TVs have come a long way, especially in the last few years.
Picture quality has never been crisper, brighter, or more colorful; TVs get thinner yet screens get bigger; and more and more TVs integrate features and services that cut down on the need for tons of extra devices. However, all these leaps in technology has lead to more complexity, and frankly it can be overwhelming. Deciphering all tech related acronyms is a chore, and sometimes it can be hard to catch the differences a subtle change in phrasing can mean. In this 4K TV buying guide, we’re going to give you the tools to navigate the world of 4K televisions, and make the right decision when buying one.
Size and setup
When you’re looking into a new TV, the first thing to check is how much space you’ve got to spare in your entertainment room. Keep in mind that TV screens are measured diagonally. So when you see a TV listed as 62 inches, that’s the diagonal measurement, not the height or width. Those dimensions can be found on a TV’s product page, and are often listed in reviews. Most living rooms will do well with a 50-inch or larger TV, though you can go as big as your entertainment center – and wallet – will allow.
If you’re going to be using a TV’s stand, make sure to factor the stand’s dimensions into your calculations to ensure a good fit.
Those who are wall mounting will be happy to know that weight isn’t an issue here. There are mounts for every size and weight TV out there.
HD resolution, or Full HD 1080p, used to be king of the hill when it came to screen resolution, but that’s no longer the case. The industry has moved on to embrace 4K Ultra HD — which is four times the pixel resolution as 1080p HD — as the new standard. 4K UHD delivers all the benefits one would expect from such a large increase in resolution; the images are crisper, fine details are clear and visible, and you can sit closer to larger TVs without seeing pixels.
4K UHD is the new standard resolution for TV these days. Sure, some manufacturers are still cranking out 1080p or 720p displays, but they are usually the lowest quality TVs with the smallest screen sizes within a given manufacturer’s lineup. So while 4K is very exciting and relatively new, chances are any new TV you’re looking into has 4K UHD resolution. Don’t worry about having to seek one out — they’ll come to you.
HDR is short for high dynamic range. This technology enhances the contrast of a TV’s picture, which translates to more accurate brightness and even finer shades of color for an overall more vibrant, lifelike image from your TV. There are varying levels of HDR quality, as well as multiple HDR formats, which may sound complicated, but the end result is essentially the same, just at varying degrees of quality. Product reviews will also help you see how the HDR on the TV you are interested in stacks up against others in its price tier.
If you want to go real in-depth on the subject, we also have a detailed guide to HDR you can check out.
Smart TVs connect directly to the internet, either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable, and come with built-in streaming apps like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and more. Some even have a built Google Chromecast features or equivalent casting tech. You can watch shows and movies, plus play games and even surf the web on some models. Much like we said with regards to 4K UHD resolution, most TVs available now are Smart TVs, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find one.
Smart TV features are convenient, and the integration of streaming apps and other services directly into the TV frees up space and HDMI ports. However, you can always upgrade any TV with a streaming stick like the Amazon Fire Stick or Roku Stick, or set-top boxes like the Nvidia Shield, to get all of these smart TV features without having to buy a whole new TV.
Refresh rate refers to how many individual frames per second a TV can display, denoted in Hz. However, there are two different ways refresh rate is referred to. How smoothly a TV displays motion is dependent on its native refresh rate. Generally, you want a 120 HZ refresh rate if you can get it, though we have seen some excellent 60Hz TVs out there. The second type of refresh rate is known as Effective refresh rate, and it refers to a TV’s digital picture processing. You’ll see this term show up on TVs touting a refresh rate of over 120Hz. That may sound exciting, but we caution against relying on effective refresh rate as a meaningful indicator, ignoring anything higher than 120Hz. There is no such thing as a 240Hz TV — there’s 60 Hz and 120Hz and that’s it. Anything else is marketing and after-effect processing that create the dreaded “soap opera” effect.
TVs can carry a range of different inputs and outputs, and you’ll often find TVs with a colorful array of different ports on its back or side panels. However, the only input that you need to concern yourself with is HDMI (unless you are specifically buying a TV for a certain type of input). HDMI is the standard way of connecting sources like streaming devices, Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and even PCs to a TV. To future-proof your TV, look for at least 3 HDMI ports. If you’re going to use a sound bar or an A/V receiver with your TV, make sure it supports HDMI ARC, which is a simple way to pass audio back and forth from the TV and your speaker system.
LED vs. LCD vs. OLED vs. QLED
These acronyms can be confusing, so let’s break them down.
The most important thing to know is that there are really only two types of TVs: LED backlit TVs, and OLED.
LED backlit TVs use an array of LED lights to illuminate an LCD screen, thus creating an image. This often leads to the terms LED and LCD being used interchangeably. However, while almost all LED TVs are LCDs, not all LCD TVs are LED. That might be confusing to hear, but it’s actually pretty simple once you get the basics down. Check out our LED vs LCD explainer for a crash course.
This leaves two more acronyms: QLED and OLED.
This first, QLED, is used for TVs that use quantum dots, and is a specific branding of televisions made by Samsung. Quantum dots are a technology used in high-end LED screens to deliver broader, deeper, and more accurate color than is possible with the more basic LCD panels most LED TVs use.
OLED TVs are a newer technology that delivers both better contrast and a wider viewing angle than LED TV’s. OLED TVs also do away with a lot of the bulky hardware in LED TV panels, making for much slimmer frames. The LG Wallaper OLED TV is a perfect example. OLED TVs live on the high end of the price spectrum, but not significantly more expensive than top-tier LED TVs. If you want to learn even more, read our QLED vs. OLED comparison.
Hopefully we have demystified some of the newer terms and trends in today’s TVs. Now that you’re equipped with all the knowledge you need, might we recommend perusing our picks for the best TVs you can buy? Also be sure to check out our latest TV reviews, too.