​16 TV buying tips that salespeople won’t tell you about

Plus how to review a TV like we do

Don't drink the Kool-Aid. There's more to buying a TV than what you'll get told. (Picture: tomislav medak, Flickr.)

Don't drink the Kool-Aid. There's more to buying a TV than what you'll get told. (Picture: tomislav medak, Flickr.)

11. Price vs. Size sweet spots

Few TV ranges are priced to correlate with value. Samsung’s extensive ranges can illustrate this well. The 49-inch Series 7 flat screen costs $2,299 while the 55-inch model costs $2,649 – an increase of 6 inches at $58 per inch. However, if you want the 65-inch model it costs $4,499 – an increase of 10 inches at $185 per inch. The bigger you get the more exponential the price goes up.

Most manufacturers appear to currently focus on a 55-inch sweet spot with value dropping away when you move up or down from that.

Tip: You’ll usually get the best value at 55-inch screen sizes.

How we test: We tend to assign value scores based upon the 55-inch variant. At the moment.

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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Nick Ross
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