Thinking of picking up a new flatscreen TV any time soon? Whether you're thinking of spending a motza on a massive OLED, curved, 4K extravaganza or just picking up a cheap second screen for the bedroom or kid's room, there are a few things you should keep in mind when you're shopping around.
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What's The Deal With OLED?
OLED is, for some TV brands, the Next Big Thing in TVs. It's a technology that allows each individual pixel of a TV's screen to turn on and off individually, and that means a panel that can display incredibly complex and high-contrast images perfectly with 100 per cent bright whites alongside completely dark blacks.
The tech behind OLED has been evolving for a long time in small-screen smartphones and tablets, but has had some difficulty evolving when it comes to TV screens. At the moment, LG is the OLED champion and has brought the price of its screens down hugely since they first launched, but they still command a premium price compared to the long-running LED TV tech.
If you're wavering on buying an OLED TV, compare it to a similarly priced LED screen. You may sacrifice a bit of screen real estate, but you'll get a TV that is far more versatile when it comes to displaying movies and TV shows because of its extended contrast and colour performance.
OLED TVs will only become more popular as the current year (and more years beyond) roll on, which means they'll get better and better and come down in price. They're a great long-term investment now, but as with any TV you might be considering, waiting a little while for the tech to mature might pay off exponentially.
Should You Care About Curved TVs?
Curved TV is a fad -- at the moment at least -- but it's a pretty damn nifty one nonetheless. The idea behind a curved TV screen is that since your eyeball is curved, a panel with a similar curvature will look more natural and will remain an equal distance from your eyes. The science might not convince you, but the fact is that curved TVs look great.
If we're honest, curved TVs may just be primarily a fancy styling element, but that styling looks impressive and certainly makes for a conversation starter within your living room. More importantly, it doesn't have a deleterious effect on any content that you might be watching, since the panel itself is functionally the same as a flat TV.
Of course, a curved TV presents its own challenges when it comes to mounting your screen on the wall. A more expensive mount, possibly one directly from the TV's manufacturer and carrying its own curve-inflated price tag, might be required. For these reasons, you might find yourself better off with a flat screen on your flat wall.
Curved TVs seem to be here to stay, but we don't expect them to become the status quo any time soon. People are still going to like flat screens -- and we certainly do -- so don't worry, they'll be around whether you want to pick up a new screen in a year or three years or ten. Just make your purchase some time before we're all wearing virtual reality goggles instead.
Is 4K Actually Worth It?
With the imminent launch of Netflix in Australia, the debut of new and massively powerful 3D graphics cards and next-gen games, now is the right time to think about your next TV being a 4K one. Especially if you're shooting your own videos and photos, a 4K TV can give you a big boost in detail over a Full HD 1080p screen.
4K screens command a moderate price premium over 1080p ones, but that's partly because 4K TVs still sit at the high-end whereas Full HD is in everything. Because of that, you will generally get a better quality picture from a 4K TV, but you'll pay more -- and only you can do the maths as to how much extra you're willing to pay.
If you're an especially savvy or budget-conscious buyer, though, your next TV should probably still be a 1080p one. Both the Xbox One, the PlayStation Four and any moderately powerful gaming PC will still perform best when paired with a Full HD display, as well any Blu-ray. Almost all the video content out there is still only 1080p.
We're in a state of flux at the moment where 4K is becoming a big thing in Australia, but the process is slow and we're not quite there yet. If you want to plan ahead then a 4K TV is a good investment for a few years into the future, but if you plan to upgrade again soon then 1080p is just as smart.
Do You Need Apps?
After 3D TV fell by the wayside, Smart TV became the new buzzword for big screen makers to push as a value-adding extra. The idea behind a Smart TV is that, beyond just displaying your digital TV and videos from any media player plugged in over HDMI, your screen will have its own integrated Internet access over Wi-Fi.
A Smart TV should be able to directly play videos from ABC iView or SBS On Demand and many/any streaming video service, as well as play games, browse the Web through an integrated browser, and potentially even Skype or video-chat your mates and let you update Facebook or Twitter.
The problem is, these integrated apps are rarely anywhere near as good as the same app running on your smartphone or tablet or laptop. If you really want to get them on the big screen, why not consider a Chromecast or Apple TV? These cheap accessories let you wirelessly throw a bunch of apps up onto your TV.
Certain apps are genuinely useful though -- like Skype -- and some TV brands -- like LG and Samsung -- do Smart a lot better than others. If you're dead-set on buying a Smart TV, make sure it's a 2015 model and therefore the most up-to-date. You'll save money going non-Smart, though!
Are Bigger Screens Still Better?
Honestly? Yes. In Australia, we have big houses and big living rooms and that means we love our big TVs. Some TV companies say that half the volume of TVs they sell Down Under are 55 inches or larger; definitely more than a third overall are at least this big.
There's a reason for that, too. When you sit an equal distance from a large TV and a small one, the larger TV will definitely look more cinematic and immersive. In the special case of 3D content, a bigger screen will make your movies pop out more.
When you consider your budget, choose a range rather than a single figure -- make sure you have a lower value that you're willing to pay as well as a higher limit. Within this range, look for the TVs that stand out (whether they're expensive or cheap) because they're big.
Big TVs aren't even necessarily more expensive these days, especially if you can find a good deal for one at the right time of year. And if you can get an extra couple of diagonal inches for no extra cash or even a few hundred dollars more, then it's a no-brainer.
What About Game Mode?
While some TVs have different modes to automatically bump up the brightness, contrast or colour saturation of your panel, not all of them will have an automatic "Game" mode you can just click into.
When you're in the store, make sure you grab the remote and start playing around with a few of the picture-quality settings to see if there's a pre-set mode for gaming.
Even if there isn't, you can tinker with the settings and figure out how easy it is to tweak the panel for the best colour.
Also keep in mind the refresh rate of your panel. The higher the refresh rate, the smoother your games are going to look on the big screen. Aim for a refresh rate of 100Hz or higher when shopping.
Is There Anything Else You Need To Know?
Yeah, heaps! Too much for any one article, to be honest, but that's really only useful if you're struggling to pick between two or three specific models. As a general guide, though, here are a few things to keep in mind for the next time you're out in your local big-box electronics store:
- Always try before you buy, no matter how good the specs list looks.
- Try not to compare two models directly against each other, even if they're right next door.
- 'Store' modes massively boost brightness and colour to look good under bright fluorescent lights, but don't accurately reflect a TV might look in your living room.
- Don't believe the specs list too much -- at the end of the day, it's your eyes that decide what makes a TV look good.
- Don't spend too much on accessories -- all HDMI cables are basically the same, and most wall mounts are as well.
- If you want your TV to look its best, tweak the settings yourself when it's set up or get a professional calibrator to do a top-notch job.
- And, above all else, picture quality is the most important thing when buying a TV. Don't forget that.
If you have any general questions, or even if you want a bit of help picking out your next screen, feel free to leave us a comment below and we'll try to help you out as much as possible.