With next-generation consoles just around the corner and high-definition HDR content in a wide range, 2020 is a good time to buy a new TV. Before you do, however, here are six mistakes to avoid.
Choose a TV based on store demos
Many of us have relied too much on in-store demonstrations at one time or another. It̵7;s a common belief to see is to believe, so why not base a buying decision on a demo? While the theory is sound, the reality is completely different.
One thing to keep in mind is that some TVs have manufacturer-specific demos that run on each device, while others only show a basic feed on each screen. It’s not always obvious if this feed even reaches 1080p, let alone 4K or HDR. It is difficult to make a fair assessment without knowing what the TV really can do when you feed it to a high quality source, such as a UHD Blu-ray.
Then there are the settings on the TV. Most have a demo mode designed for use in stores, and these tend to jack up to 11. You see supersaturated colors, maximum possible brightness and maybe even an artificial sharpening of the image.
This is done to make some models stand out on the show floor, but it is not a correct picture of how you will use the TV in the long run.
This will be double for anyone who wants to buy a TV for games. Much of the imaging used in the store introduces significant latency when used with a console or computer. In reality, you want to see what a TV looks like with all the bells and whistles turned off.
Even demos in the store can be misleading. If you’ve ever seen an ad for an “ultra-high-definition HDR” TV, you know some of the tricks that manufacturers use. They always create the illusion that their product is driving some serious pixels, even if you look at the ad on your current screen.
Store demos can be useful, but not to assess picture or sound quality. Rarely do the lighting conditions in a store match those in your living room or theater room.
However, viewing angles are not affected by a retail environment. If you buy a TV for the whole family or groups of friends to watch with you, check in the store that everyone can see the screen no matter where they sit.
You can also judge if you like the overall design of the TV. Are the frames thin enough? Does the stand falter too much? Can you get a soundbar under the screen, or do you need a wall mount? It’s much harder to judge these things when you stare at a product on Amazon.
Then there is how you interact with the TV. How responsive is its operating system? Does the remote control feel nice in your hand? How fast does the TV start from standby mode? Keep in mind that some models may also have software updates that improve them compared to the store models, which are rarely (if ever) updated.
Listen to a salesperson
Most large chain retailers train their staff to sell, rather than provide impartial consumer advice. Their main goal is to make money. This means that they often steer you towards the more expensive options, even if you do not necessarily want or need them.
Given previous experience, store staff are not always the most knowledgeable about the products they sell. Working long hours for little pay is a job, not a passion. This is why retail has one of the highest turnover rates in any industry.
As such, it is simply not a priority to train each new employee thoroughly. Also, if you work in a department that sells 50 to 100 different models, you can not be expected to be an expert on all of them.
Store staff often push on certain products because that’s what their boss told them to do. If they work on assignment, they also have an interest in guiding you towards a model that is more expensive than what you need.
Brand representatives probably have a much better understanding of the products than general retail. Of course, why would a representative of a particular brand give you impartial advice if a competitor’s product is the better buy? You should always take their recommendations with a big pinch of salt.
It is worth adding that specialist retailers (usually independent stores) train their staff to match customers with a product that suits their needs and budget. However, you should always be a picky customer.
For a truly impartial opinion, look at independent sources, such as journalists, reviewers and experts in the field.
Believing in spending more will improve image quality
The best budget TVs do not sacrifice picture quality. In fact, the picture quality is the best budget TV that has for them. This is the reason why TCL and Hisense have both gained so much market share to sell without frills at affordable prices.
You can spend twice as much as the TCL 6 Series ($ 650 for a 55-inch) and somehow end up with poorer image quality. How is this possible? You pay for features, not a better image.
Manufacturers like TCL have taken the budget end of the market into account by pairing back their products to the bare minimum required to impress. As for the 6 Series, it is a high-quality 4K panel that provides a bright image with Mini-LED local dimming to enhance black reproduction.
What you do not get is an 8K resolution, a next generation image processor, excellent motion management, a 120 Hz refresh rate or HDMI 2.1 ports.
If you want better upscaling, the latest HDMI specification for next-generation gaming, and a high refresh rate for smoother motion, you must either spend more or sacrifice picture quality to get it. It is virtually impossible to find an intermediate TV that does everything.
Picture quality is determined by panel type, contrast ratio, total brightness and other factors, including whether the TV has backlighting or uses local dimmer.
There are many other features that go into a TV that do not directly affect the picture quality. To improve image quality beyond even a good budget, you either have to spend significantly more on a premium model or make some sacrifices to fit your budget.
The good news is that if you just want a TV with a great picture so you can stream some shows and movies, you do not have to spend a lot of money on features you will not use.
Forget to budget for a Soundbar or better
As TVs become thinner and frames shrink, manufacturers have less room for built-in speakers. In fact, most TVs do not even use speakers that face the viewer directly. Instead, the manufacturers angle the speakers towards the bottom and then “bounce” the sound towards the viewer.
This results in poor sound reproduction, especially when it comes to bass response. Your next TV may sound worse than the one you are replacing, even if it’s a flagship model. If sound is important to you, you definitely want to budget for a soundbar or surround sound.
Soundbars are a perfect option for those who do not have the space or budget for the right surround sound. You can find a soundbar that fits almost any budget, and any soundbar is better than no soundbar at all.
If you have a little more to spend, you can invest in a receiver, satellite speakers and a subwoofer for true surround sound.
If you are looking for soundbars, keep an eye out for ARC or eARC. ARC stands for sound reproduction channel, and it greatly simplifies connecting a soundbar to your TV. You can use an HDMI cable to connect your soundbar to your TV. The TV then outputs the right source to the soundbar, whether it’s a Blu-ray player, game console or cable box.
eARC is the next generation of ARC, offering better lip-sync compensation and higher bandwidth to support technologies such as Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD. You can always connect your soundbar via a dedicated cable, but using ARC means you have one less cable to worry about. Some audio fields even have additional HDMI ports if you need them.
If you spend a lot on a TV, remember that even the best picture quality in the world will not excuse thin, uninspiring sounds.
Avoid smart TVs
When you last bought a TV, you may have decided that you do not want a “smart” model. Maybe the software on the TV was slow or frustrating to use then. Or maybe you just were not crazy about how your viewing habits could be shared with third parties.
Unfortunately, almost all TVs are now smart models. If you want the latest features and advances in technology, you need to bite the bullet and buy a smart set. You may be able to find some older models that lack these features, but why would you want to buy a TV that is already outdated?
You can always just ignore the smart features, if you prefer. This can be as simple as never connecting your new TV to the internet, but we would not recommend it. Most TV manufacturers now deliver updates via the web. These often add new features, fix bugs and – in the case of some older TCL models – unlock the HDMI 2.1 functionality that was always there.
You can also take a Chromecast, Apple TV or Roku to use for streaming. While TV interfaces have come a long way in the last decade, streaming boxes are usually even better.
If you are absolutely determined to get a “stupid” TV, your only options are either a projector or a large format screen (BFGD). Projectors are expensive, often require a lot of space and depend to a large extent on the lighting in a room.
BFGDs are as expensive as flagship TVs from LG and Samsung. However, they lack a tuner for terrestrial viewing and in the case of the ASUS PG65UQ, they have audible fans inside.
To initiate an upgrade indefinitely due to FOMO
Do you requires a TV or do you will a TV? If you want a TV and can afford one, get the one you are happy with at a price that fits your budget.
Enthusiasts and window traders tend to wait for the next big thing before parting with their money. Unfortunately, this can be an obsessive case of FOMO, where you never buy anything because you are worried about missing out on what may be available next year.
Display technology seems to be moving at a much faster pace than the days of bold CRTs and early flat-panel LCDs. This may lead some to believe that technologies such as MicroLED and QNED – which no one will be commercially viable for years – are just around the corner.
Even when these technologies finally make their way to consumer TVs, they become incredibly expensive.
It is also easy to believe that these technologies will leave what is currently on the market in the dust. While this may be true to some extent, if you’m happy with your new TV 2020, why let the promise of a better model rain down on your parade next year? The advent of new technology does not impair your existing technology; it just shifts your perception.
There are also many dangers that come with being an early adopter, such as paying a huge premium for technology that may not be so good.
Just a few years ago, OLEDs were almost twice as expensive as they are today. They were also quite prone to burn in (permanent image retention). Now they are much cheaper and more resistant to burn in (although the problem still exists).
It is better to buy a mature technology that reaches its peak of overall performance, instead of a beginner who still has a long way to go.
Find your perfect TV
Now that you know what to avoid, it’s time to buy your new TV! Again, we recommend that you check independent sources, such as RATINGS (confusingly pronounced “ratings”). This site reviews most budget, mid-range and flagship models that hit the North American market. They also take into account those available in European markets (and even further afield), where manufacturers release slightly different models.
It can be good to identify what is most important to you, especially if budget is an issue. If you do not play the next generation of video games or watch director cuts in a black and black theater room, you can save a lot of money by going cheap and happy.