A few months ago. I bought a new home with something I’d always wanted: A room big enough for a home theater. So, I went looking for the best HDTV I could find and afford. Here’s what I found on my journey.
Now, I grew up with a soldiering iron in my hand in my dad’s TV repair shop. I make my living from knowing how computers work, but I started in electronics with television. When it comes to TVs, I know what I’m looking for,
Here are the factors I use in determining what TV to buy.
First, it has to support 4K video. There’s not that much 4K video out there yet on either the streaming services or on Blu-Ray DVD. That will be changing though. I expect to own any TV I buy this year to last at least ten years. Well before then, I expect most of the movies I watch to be in 4K
That said, the difference between 4K resolution, 3,840 pixels wide and 2,160 high, sounds a lot better than top-of-the-line HDTV, 1080p than it really is. You can only really see the difference with 4K videos and if you have excellent eyes.
Still, the best TVs today all support 4K. One positive side effect of that is you can now get excellent HDTVs for around a grand. The best of these affordable televisions are the 2016 Vizio M series. If your cash is tight, look for Black Friday deals on these models.
What was more important to me than 4K support was support for high dynamic range (HDR) color. Again, there aren’t that many shows that support HDR yet, but the ability to show more colors with deeper blacks make a bigger difference to overall picture quality.
I also wanted a big television. For me, 65-inch was the smallest screen I considered. There are two standards for how big a screen you should get: THX and Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). In my experience, SMPTE works best.
To find SMPTE’s recommended minimum screen size for your room, measure the distance between your seat and where your TV will be going in inches. Multiply that by 0.6 and you’ll get the diagonal screen size. So, for example, if you sit five feet from your TV, 60-inches, you’d want a 36-inch TV. In my case, ten feet, 120-inches, I wanted a 72″ inch TV.
For a quick answer for viewing pleasure you can use the My Home Theater viewing distance calculator. That said, generally speaking, the bigger the screen the better.
Moving on you can ignore a lot of TV specification jargon. Most of it is just meant to upsell you on a more expensive model. These include: Contrast ratio, viewing angles, and refresh rate.
There is something to be said for higher refresh rates if you watch a lot of sports and action movies. But, no matter what the TV vendor calls it, once you’re at a real 120 Mhz, which is true of all modern high-end TVs, you won’t see any real difference.
One concept that doesn’t get a lot of press is “local dimming.” With this the darker areas of a scene are literally dimmed while the brighter areas are kept at full power. This is useful because it increases the contrast and gives you a better picture. This doesn’t matter with the now obsolete plasma and the expensive top-of-the-line organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs. On all the others TVs, which use LED-LCD, it can make a real difference.