Remember you're in control, not the salesperson
Outside of buying a house or a car, there’s perhaps no more difficult consumer decision than choosing your next TV.
As a personal confession, the last time I was in the market for a new television, it took me nearly six months and around a dozen auditions before taking the plunge. For reference, the last time we bought a house, we picked the third one we saw and the car was chosen before we reached the showroom.
Walking into your typical television retailer – or even shopping online – will present you with a vast array of products, which all look broadly the same and appear to offer much the same feature-set. To add to the confusion, point of sale marketing materials are festooned with confusing numbers and marketing terms, with little to no explanation of how they will affect your day to day viewing.
So, let's get started...
Decide on screen sizeIt’s probably best to begin with screen size. Whilst we’ll always advocate going as big as you can to suit your sitting position, there are other considerations and replacing your old set with something much bigger can take some getting used to. For anyone replacing their old CRT television, remember that the footprint of a flat panel will be much lower, in depth terms, so it can be pushed further back in the room. That means you’ll need a bigger screen to fill the same field of vision. When viewing in a shop, try and sit somewhere close to your viewing position at home and remember to take into account viewing angles, both horizontal and vertical, as some TVs perform better off-axis than others.
One thing we can almost guarantee, however, is that the TV will seem to shrink over time – probably just a few weeks - so don’t be regretting going 32-inch when you could have gone for 42 inches or more. Let's just clarify that a little - of course televisions don't actually reduce in physical size but our perceptions alter with familiarity so what, at first, looks like a huge TV will soon blend in to your viewing room, unless you did actually go out and buy something truly enormous.
TVs shrink in just a short space of time, so don’t go too small (or too big!)
How much should I spend on a TV?Obviously that’s one only you can answer but we would, of course, always advocate buying within one’s means. Your chosen screen size will have a large bearing on how much you’ll have to spend, of course, but there are still large variances within a given size category. These days you can pick up a 50-inch TV for under £500 but, of course, you can also spend a great deal more.
The ultimate question is, what level of performance can I expect for my budget? Well the good news is that many of the TVs placed lower in the manufacturers' pecking orders provide very good pictures, albeit without some of the finesse and features of those higher up models.
What do you like to watch?Starting with the basics. If your present viewing is made up of standard definition broadcasts and the odd DVD, you probably don’t need to worry about resolution count and even an HD Ready TV will get the job done, for relatively little outlay. At the other end of the scale, if you’re one for all the latest technologies and insist on a degree of future-proofing, you might be looking at 4K Ultra HD TVs or even OLED.
Are you a movie lover?Great contrast and accurate colours are what we want here and any shop worth its salt will have a disc player they can hook up, so take in some of your reference DVDs or Blu-rays. Remember to ask for the remote, seek out the most accurate picture mode and turn off any unnecessary processing in the picture menus before you start. If at all possible, ask the retailer to minimise overhead lighting and anything directly facing, too, as those lighting conditions are not likely to replicate the ones you have at home.
Most retailers will set the display TVs up in their brightest configuration also, as this is what will first attract a customer's attention, but the luminance levels needed in a store are far in excess of what you will need in the home so dimming the lights will give you a better idea. We’ve already made some recommendations for TVs that are great for late-night film lovers but there’s no substitute for seeing one in person with some of your favourite material.
Always ask for the remote
Are you a sports fan?All manufacturers are keen to promote refresh rates (usually quoted in Hz) and any motion processing tricks they have up their sleeves but it may be the case that you don’t find the look of the motion compensated video to your taste. That’s certainly the case for the majority of the AVForums hardware review team, although some systems are better than others and it’s largely a case of personal preference.
Again, grab the remote and this time ask the salesperson where the motion processing controls are and have a play about with them whilst watching something with fast motion sequences. That should be able to tell you whether you need a TV with an ultra fast refresh rate and/or motion processing. It’s good news if you don’t, as it should save you a few quid and, in the meantime, you can take a look at some of current recommendations for sports lovers.
Are you a serious gamer?Video games are no longer the preserve of teenagers holed up in their bedrooms and many a games console can now be found in your average family living room environment. For many, gaming now comprises a significant portion of their in-front-of-the-TV-time so you might as well have one that performs in this department. Input lag (explained in the last link) is something that can kill the gaming experience, with those TVs having high latency performing stodgily and in an unresponsive manner.
A few milliseconds lag can be the difference between virtual life and death, so what better way to find out if your reflexes will be adversely affected by the TV you choose than hooking up an actual console to play in the shop? You should probably phone ahead to ask if the retailer can accommodate the request or if you’ll need to take your own but it’s worth it as discovering your own lag tolerances can either open up or narrow down your available choices. We’d advise starting in the TVs game mode and then experimenting with others that may have better picture quality.
Take your own material and sources, if necessary
What about after sales?We’re steering well clear of advising exactly what’s best here but, from our standpoint, some extended warranties appear to offer better terms than others. A five year guarantee might sound rock solid but most will have terms where if it does end up in you having to exchange a TV years later, then a sum accounted for by depreciation is deducted from the exchange value of the new TV. It’s definitely worth doing your research on the individual warranties on the market and also into your consumer rights when it comes to repairs and returns. You will probably find your credit card offers better protection than paying by other means but you also might be surprised what the existing consumer laws provide for, meaning those warranty plans are not necessarily worth it.
So there we have it. As a recap, make sure you set a budget, know what you want from a TV and demo it against those requirements, wherever possible. Sit approximately where you would at home and insist on playing your favourite material on the TV during the demo. Make sure you get hold of the remote and set the TV more to suit a living room environment than a shop floor. Don’t be steamrollered in to buying an extended warranty, without knowing exactly what it entails, and above all, trust your own eyes to make the ultimate decision. However, before you do, you can find plenty of further reading in our dedicated range of buyers guides.
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.