Buying A New Big Screen TV? Here's What You Need To Know

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.


Comments

    No mention of game mode. Great job!

      Good call. I've added a little section in there!

        Game modes not necessarily about the Refresh Rate. Its mostly about tuning alot of the post processing stuff to produce a better picture off or limiting them so the input lag is reduced.

        The number 1 factor for game mode is a low input lag.

        As this is fundamentally a gaming website. It could probably be mentioned if you want further information on input lag to look here.

        http://www.displaylag.com/display-database/

        That game mode section is terrible, please re-write it, at least for the Kotaku one.

        Colour and game mode is just ... no...

        Please include what @jarrys88 says, that's the defining factor for a good gaming TV.

    My problems.

    - OLED too expensive.
    - Nobody makes plasmas anymore (see above).
    - Smooth motion is bullshit (thankfully can be turned off).
    - I want a dumb TV, not some useless features that can be outdone by the many devices I have attached to the TV.

    Last edited 26/03/15 1:22 pm

      Agreed 100% with all.

      So gutted about the demise of Plasmas. Almost bought one of the final Panasonic models, but still have a functioning G10 so couldn't justify it.

        This is why I have monitors instead of TV's - I have a 40 inch LCD TV From Dick Smith thats abysmal for playing PS4 on the refresh rate and picture quality is just so much more superior on dedicated monitors and all the bloatware on 'smart tv's' makes them so sluggish.

        So in my bedroom I use the 27inch BenQ LED monitor and its great - the only issue is I do enjoy a good couch co-op every now and then with the housemates while the majority of games are fine first person shooters are literally unplayable.

      Are dumb TV's even a thing anymore? I'd very seriously consider just grabbing a PC monitor for my next TV if I could get one around the 42-55" range.

        Not quite 42" but at 40"/4k/$1049 this may not be a bad option for a PC screen for a TV.

        http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=558_1213&products_id=30196

          True, not bad but price is a little steep (which is what I was expecting I suppose)
          Just had another look at the TV's at Kogan, they're about as close as a TV can get to "dumb" nowadays I believe. 55" for $569? You have my attention.

      I had to spend $400 getting my Panasonic plasma repaired because no matter how high into my possible budget I looked nothing compared :( I hope it gets at least another year in so OLED can come down in price before I buy again

      My plasma died a few months ago. Gutted. Have a MASSIVE LCD now but the image quality is nowhere near as good.

      Do love gaming on a massive screen though.

      My Panasonic Plasma ST60 I purchased last year is literally jizz-worthy. It's better than the cinema screens in this city. Bluray, coupled with my surround sound, is amazing.

    Recently got a 42 Inch LG 3D tv (couldn't get a non-smart non-3D panel over 50hz)... took me over half an our to remove the useless features/effects/modes that were adding massive latency on the Xbox One. Was getting really concerned it would make Rocksmith unplayable but eventually mananged to find all the names of the things! Then had to go and do it all again for the 360's input!

    Worst part of it all though? Takes 20 seconds for WebOS to fully boot before I can change inputs. I miss my little Panasonic dumb panel a bit already.

      This is what game mode is for!

        I put game mode on... it was laggy as hell. I had to keep playing the the settings because the only 'feature' game mode turned off was "Cinema Mode". They really make you work for it!

          The whole point of game mode is to reduce input lag by killing most/all the post processing. So this is a bit odd.

    Curved TVs seem fine if there is only a single person watching. They sacrifice image quality for people sitting at the sides in order to improve it for the person sitting directly in front of it. In many cases, that isn't a good trade off.

      Wow. No mention of looking up reviews of the models you're interested in on the net, calling around looking for best prices, the ability to turn screen smoothing and other irritating 'image enhancing' features off (so important if you want it to be watchable) or directly haggling with the sellers for a better price!

      Three things that I do every that have more to do with me getting a great tv at the best price than any others.

      If you're trying to make a decision by surfing around the settings menu in the store, you're going to be there for a long time.

      Hey James. Wasn't aimed at you. Was just yelling at the internet in general and it decided to reply it to you. Cheers!

    I think 4K is catching on in a more viable way in the content creation sector in Au. The home space is still pretty much a 1080p market, or 1440p for PC when it comes to what content is available.

    I like this article, filled in some blanks

    Aim for a refresh rate of 100Hz or higher when shopping.

    Good writeup, but Luke given that this is a gaming website, some of the advice is a little superficial.

    100Hz isn't what you need to look out for when it comes to gaming because no game runs at 100 frames for it to be useful - We're lucky to get 60 fps, hence 60Hz is all you want/need in a gaming context. It's input lag that is more important. There's websites where you can check out the lag on various models (obviously lower is better):

    http://www.displaylag.com/display-database/

    Virtually all modern TVs that have game mode switch off post processing, so 100Hz and all that other jazz is useless for gaming.

    My advice is to stick to decent brands like Samsung, Sony or Panasonic. I've seen games on Kogan or Sanyo panels and they're absolute rubbish.

    Not everyone cares as much, but look for models that have low DSE (dirty screen effect) which plagues modern LCDs.

    Speak for yourself, I tend to game up to 144fps with my current monitor. A TV that supports a true 100hz refresh rate (or more) at a decent price would be great!

    My next upgrade will be OLED, but I think I'll be sticking to my current TV for a while.

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