher the contrast ratio, the better a TV”, well at least that’s what marketers want you to believe - some think it’s just sales-y rubbish.
HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is the go-to high-def media connector. Your average HDMI cable can transmit 8-channel audio and 1080p video data, and normally connects between media like a SkyTV decoder or PS3, to an HDTV.
HD Ready / Full HD: HD Ready generally uses 720p or 1080i resolution, and Full HD uses 1080p resolution. Consumer.org.nz offers a useful guide on what ‘HD’ means, explaining the difference between ‘i’ and ‘p’.
Refresh rate: Measured in Hertz (Hz), this is the frequency at which a television can display frames – 60Hz for example means it can draw 60 frames per second (fps, also known as ‘frame rate’).
Optimum frame rate is a hotbed of opinions online. From what I have gathered, for watching general TV (apart from sports and movies) you don’t need to go higher than 60Hz. But if you want to watch high intensity sport, high-definition movies, or play console games, then it’s worth considering going up to 120Hz or above – provided the TV has the technology to actually use all these extra frames.
Most video is filmed at 24fps. So – for example – when a TV claims a refresh rate of 120Hz (which is displaying 5 times the ‘real’ frames per second), it does one of two things – depending on it’s technology. It will either create ‘fake frames’ between each real one, giving the impression of motion smoothing – or it will just repeat the same frame 5 times. Again, Rtings.com offers a great rundown on what refresh rates mean for you.
Resolution: This is the number of pixels in horizontal vs vertical dimensions that the television can display (1920 x 1080 for example, or 1080p for short). The most common resolutions are 480p, 720p, 1080p and 4k (what you need to know about 4k Ultra HD). I should note here that, for example, while you can watch a 480p movie on say a 1080p TV, what you see will still be 480p – the pixels just stretch.
6. What are some good TV review sites?
Rule of thumb after looking online would be: don’t rely on just one person / site’s review, look at many (or use Amazon, which has a pretty good multiple user review system).
So with that in mind, check these out: