Why you should wait to buy a new 2020 TV

With CES 2020 in the rearview mirror, we’re about to see 2019 TV prices drop. You might be tempted to snatch up a TV set for the Super Bowl or take advantage of what seems like an unbelievable deal online, but if you can hold off for a few more months, I suggest you do — because the TVs I just saw at CES are going to be significantly better than what you can buy right now.

Simply put: New TVs due to arrive this spring have better tech inside, are better future-proofed, and will be more competitively priced.

CES has always served as a forecast for what’s to come in TV land, but at no point over the past several years would I have bothered to urge someone to hold off until the new stuff comes out. This year was different. The new version of HDMI has been deployed broadly across major brands, there are now five companies bringing OLED TVs to the U.S. market, and new technologies are redefining the premium TV segment, which makes 2020’s mid-tier TVs look a lot like last year’s primo models.

Here’s a breakdown of what we can expect to happen, starting April 2020, and why you should wait.

HDMI 2.1

It was tough to whole-heartedly recommend TVs last year because we knew that HDMI 2.1 was coming in 2020, and I worried about how much folks wanted their new TV to be future-proofed. LG was the only company to deploy this new connection standard across several of its 2019 TV models, but its pricey OLEDs were the only ones I felt strongly about throwing my weight behind – not the best option for most people.

This year, just about every major manufacturer has HDMI 2.1 going into its new TVs (except, it appears, Sony). But what does that mean?

HDMI 2.1 is finally here and will be a big deal this year. But there are many questions to be answered. We break down the latest version of the all-in-one cable standard.

HDMI 2.1 means a lot of things — here’s a full explainer — but the seven elements most consumers will be interested in are: Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), Dynamic HDR, Quick Media Switching, and Quick Frame Transport.

Three of those are aimed squarely at gamers. VRR, ALLM, and Quick Frame Transport all promise a killer gaming experience (in some cases, literally – ahem, first-person shooter players) by giving console gamers many of the advantages previously reserved for PC gamers on high-end gaming monitors.

Dynamic HDR and eARC improve picture quality and the audio experience significantly, while Quick Media Switching enhances the user experience by making the switch between, say, a video game and a streaming app instantaneous – no more black screen.

All of these features are real, valuable improvements, and while some of them are available in 2019 TVs, this next batch for 2020 offers everything. That’s the future-proofing we needed and a huge part of why I think it is worth waiting.

OLED price plunge

For five years, LG was alone in the large-screen OLED TV game. In 2017 Sony joined the party and gave LG a couple of years of much-needed competition. In 2020, there will be five OLED TV brands from which to choose. That’s a significant leap forward.

Vizio, Philips, and Chinese brand Konka will all bring OLED TVs to the U.S. this year, and that can only mean one thing: OLED TV prices will be dropping. If you’ve always wanted an OLED TV but thought they were out of reach, this might be your year to get one.

Mini-LED is the new tastemaker

After three years of producing outstanding TVs that shattered the price-to-performance barrier, I thought TCL was out of tricks. I was wrong.

TCL caught my attention in 2017 with its P-Series TVs. The P-Series became the 6-series in 2018 which again exceeded my expectations. The 6-series carried on in 2019 and I was duly impressed but what really shocked me was that the previously unknown (in the U.S., anyway) Chinese brand was the first to produce a mini-LED TV. In 2020, TCL is kicking it up yet another notch and has become something of an innovation leader, even among much bigger, better-established brands.

TCL
TCL’s Vidrian mini-LED display at CES 2020. Nick Mokey/Digital Trends

In my opinion, mini-LED is the next big thing for LCD-based TVs and is just a big deal in general. Up until now, TVs might have had hundreds of LED backlights at best. Mini-LED displays have tens of thousands of mini-LED backlights and a big increase in zones of local dimming. The result is more power, more accuracy, better black levels, higher contrast, and generally fantastic picture quality. It’s the closest I’ve seen an LCD TV get to OLED.

And now, with its new Vidrian Technology, TCL has already taken mini-LED to the next level, eliminating several panel layers by putting mini-LEDs directly on a glass substrate. All that fancy tech-talk means mini-LED TVs are already getting better after just one year on the market. I’m impressed.

Near-OLED picture quality is going to be even more affordable than before

More to the point, however, is that TCL is putting mini-LED tech in its remarkably affordable 6-series TVs this year, which means that near-OLED picture quality is going to be even more affordable than before. Combined with HDMI 2.1, these TVs will be extremely hard to beat for those looking for the best picture quality at the best price.

That’s going to put a lot of pressure on Samsung and Sony to keep their premium TVs priced low, otherwise, TCL will just be the blow-out, no-contest choice. Prices will fall.

Super-proofed: ATSC 3.0

Terrestrially broadcast 4K HDR is right around the corner, which means you could soon get some amazing picture quality from the big networks with nothing more than an antenna. But in order to get it, your TV will need an ATSC 3.0 tuner inside.

4K? HDR? Dolby Atmos? Yes, yes, and yes. Free TV is about to get a big upgrade. Here's what you need to know.
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LG is putting ATSC 3.0 tuners in some of its TVs this year, and while you might not get to put it to use for a while (who knows how long until your local station starts broadcasting 4K over the air?), if you want to be ready for it right now and for the rest of the life of your TV, LG has you covered.

Your patience will be rewarded

I’m sure many of you will be perfectly happy if you buy a TV right now, and if you absolutely need to, go for it. But if you’re just feeling the itch to upgrade, or if you are trying to make a really smart purchase decision, I say hold off until the 2020 batch comes out this spring.

And if you’re a super-savvy buyer, wait until the holiday deals hit, when prices will be at their lowest for the year (just make sure you’re getting a 2020 model). You’ll end up getting an amazing deal on a fully-featured TV that’s about as future-proofed as we’ve seen for some time.

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