What to Look For When Buying a New TV

Television article header image.

So you’re ready to buy a new TV, and you want it to be a good one. If this is your first time buying a TV where the consideration goes beyond price, you might want to brush up on some terms.

Below are ten factors that should affect your buying decisions, arranged roughly from most to least important. Naturally, not everything will be the same for every buyer: you might be willing to spend a little more for an OLED TV with fantastic contrast versus a larger LED-LCD TV at the same price. But if you factor in all of the following for your buying decision, you’ll be happy with the result.

Panel Size and Type

Obviously, the most immediate factor you’ll notice for any TV is its size, expressed in inches. That’s a diagonal measurement, from one corner to its opposite. These tend to come in a few general sizes, from 32 inches on the small end through 40/42, 46, 55, 65, 75, and sometimes even higher, with little variation in between.

Samsung LED backlight illustration.
Samsung

But size isn’t everything. If you see a 55-inch TV that costs twice as much as the 65-inch TV next to it, it’s probably using a superior image panel. Most televisions use an LCD (liquid crystal display panel) with an LED backlight. That backlight affects the image quality: better LED lights, spaced closer together and with more fine illumination control, can more subtly illuminate the LCD panel for a superior picture. You’ll pay extra for smaller, more thinly-spaced LED lighting. Different brands have different names for their LED approaches: Samsung’s best TVs use “QLED” arrangements, while Vizio calls its top line P-Series “Quantum,” even though they’re using very similar tech.

An LG OLED TV
LG

Rarer and more expensive televisions use OLED, Organic Light-Emitting Diode screens. This design, which you might be familiar with in your phone, incorporates a color-changing RGB cell and a backlight into each and every pixel. The result means that when a pixel is displaying black, it’s entirely off, creating a nearly perfect black contrast effect. OLEDs are also (usually) more vibrant and saturated with colors. At the moment, only LG and Sony sell OLED TVs, and they’re among the most expensive in both company’s catalogs.

4K Resolution

In 2019, it’s hard to find even a small television that doesn’t feature 4K resolution. That’s “4K” as in “four times 1080p,” the previous standard for high definition video, with a total resolution of 3840 by 2160.

It’s still hard to find some 4K content, but the availability is growing, thanks to services like Vudu, physical media like 4K Blu-ray movies, and upgraded game consoles like the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro. At this point, if you’re looking at a new TV it’s almost certainly 4K unless you go smaller than 40 inches or so. You won’t save any money hunting for a cheaper low-resolution panel, so you might as well go for the upgrade, even if you don’t have any movies or games that work with it yet.

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