Aussies love their TVs. In fact, our infatuation with the small screen and big screen TVs has resulted in twice as many TVs in Australia as there are households. To maintain sales, manufacturers often have to come up with new ways to convince us that we need a new TV, or even two. So it’s no wonder that TVs now come with long lists of features, full of technical jargon and important-sounding acronyms. And, that it can be very hard to figure out exactly what’s important and what’s not.
That’s where a CHOICE buying guide comes in. We’ve been testing TVs for almost as long as they’ve been on the market in Australia. In that time we’ve learned a lot about what matters, and what’s nothing more than marketing speak.
It’s fair to say we like them big in Australia – our average TV size is now 140 cm.
Aside from your personal preferences about how it looks and whether you really want a super-large TV in your lounge room, you should consider a few other factors before you buy.
As you move sideways from the centre of the screen, most TVs will lose some colour and contrast. You want to look for a TV that keeps this to a minimum.
Most stores have the TVs at their brightest and most saturated colour settings to get your attention. When the TV is delivered it’ll be in standard or normal setting and won’t be as bright.
Look for natural skin tones and texture on a person in a studio setting, such as a news presenter. Beware overall colour contamination such as a greenish or yellow tint that can’t be removed by adjusting the controls.
The word “smart” is getting a lot of use with TVs these days. It’s not a reference to a TV’s artificial intelligence, just whether or not it can connect to the internet and home networks. Most smart TVs use DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance protocol), which lets you stream media from your computer to your TV over your home network. Some also let you connect via other protocols such as the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), which makes a direct connection with your smartphone, and wirelessly using Wi-Fi Direct, where the device makes a one-to-one network connection so you can watch whatever is playing on your smartphone while it remains in your pocket.
But the biggest news for smart TVs is the ability to stream your favourite streaming movies and TV and catchup TV services.
PVRs (personal video recorders), Blu-ray/DVD players, media players (e.g. Apple TV) and AV receivers or computers all need to be connected in one way or another. You’ll need to decide the type (usually HDMI, an all-digital connection for both sound and video in the one cable) and count the number of connections you’ll need.
Many TVs will now record shows. This can potentially eliminate the need for a PVR. However, most TVs will only do it for the program they’re tuned to. Some TVs have two tuners and can record one channel while you watch another. If you think that’s going to be enough for you it could help reduce the number of boxes (and remote controls) in your TV room.
All TVs have a digital tuner to pick up free-to-air signals. However, some tuners are better than others when dealing with poor signals. It’s important that you have a good TV antenna and cabling.
It’s not just reaching the connections that can become a headache if you’re wall-mounting.
Make sure the more commonly used buttons (volume, channel selector, standby and mute) can be located at a glance. If you have young children or an absentminded partner and your remote is likely to go missing, choose a TV with easily accessible controls on the TV itself.
The EPG (electronic program guide), or onscreen program guide, should be easy to navigate and read. Ideally, you should also be able to see what’s playing on the current channel when the guide is on the screen. The latest batch of TVs now support Freeview Plus, bringing in a range of catch-up TV apps such as iView to let you watch what you want, when you want. However, for all this to work you need your TV connected to the internet through your home network, as the catch-up TV is delivered to you via streaming video.
Sound is a real problem these days. Generally the TV’s sound unit is fairly poor or only just acceptable.
…but sales people will say they do.
Basically, as of 2017 3D is as dead as disco. 3D seemed like the next big thing following Avatar’s release in the cinemas. However despite TV companies trying to make it a big deal, TV viewers weren’t taking the bait and most companies have announced the removal of 3D for 2017 models.
Most 2016 TV models are 3D-compatible. If you’re looking for a 3D TV we suggest you look for a passive system (rather than active) because the glasses are lighter, cheaper and they work just as well. However, we don’t think you should be making a buying decision based on 3D; rather, look for the best picture for normal HD video.
High definition refers to the number of pixels on the screen. More pixels means higher resolution. Anything above 1366 x 768 is generally considered HD, but many manufacturers advertise TVs as “Full HD” (FHD) or “True HD”, meaning it has 1920 x 1080 pixels.
Paying for more pixels doesn’t guarantee a better picture. Colour accuracy, smooth transitions between colours, and blacks that don’t look muddy or lose detail are far more important. More pixels may actually make it harder for the TV’s picture processor to deliver a good image.
On smaller TVs (under 94cm) it’s difficult to see the difference between HD and FHD. The advantage of a higher resolution screen is that you can sit closer and still get lots of detail in the image.
Ultra-High Definition (also called 4K) had the potential to be a big fail and the lack of movie content didn’t help the initial stages. However, the internet came to the rescue providing 4K streaming video allowing more people to witness the improved picture quality to be gained by having a lot more pixels than an HD TV.
They can look great with proper UHD content, but the processor will have to work really hard to up-scale and display a lowly DVD or standard definition broadcast. The result can be soft images, which don’t have the punch or smoothness you expect of HD.
The refresher rate (Hz) is the number of times in a second that the screen is refreshed. Supposedly the higher the number (often expressed in Hz) the smoother the image, particularly with sports.
Unfortunately, this is not entirely true and manufacturers have taken to making up new ways to measure it, which just gives them big numbers to put on the box.
These terms all refer to the type of screen and each type has a different way of lighting the screen to create an image. No matter how a salesperson tries to get you hooked on one particular type of screen, if the TV is well made, the plasma, LCD or OLED credentials will make very little difference to the quality of the image. There are differences but for the most part they’re a good deal less important than the quality of the manufacture.
An LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen needs a light source behind it, which will either be CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamp) or LED (light-emitting diode) technology.
CCFL technology still exists but it’s older and is being replaced by LEDs. These cost more at the outset, but are cheaper to run because the lights have a relatively lower power usage.
Plasma uses a completely different sort of technology. It’s an array of very small gas-filled cells that glow red, green or blue when an electric charge is passed through them. Manufacturers have stopped making them and we don’t recommend you invest in one even if you find it for a bargain.
OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens also use LEDs. But unlike LCDs, which must be backlit, OLEDs have millions of LEDs with the lighting component integrated into the pixel. At the moment LG is the only company using this technology, which can produce very good colour and contrast. But these TVs are relatively expensive, and for now they’re only just entering the mainstream.