When considering buying a brilliant TV to stand against or hang from a wall as the centerpiece of a living room, many people think about just two factors: How big it is, and how much it is. For some people, buying a TV may never come down to anything more than that. But if you truly want to get the most for your money, you’ll want to understand what’s really going on with the TVs you check out (and perhaps check out Consumer Reports’ top TV picks).
As with all electronics, there’s a profound level of complexity that most of us could never hope to understand — and others wouldn’t care to know how it all works. What really matters when you’re TV-shopping is what it all means to you as the user of the product. So, let’s examine the aspects of most importance in TVs to get acquainted with what they mean when you’re buying a new television.
One of the first things you’ll want to do to narrow down your browsing is to figure out what type of TV you want. There are LCD TVs, LED TVs, OLED TVs, and plasma TVs to chose from.
Plasma: If you’re planning on getting a relatively big TV and are going to focus on high-quality cinematic viewing, a plasma TV might be for you. They tend to have excellent color quality and a high contrast ratio (we’ll get into that later), which makes for a beautiful image. On top of that, they often have a wide viewing angle, so it’s easier for multiple people to gather around the screen and still see a clear picture from where they’re sitting, without odd color distortion or no image altogether. They aren’t the brightest TVs though, so ambient light can become a particular problem for plasmas.
LCD: Liquid Crystal Displays are pretty common to find, and may be the cheapest option. They’re energy efficient and usually have good color. For simple use, they’ll probably get the job done. However, if you’re trying to do high frame-rate gaming, they might not be the best choice. On top of that, they tend to have very limited viewing angles, so the person sitting right at the side of the screen is going to have a really hard time watching anything.
LED: TVs branded as LED are actually just LCD TVs that use LEDs as a backlight for the liquid crystals in the display. If a TV has “local dimming,” it will have an advantage when it comes to contrast ratio, which is a plus. On top of that, LED TVs are less power hungry than standard LCDs and plasma. Unfortunately, they may be more expensive.
OLED: Organic Light Emitting Diode TVs actually are different from LCD TVs. OLED TVs use colored LED lights to create the image, so they save on power, though not always as much as LED TVs. They do manage to create a high-quality image, and a bright one at that, so they may be best for those planning on watching TV a lot during brighter hours, when glare could otherwise be a problem. They also have high contrast ratios, as black pixels will actually be emitting no light, which creates great cinematic visuals. Unfortunately, OLED screens are costly to make, so you’ll have to pay a bit more. They also suffer from some of the viewing angle problems that effect LCD TVs.