- Author Andy Clough
- Published May 8, 2014
How to buy an LCD/LED TV
Confused by TV tech? Don’t be – buying a new LCD television can be a pleasure if you’re armed with the right information…
Walk into any big electrical store and you’ll be surrounded by a bewildering array of flatscreen TVs, all screaming for your attention. Deciding which one to buy can be a minefield, with all sorts of technical jargon on display that may make your head spin. But fear not – we can give you some simple guidelines to help you through the TV buying maze.
The first thing to decide is what size of screen you need. Before you set off to the shops, measure the distance in your living room from the sofa or chair you normally sit in to the place where the TV will be positioned. As a rule of thumb we generally recommend the following screen sizes based on your viewing distance from the TV:
1.3m to the TV – buy a 32in screen
1.6m to the TV – buy a 42in screen
1.8m to the TV – buy a 47in screen
2m to the TV and above – buy a 50in, or even a 52-55in
Also, if you’re going to place the TV in a tight space (ie an alcove next to a fireplace), make sure you measure the available width to ensure the TV you choose will fit. Now that many flatscreens have such thin bezels, it’s often possible to fit a larger screen than you might have done in the past. Want to hang it on the wall? Here’s how…
LCD vs LED
There’s a lot of marketing jargon about this. All LED TVs are in fact LCD screens with LED backlighting. Older LCDs used cold cathode fluorescent (CCFL) tubes for the backlight, but newer ones use either LEDs around the edge or full array LED backlighting.
Edge-lit screens with LEDs formed around the edge of the screen use a special diffusion panel to spread the light evenly behind the screen (this is the most common type). Full-array LED backlighting has, as the name suggests, LEDs across the full width of the screen.
The advantage of LCD/LED screens over LCD/CCFL ones is that they offer reduced energy consumption and better contrast.
When buying a new TV, it makes sense to buy one which offers Full HD resolution, which is 1920 x 1080p. The ‘p’ stands for progressive scan which means all the lines of each frame on the screen are drawn simultaneously, rather than the even-numbered lines alternating with odd-numbered ones as on an interlaced screen (1080i).
The reason for choosing Full HD is that if you buy a Blu-ray player, the TV will accept and display the full 1080p signal in its native resolution format so you get the optimum picture quality when watching Blu-ray discs.
You may see some cheaper LED TVs for sale badged HD-Ready (not Full HD): this means the screen has a lower-resolution format of 1280 x 720 (ie 720 horizontal lines rather than 1080).
If you have several external devices you wish to connect to your TV (such as a Sky box, games console, or Blu-ray player) make sure there are enough HDMI ports on the TV you’re buying. Most now come with three or four.
You may also want to make sure one of the HDMI ports is ARC (Audio Return Channel) compatible, as this will allow the sound from the TV to be passed back to an external soundbar or home cinema system if you have one.
Also look for optical digital outputs as some products can only accept sound from this type of connection rather than HDMI. And if you’re investing in a Smart TV and need to connect it to the internet, decide whether you want a wired (Ethernet) or wireless connection. The former will generally be more robust for video streaming.
Oh, and a USB socket can be handy if you want to display other media on the screen.
All modern TVs come with a digital Freeview tuner built-in which will give you access to all the free-to-air digital channels broadcast in the UK. If you want to access Freesat satellite channels, and don’t have a separate Freesat set-top box, then you will need to look for a set with a satellite tuner included.
One of the biggest innovations in TV tech in recent years has been the advent of smart TV functionality. This enables your TV to be connected to the internet either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Smart TV gives you access to catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer, social media networks, a range of apps and video streaming services – as well as a variety of interfaces.
Most flatscreen TVs don’t match up to the sound produced by dedicated audio systems because, as they get slimmer and slimmer, there’s even less space for speakers. It’s well worth adding an external sound system such as a soundbar or external speakers if you can.d]
This can be one of the most confusing parts of buying a new telly. Big numbers are banded around, such as 120- or 240Hz, but just remember that modern HDTVs show images at a maximum of 60Hz – extra detail cannot be added beyond that.
What TVs with higher refresh rates can do is use techniques such as frame insertion – which creates additional frames of video between the real ones – to produce smoother motion. This can be particularly useful if you watch a lot of fast-moving sport.
It’s worth experiment with the settings on other types of programming, such as films. Frame insertion can sometimes make picture the less natural so you may want to turn it down or off for some material.
Finally, remember that most of the TVs you see in the shops will have their picture settings (brightness, contrast) turned up to the max so they stand out from the crowd.
The most important thing to do as soon as you get your TV home is to calibrate the picture properly and turn everything down. You can use the THX Optimizer set-up tool found on some DVD/Blu-ray discs, or the THX tune-up app for smartphones, to do this.
Andy Clough is Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision.
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