TV buying guide: What to look for when buying a TV in 2017

16 expert TV buying tips

Sony's latest televisions run Android

Sony's latest televisions run Android

9. Television shops and show rooms

TV shops want to sell you TVs and so they want to show you what they can do when operating at their best. While this may sound fair enough, here’s why you should be wary:

As we’ve seen above, all TVs have a Shop or Demo mode which which ramps up brightness and colour saturation to overcharged levels in order to make everything jump off the screen. But you won’t be using this mode at home. So why do they do this?

You may notice that lighting in some TV show rooms is different to the rest of the store. Some TVs even have their own booths for customers to view the products in. That’s because different TVs perform differently in different lighting environments. Some are better in bright environments while others thrive in dark environments. You need one that doesn’t conflict with your home environment or you’ll get frustrated.

If you’ve a bright, airy, well-lit home home be wary of buying a TV that works best in a darkened tent and vice versa.

Tip: If a TV is being shown off in a tent, it might not get very bright (at least without killing contrast). If it’s being shown off in a bright environment, contrast and Black Performance may be an issue.

How we test: Watching lots of TV at day and night gives us a very good indicator of where TVs' strengths lie with regards to surrounding lighting.

10. Curved screens

Curved screens were initially sold on the principle that looking at one was more comfortable because it matched the curvature of your eyeball. This effect rings true especially with computer monitors where one person is sitting directly in front of the screen.

Many people buy curved TVs primarily because they look cool.
Many people buy curved TVs primarily because they look cool.

However, if multiple people are watching a TV then those who are off-centre get lumbered with a distorted image. Larger TVs have a more-open curve and are, thus, less distorted than smaller, curved TVs.

Also note that curved TVs can significantly reduce reflections - which is a potentially-very big deal if your TV is in a bright house with many windows and you watch a lot of content during the daytime. You can now buy them for under $800.

Tip: Curved screens are best for reducing on-screen reflections. They can cause issues if multiple people are watching TV at once. Look at the TV from multiple angles.

How we test: We look at the TV from multiple angles.

11. Ability to sit close to the screen

If you’re still wondering about paying more for a 4K UHD TV over a Full HD TV it’s worth remembering that with smaller and lower-resolution TVs you need to sit further back to get the best results. There’s a great graph of the ideal size-distance ratio measurements here.

Nowadays we're more worried about kids getting squashed by gigantic TVs than worrying about eye strain if they sit too close.
Nowadays we're more worried about kids getting squashed by gigantic TVs than worrying about eye strain if they sit too close.

With large 4K UHD TVs, they look great from right up close, so if you have a small living room, it’s (counter-intuitively) another reason to consider 4K over Full HD.

Tip: You can sit much closer to 4K UHD TVs.

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12. PC and Gaming mode

If you’re planning to play video games on your TV then you’ll find that there’s a slight lag between what you do on the controller and what you see on the screen. This is more pronounced in some genres than others – beat’em up games require a low latency. Guitar Hero-like games are unplayable if there’s lag.

This is why most (if not all modern) TVs come with a Game or PC Mode. This generally removes all image processing and ups brightness to make graphics look as good as they can with minimal lag. You may still need to turn off settings like HDR and sharpness but generally we haven’t had any issues with gaming in Game Modes for a while now.

Tip: This is near impossible to check in store unless a game console is present.

How we test: Guitar Hero is very good at measuring this.

13. 4K HDR Demo reels

This is what the sales people put in front of you because it can blind anyone into thinking a TV is good. We haven’t seen a 4K TV yet that doesn’t look impressive when displaying a specially-shot 4K showreel. It’s still worth watching these – especially if they are playing on many TVs in a store at once – as they give a good comparative view of the competition.

The main things to watch for here are colour vibrancy and fine detail when in motion. If a TV struggles with that, there are many others, at a variety of price points, that can move up your list.

Tip: Comparing the same top content simultaneously on different TVs is always a down and dirty way to quickly sort the men from the boys. It’s always worth visiting a showroom because of this. Pay attention to motion in areas of fine detail too.

How we test: When we’re out shopping we usually pay a visit to a TV showroom to get a simultaneous view of the market. But we often watch the showreels at home too.

14. Smart TV features including operating system

Older TV operating systems were all slow, laggy and hard to navigate. You don’t want a TV that is a pain to use. The best we’ve seen is Android TV (as used by Sony) followed by WebOS (from LG) and Opera (as used by Hisense). Tizen from Samsung is OK but poorly-supported. However, while there are many apps to install for the more-popular operating systems, will you really use them all? Nowadays, Netflix, Youtube and a decent USB media player are all that’s needed for most people.

Some vendors like to push the fact that one remote can work with multiple devices - like Blu-ray players and surround sound.

Another thing to think about is, 'Do you want voice control?' Bad voice control can be terrible but good voice control can be a boon. Android wins here but other operating systems are surprisingly accurate.

Finally, check that a TV has an internet connection that you can use – whether WiFi or wired. Most current TVs have no problem here but it’s borderline essential to have a TV compatible with online content these days (unless you rely on a separate media streamer for that).

Tip: Smart TV functions aren't a deal breaker thanks to the widespread availability of media streamers like the Apple TV and Google Chromecast. But do play around with the apps and features while in store.

How we test: We expect a TV to have a proper, fully-featured Netflix and Youtube app. We also expect it to play a variety of movie formats from USB drives. We test for voice control as this can be very annoying when it doesn’t work. But with cheap media streamers widely available and with most 4K TVs packed with computer-grade hardware, we rarely have problems in this area.

15. Sound

There are many soundbars on the market now so a TV with poor sound isn’t a complete turn-off. That said, we’ve been impressed by the built-in, well-rounded and impactful audio that’s built in to all current TVs these days. They all seem to defy the laws of physics with such competent audio coming out of such thin panels.

Tip: Pump up the volume for content with people talking as you don’t want dialogue to be obscured.

How we test: Dialogue, treble and bass rich music are stalwarts of our tests. But we also check out sports in Sports Mode as this can enhance audio to sound like a stadium. Finally, we expect a TV to get quiet - some cheap models softest setting is YELLING! And that's no good late at night in a shared house.

16. Remote control units

Call you what you will but these can still be an issue. Some remotes are horrible to use whether they’re poorly laid out or just laggy. Others rely on a touch-sensitive panel which might sound great but might annoy the pants off you – especially if it ever lags or you need to navigate a cursor to type on screen.

An ugly-looking remote can still be the best bet in terms of convenient layout and responsiveness.
An ugly-looking remote can still be the best bet in terms of convenient layout and responsiveness.

Tip: Ugly remotes can be the easiest to use. Look at where the buttons you use most are in relation to your hand and see how responsive everything is.

How we test: A good, intuitive layout plus a lack of lag when pushing buttons makes a difference to how much we like a TV.

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Tags webOSAppleAndroidsonyFirefoxtvlgsamsungPanasonicTizenandroid TV

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Nick Ross
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