What you need to know when buying a new TV

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This TV shopping guide will give you info on screen resolution and other key features.
Hint: This is not a cutting-edge TV.
Photo: AlexAntropov86/Pixabay CC

By Allison Martin

You walk into the store expecting to choose a television in record time. But while that may sound appealing, the TV-buying process is often more complex. With so many sizes and features to choose from, finding the perfect set can be overwhelming — but don’t fret.

From resolutions to refresh rates, we tell you about the key factors to consider when buying a new TV.

TV shopping tips

Smart TV or not?

By connecting to the internet, a smart TV lets you play your favorite tunes or stream movies, shows, or videos directly through your television. This can be done via apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Vudu and Pandora. As a bonus, buying a smart TV usually gets you “better picture quality — and expanded features… [which] means you get more for your money than just an internet connection and apps,” according to Tom’s Guide.

You may not need a smart TV, though, if you you already have a streaming device (such as Apple TV, Roku or Amazon Fire TV) and plan to keep using it for awhile. Just keep in mind that manufacturers are implementing Smart capabilities in most newer TV models, so this feature will more than likely be standard sooner rather than later.

The bottom line is that buying a smart TV will cost you a bit more, but the price difference could be well worth it. And it’ll minimize clutter around the TV stand if you don’t plan to mount the TV to the wall.

Best TV screen size

Do you need the 70-inch set or will the 32-inch one suffice? It depends. If you prefer a larger picture and can comfortably afford the TV, go for it. But before moving forward with the purchase, you’ll need to take a few measurements to ensure it’s a good fit.

Here’s what Digital Trends recommends for deciding what size TV to get: First, jot down the height, width, and depth of the desired location. Also measure the TV stand to ensure the TV will fit, if you don’t plan to mount it on the wall.

Digital Trends recommends a screen size of at least 50 inches for most living rooms, but you can customize the size to your specific space using a distance calculator.

Then determine screen size based on the optimal viewing distance. There are two ways to do this: You can measure the distance in inches from the TV to your seat and multiply that number by 0.84. The end result will tell you how big of a screen you need. Or you can use an online viewing distance calculator like the one found here.

Note that with the manual method, your screen-size result may be significantly higher than what’s ideal for you. Digital Trends recommends a screen size of at least 50″ for most living rooms, but feel free to go bigger if your wallet can handle it.

Another important consideration is the correlation between screen size and price. Simply put, if you purchase an oversized TV at a low price, you’ll more than likely have to compromise on quality. For this reason, “it’s best to balance size with picture quality for long-term watching enjoyment,” Digital Trends suggests.

LCD, LED or OLED TV screen?

Wondering what the heck these abbreviations mean? In a nutshell, they refer to the TV display technology and are best described as follows:

  • LCD (Liquid Crystal Display): It uses liquid crystals and external light to display the picture on your screen.
  • LED LCD (light-emitting diodes): LED LCDs are identical to LCDs, but specifically use light-emitting diodes on the screen’s back or edges to illuminate light, making the picture on your screen more bright.
  • OLED (organic light-emitting diodes): You’ll get a better contrast ratio with OLED TVs because their pixels produce their own light. (LED LCDs use back or edge lighting for illuminating pixels.) You’ll also pay substantially more for this luxury, though OLED TVS have dropped in price from a few years ago.

TV screen resolution: HD vs. Ultra HD

The higher the resolution, the sharper the picture on your screen. Resolution refers to how many pixels make up the picture on a TV, and resolution names come from the number of lines of pixels appearing on your screen at once. For example, if you think of your TV as a grid, a picture with full HD (or 1080p) resolution is 1,920 columns of pixels wide and 1,080 rows of pixels high, totaling 2,073,600 pixels.

Ultra HD TVs carry four times the amount of pixels as 1080p sets, meaning images and text on the screen will be sharper.

You can get TVs with resolutions as low as 720p (720 rows of pixels) for a bargain. But industry experts agree you should avoid them, if possible, in favor of one of the following resolution types.

Full HD or 1080p Resolution
This resolution is most common in the industry, and displays 1,920 by 1,080 lines of pixels at a time. Plus, it’ll give you a much clearer picture than you’d get with a 720p TV.

Ultra HD or 4K Resolution (Plus HDR)
With a resolution of 3840×2160, ultra HD or 4K TVs carry four times the amount of pixels as 1080p TVs. This means the images and text appearing on the TV screen will be sharper for the viewer.

Keep in mind that some content may not be available in 4K yet, but buying a TV with this resolution may be worthwhile if you plan to keep it long-term, since many manufacturers are rapidly adopting this technology. Plus, 4K prices have dropped so much that on Black Friday, we saw 49″ 4K TVs that were even cheaper than the price we predicted for 1080p sets of the same size.

If you’re shopping for a 4K set, you may see many featuring support for high dynamic range, or HDR. This technology can greatly expand the range of contrast and color in an image, giving it more “depth.” And according to Digital Trends, “many in the industry believe HDR represents a significantly bigger leap in picture quality than UHD’s higher resolution.” Though HDR content is limited right now, this technology may be worth it if you’re looking for a future-proof TV.

TV connections: HDMI, USB and more

If you’re planning to do more than just watch live programming with your cable box, you’ll want to pay close attention to the inputs. Here’s what you want to be mindful of.

  • HDMI ports: They’re used to stream audio and HD video. Many TVs come with HDMI 1.4 ports, but you’ll need HDMI 2.0 ports for 4K TVs. For the latter, you can also confirm the port is HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) compatible. You’ll also want enough ports to accommodate gaming consoles. In essence, the more ports, the merrier.
  • USB ports: You’ll need these to access images of multimedia files from a thumb drive, or you can use them to power streaming devices such as the Google Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick.
  • A/V jacks: You can use these to connect a DVD player to your TV.
  • Coaxial cables: You’ll need these to connect cable boxes and antennas.

Curved-screen TV or flatscreen?

It’s a matter of personal preference, but there’s no real evidence to support the theory that a curved TV is better. In fact, it could put a damper on your viewing experience if you’re watching from a side angle. And it doesn’t help that curved screens can be more expensive than flat ones.

TV refresh rate

You’ll get a sharper picture with higher refresh rates. The standard rate, which is denoted in hertz, is 60Hz (meaning the image is refreshed 60 times per second). But a refresh rate of 120Hz will prevent you from experiencing pixelation on your screen during fast-paced scenes. Some TVs are accompanied by a refresh rate of 240Hz, but those models come at a premium.

Readers, what do you look for when shopping for a TV? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.