Buying a new TV is not something you should take lightly. It usually represents an important expense and the TV, as a general rule, will have to last a few years while maintaining its functionalities. A couple of decades ago this last point was not very problematic since the technological advances produced each season were minimal.
However, at present, every few months we see new advances that make obsolete the wonders previously announced. How to buy a TV that will not be outdated in a short time? What do I have to look for? Which characteristics will last at least few years?
These are difficult questions to answer given the enormous changes in features and services, and especially now when we are right at the turning point of several technological innovations that are already coming to the market and others that will appear in a few months. However, we will try to reflect on several key aspects that you should consider before buying a new model.
The first point to consider and perhaps one of the most complex when deciding is related to the technology of the TV panel, which goes beyond its resolution (4K is the predominant option). There are now basically two types: LCD with LED backlight (and its derivatives like Samsung’s QLED panels) and OLED. Both are complementary and focus on different audiences and very different types of use.
OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) is the most recent type, it does not use a backlight system on the back of the panel as LCDs do, but it is able to turn the pixels on and off individually, which translates into much more pure and realistic blacks, with better contrast and colors that stand out more.
It also has wider viewing angles without losing image quality. However, it does have an inherent flaw that has not yet been completely resolved. The so-called “image retention or burn-in effect”.
In theory, the newer OLED models have complex fail-safe features (logo dimming, screensaver feature) to protect the TV against this adverse effect, but it is still not advisable to watch still images on the screen for a long time. Therefore, if you are going to use the TV as a PC monitor an OLED TV is not the right choice.
So, which technology do I choose if I want my TV to not be outdated or break down in just a few years? Well, it depends on the type of use you are going to do. To start, if you shop for a TV that is less than 55 inches in diagonal, then forget about OLED, since there aren’t any (although LG will launch a 48-inch model soon).
If you want a 55-inch TV or bigger and you are going to use it for less than 6 hours a day, mainly to watch movies and series, or for the occasional console game, then, by all means, get an OLED.
Otherwise, if the TV will be the workhorse of your home, it will always be on (more than 8 hours a day), and you intend to use it as a PC or gaming monitor, then it is better to get an LCD with LED backlighting. If you are worried about narrow viewing angles, you can opt for Samsung’s QLED models, although they are more expensive.
And what about the resolution? Is it worth to splurge for an 8K model or is it still too soon? TV manufacturers have been trying to push the envelope on 8K resolution for a couple of years now, using arguments such as better upscaling and improved color gradient with HDR content.
However, the reality is that for TVs that are smaller than 75 inches it is unlikely that you will see any appreciable differences in image quality. Also, 8K models are way more expensive than 4K ones.
As we mentioned in our opening statement, the TV sector is at a turning point with multiple improvements that are about to arrive in the next few months.
There are several innovations in LCD panels that have been showing up at tech fairs and private demonstrations for some time and they now seem closer than ever. For example, we have MicroLED, MiniLEDs, and self-emitting quantum dots. The MicroLEDs have been championed by Samsung and promise gigantic screen sizes (we have witnessed a 219-inch prototype) but also more affordable models around 70-75 inches with excellent contrast and brightness.
MiniLED, on the other hand, will serve as a lighting system for LCD panels that will have more independent control zones in FALD configurations. Unlike MicroLED, MiniLEDs are already a reality; TCL already presented its first model that will arrive next year and there is also Asus that is committed to using MiniLEDs for its PC monitors.
The self-emitting quantum dots (and more specifically the electro-emissive ones) are nanocrystals capable of generating light. This will allow for better contrast, similar to OLED, but without the degradation of organic materials. However, the first models will hit the market in 2022.
Finally, we have the “dual-cell” or double LCD panel systems. The idea is to have a black and white panel that is responsible for generating a kind of template for the FALD lighting system, for a contrast similar to that of OLED screens but without their inherent flaws. It seemed a technology years away from production but Hisense surprised everyone by launching a TV implementing this technology in China.
So, is any of these technologies a real option for now? Well, no, not for at least one more year and even then we do not know at what price. This does not mean that if we buy an LCD-LED or OLED TV right now it will become obsolete within one or two years, but we must know what innovations will come in order to better plan our investment.
After the jump to Ultra HD resolutions, for many users, the High Dynamic Range (HDR) has been the real improvement in television technology and the one that is really providing higher quality images. It reproduces a higher peak brightness and thus generates more intensity levels between the darkest and lightest areas of an image offering a greater level of detail.
In theory, it is capable of providing darker blacks and brighter whites at the same time. The problem is that, as is often the case, it was not born as a single standard, but there are multiple different versions that we should look for in the spec sheet of our new TV.
The first two are HDR10 and Dolby Vision. HDR10 is an open standard that can be used on all UHD HDR TVs and UHD Blu-ray players. Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is a proprietary format of Dolby Laboratories, that is more demanding and present, for the moment, only in some brands and models, such as LG’s and Sony’s OLED TVs.
The biggest difference between the two is the color depth and maximum brightness supported by the panel. Thus, while for Dolby Vision you need 12-bit color, in HDR10 the figure drops to 10 bits. As for brightness, Dolby Vision supports a theoretical maximum of up to 10,000 nits (which in practice stops at 4,000 due to screen limitations), compared to the 1,000 nits demanded by the HDR10.
The third High Dynamic Range format is Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), whose mission is to bring HDR quality closer to terrestrial, cable, and satellite television broadcasts.
Finally, we have the new contender that emerged from the collaboration of Samsung and Amazon, who announced a new version of the HDR10, the HDR10+. This newer iteration incorporates Dynamic Tone Mapping, which is in practice dynamic metadata that tells the TV how to implement HDR scene by scene, or even frame by frame, instead of having the rule-set apply to the whole video.
Ideally, your new TV should support all four versions, but fear not, since content distributors have realized the inconvenience of the whole thing and are betting on launching their films in multi-HDR versions. That is Blu-ray UHD discs that will incorporate all HDR standards; something that will sooner or later also happen with streaming.
Wired and wireless connectivity is becoming more and more important. 4K content is increasingly common and in some cases, it is no longer enough to have 100Mbps network connections and single-band wireless WiFi. Gigabit Ethernet ports and AC dual-band WiFi are becoming a necessity.
The same goes for a Bluetooth connection and, at least, an optical port for a soundbar or AV receiver. And it doesn’t hurt to have at least one HDMI port with ARC support (Audio Return Channel), which will allow you to connect your TV to your Home Theater system exclusively via an HDMI connection.
But the most important thing is to have as many HDMI 2.x connections as possible (at least 3, better 4). The most common ones are HDMI 2.0b versions, which support the new HDR technologies, 4K content at 60fps, have a bandwidth of 18Gbps and the possibility of handling up to 32 audio channels.
However, there are already brands like LG that have begun to offer the new HDMI 2.1 standard on their OLED TVs, which brings significant improvements in speed and functionality. For example, it is capable of increasing its bandwidth to 48Gbps and handling 8K video at 60Hz or 4K at 120Hz. It also supports Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for no screen tearing.
Some of you will also point out that there are other advantages of HDMI 2.1 such as eARC support (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) and this is true, but it seems that eARC can also be implemented over HDMI 2.0b and in fact brands such as Sony, Onkyo and Denon have already implemented it on some devices.
Manufacturers use their respective Smart TV platforms as one of the key features of their TVs. We have webOS in LG’s models, Tizen in Samsung TVs and, above all, Android TV in devices from Sony and others that do not have a proprietary OS.
The important thing here is that the Smart TV must grant you access to at least the most used streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube and have an interface that is easy to navigate and fairly intuitive to handle with smooth scrolling and no lag, slowdowns or crashes.
Do not choose a TV based on the operating system since, in the end, they are very similar and if push comes to shove you can always use an external device (TV box, smart dongle).
Audio is where modern-day TVs have evolved less in recent years. Since most of them are increasingly thin, most of them are in favor of external solutions in the form of soundbars.
The TV’s integrated speakers are nowadays considered an auxiliary sound system that works well for daily consumption of news, reality TV and TV series but must be complemented by a soundbar or AV receiver when viewing movies.
What about Dolby Atmos? Well, you don’t have to be obsessed with it. If your new TV is compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, great, but if not, is not the end of the world, since they are formats designed for complete home theater systems formed by an AV receiver plus 7, 9 or 11 speakers installed on the walls and ceiling, that no soundbar can substitute.