For my part as a reviewer of nearly anything relating to home audio or video, the most memorable aspect of the last year or so is that I have traveled no less than 18,600 miles just to look at cool TVs and tell the world what I think about them. Now, before you go berating me in the comments section about first-world problems and such, let me say this: I’m not complaining. I loved every second of it, and I was honored to do it. But it definitely says something about the state of the TV industry.
Not so long ago, even 32-inch TVs were huge and heavy. From 1994 to 2006, I, along with a select group of very unlucky friends and family members, moved a 110-pound 32-inch JVC CRT TV from one apartment to another a grand total of 19 times. To this day, my hands are marred with the grid-shaped indentations of that beast’s sharp plastic base. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have an untreated hernia that resulted from one (or several) of those nomadic travels. It was a sadistic labor of love, and I don’t regret any of it; though, I’m sure my friends would beg to differ.
Today, things are very different. My 5-year-old daughter can and has grabbed a late-model 32-inch LCD TV and dragged it across a room (don’t ask). Likewise, modern-day technology has made successfully shipping TVs across the country easier than delivering a fruitcake. As a result, I’ve been fortunate enough to oversee the review of about 25 televisions for Digital Trends this year. But, innovation being the game-altering bugger it is, there are some cutting-edge TVs so grandiose, coveted, and invaluable, that they simply couldn’t be shipped to me. Instead, in order for me to perform an evaluation, I had to be shipped to them, with all “shipping charges” handled by the manufacturer, as is customary when TVs are sent to us.
My first TV-reviewing trip actually took place in late November 2012. When LG invited me to Chicago to review its 84-inch 4K Ultra HD TV, I was excited. I wanted to dig deep into what I suspected would be a ground-breaking television, and it would be my first crack at really dissecting an Ultra HD set since they had first been teased over a year prior. Plus, I knew that there was no way in hell I could clear housing such a monster in my home past my wife. She’s down with cool new stuff, but please … that wasn’t happening. As for my office, let’s just say I and a couple of my co-workers would have had to give up their desks for working in a conference room. That wasn’t happening either.
No matter, though. LG had no intention of shipping their coveted review sample anywhere. If I was ever to get my eyes on it for more than just a few minutes, I was going to have to take a flight. And so I did.
My next visit was to Samsung for a look at its stunning F8500 plasma, the first TV from the company to seriously and successfully challenge Panasonic at its own plasma game. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was witnessing the beginning of what would turn out to be the last big battle among high-end plasma televisions.
Later, in August, LG suggested a reprise, this time to gander at its 55-inch OLED TV. Once again, the trip was worth it. This next-gen slice of tech was in rare supply, and shipping it would introduce long lead times between review opportunities. Also, as expensive as it was, I can image the company wasn’t wild about taking its chances with the shipping industry – and I don’t blame them. Being able to exert some pressure on a production OLED TV was not only eye-opening and educational, it was flat-out fun.
Not two weeks later, I would find myself on a plane bound for New York.. This time, an opportunity to stare longingly at Samsung’s K55S9 curved OLED TV lay in waiting. Once again, the experience was simultaneously mind-bending and thrilling. It left such an indelible impression, that I named the TV my pick for the best home theater product of 2013.
More recently, Samsung suggested I visit LA, where it had its 85-inch 4K Ultra HD TV set up for review. Guess what happened? I loved it. Sure, the $40,000 television borders on preposterous, but the performance was there. It was an 85-inch looking glass into the future. Price be damned, it is an amazing TV to behold.
Will I have to travel so much to review televisions next year? It’s likely. While I’m not at liberty to disclose any details just yet, I can say that TVs are getting bigger, badder, and in some cases, more expensive in 2014. To be honest, I’m not a fan of security lines, airport food, cramped seats, and ridiculously expensive bottles of hotel water, but if bearing those minor inconveniences is what it takes to get up close and personal with the very best in television and display technology, I say: Bring it on in 2014.