Size does matter!
Let's be honest, when it comes to TVs, the bigger the better. In fact to quote Pacific Rim - "Go Big or Go Extinct."TV screen sizes have been increasing, in the UK the average is currently around 42 inches, but when we say 'big screen', we mean really big - 55 inches and above. And there's never been a better time to move up to that big screen TV that you've always wanted. Thanks to a perfect storm of technological innovations, market forces and economies of scale, TVs are getting bigger, thinner and cheaper than ever.
No longer is the big screen TV the exclusive domain of the rich and, with manufacturers placing greater emphasis on Ultra HD (4K), the prices of Full HD sets have been tumbling. Now just about anyone can have a monster set in their living room - assuming they've got enough space and can convince their significant other that size really does matter.
With the FIFA World Cup fast approaching, there will be an inevitable spike in TV sales as men, and even some women, the world over use football's biggest tournament as an excuse to upgrade their ageing flatscreen TVs. This is great news for the manufacturers because the TV market in the developed world is saturated and they are looking for any excuse to sell more sets.
However, it's good news for the consumer, as well, because all these manufacturers will be jockeying for your hard-earned cash. So there should be some excellent TV deals on offer over the next few weeks and we're going to give you some suggestions on which ones will deliver the best big screen experience for the least amount of money.Samsung have been targeting the World Cup extensively this year with their latest TVs even including a 'Football Mode.'
Samsung have clearly realised the sales potential of this summer's World Cup and have even added a 'Football Mode' to their TVs, although based upon our experiences we wouldn't suggest using it. They've also launched a strong line-up with the new H6400 offering incredible value at £2,099 for a massive 65" screen. It's an attractive looking TV that uses a similar design to last year and includes a very narrow bezel. We're still not sold on the idea of the quad-footed stand but at least it swivels generously.
There are all the connectivity options you could want, including 4 HDMI ports, 3 USB, wired and wireless LAN plus the usual array of legacy video inputs and audio outputs. You can scroll through the menus using a conventional remote control or use the redesigned smart controller for a more refined experience. This new controller works really well and offers voice, gesture and touch controls. Samsung's menu systems have remained relatively untouched and contain a very comprehensive set of calibration controls.
The Smart TV platform has also been slightly re-jigged with the most notable new feature being a shortcut bar which appears every time you fire the TV up. Out-of-the-box, the H6400 had a reasonably accurate picture in the default Movie mode but we were able to improve on it significantly with the excellent calibration controls. After that the Samsung had perfect greyscale and gamma tracking and near-perfect colours which married with some top-notch video processing and punchy native contrast performance to produce images that were, at times, sublime.
There was a little bit of panel banding sometimes evident on panning shots but, other than that, general screen uniformity was good thanks to a full array backlight. The 3D performance was good too, benefiting from the larger screen size. Overall the H6400 is a great all-round performer that delivers on both performance and price and should be on anyone's short list this summer.
Sony have also been out of the gates early this year, positioning their new line-up ready for the the showcase competition of the world's favourite sport. Whilst the Japanese manufacturer is clearly placing greater emphasis on Ultra HD (4K) this year, that does mean their new Full HD sets offer fantastic value. The W829 impressed when we recently reviewed it and at only £1,199 for the 55" version it's got a price to match the performance. The W829 doesn't feature the new Wedge design of Sony's top-end TVs but it does have a fairly bulbous bump at the back of the chassis where some decent speakers reside.
From the front it looks like your average 2014 flat panel TV with a micro-thin bezel and a slightly unusual wire-style stand that may make tidy cable management more of an issue than it needs to be. At the rear are all the connectivity options one could wish for, including 4 HDMI, Scart and component video connections plus two USB inputs and digital audio out. Sony gives you two remote controls - one is of a traditional design whilst the other has a scroll pad on the front. The 'Touch and Flick' remote is fairly successful in speeding up navigation but we expect most will favour the traditional controller.
Sony's 2014 Menus take some getting used to. You now have to traverse your way through a load of suggested content, to watch or listen to, before getting to the actual settings. We've been on at Sony for years to improve their menus and whilst this incarnation is undoubtedly their most attractive, they leave something to be desired on the usability front. Where it really matters, however, the W829 definitely delivers with images that combine an excellent degree of accuracy with deep and consistent black levels, for maximum impact.
Very few of Sony's clever processing tricks are needed on this TV for it to deliver, something we couldn't say of the supposed flagship W955. It was only the 3D performance that was really lacking but who but a very small minority really care about that? Ultimately the Sony W829 performs far more like a top-end TV than the more expensive W955 and as such offers a great combination of performance, price and big screen entertainment.
Sony may be concentrating on 4K this year but that's resulted in some cracking deals for their Full HD sets.
Toshiba are concentrating on Full HD or, as they've rechristened it, 'Premium 2K' this year and we can expect to see some real bargains from the company in the run-up to the World Cup. However you don't need to buy a newly released TV, there are also plenty of 2013 models that are worth considering. In fact if it's value-for-money that you're looking for then end-of-the-line models can provide some great deals. The L7365 is a good example with a big 58" screen and a suitably diminutive price tag of around £1,000.
It's a very nicely designed TV. The cut-out effect of the base-stand is very contemporary and the super-slim black bezel is offset nicely by a swish of silver at the bottom. We can’t really say the same about the remote but at least its hulking size means it’s difficult to misplace. Menu systems are pretty, if pretty slow to respond, and the Cloud TV portal can be summed up largely the same way; although we should add that Toshiba’s Smart TV act is much improved and there’s a good range of VoD services to get your teeth in to.
Out-of-the-box in the Hollywood picture modes the L7365 is quite accurate and with some gentle manipulation of the glitchy calibration controls, we were able to get some superb pictures. Colours, in particular, looked very natural and black levels weren’t half bad either. The caveat to the impressive contrast was that very dark content could suffer with some light pollution and there was an unusual – and subtle – dirty screen effect with panning shots but, overall, the L7365 gave over and above what the fairly modest price-tag might suggest.
The L7365 certainly represents very good value, so if you can bag yourself a bargain, all the merrier. It’s not perfect, by any means, and those intolerant of the flaws of LED will be better served moving on to plasma (see below) but it delivers bright, natural pictures at a price that’s right. Not one for the aficionados, perhaps, but still worthy of putting on your demo list.
We're all sad to see plasma being phased out as the manufacturers seek greater profits and push Ultra HD (4K) but the good news is that there are some incredible deals to be had right now. The Samsung F5500 is a perfect example, providing the superior picture quality of plasma with a 60" panel and all for just £899! It also gives Samsung their second TV on this list, perhaps reflecting the Korean manufacturers dominant position at the moment.
The design is fairly plain, with its black bezel, badly matched grey quad-foot stand and bulky chassis. However at least that’s home to a decent array of connections, including 3 HDMI, 2 USB as well as wired and wireless LAN. It may not be blessed with good looks but it’s not short of features, including the bundled Smart Touch Control which features both voice and gesture based control methods. In truth, we generally used the standard handset for convenience but it’s good to see Samsung servicing the budget end with such luxurious goodies.
The F5500 is also packed with just about every feature Samsung’s superb Smart TV platform affords, including loads of VoD services, games, a viewing recommendation engine and a web browser. If you can get past the less than designer looks and you don’t intend to stick this TV in a bright room, then it does represent an absolute bargain. The F5500 is very reflective and the filter does little to stop ambient light washing out the impressive contrast levels but, in just about every other situation, it’s glorious.
In fact it would be ideal for watching the World Cup, with a big screen, natural colours and excellent video processing. The motion handling is simply sublime which is just what you need for following all the end-to-end action that makes football so exciting. In fact the performance and price of the F5500 are so good that you have to wonder why the manufacturers are ditching plasma; so get in while you still can.
There's still a few plasmas out there, so it's your last chance to get a superior picture at a bargain price.
Of course if you really want to go big, you should consider a projector. You can have a picture the size of your entire wall and all for less than any of the TVs on this list. The Epson TW5200 is a good example - it's small, well designed, a good performer and only costs £750. The design is attractive and it's very easy to setup, although the lack of lens shift and minimal zoom means you'll need to take some care when positioning. However you have the option to just get the TW5200 out when you want to watch a big game or perhaps have a movie night, so it takes up almost no space, especially if you just use a white wall. That might make convincing your better half that big screen entertainment is the wave of the future.
The connections are decent and whilst the remote is a bit small and fiddly, all the main buttons are present and correct. The TW5200 is 3D capable but you'll need to pick up some glasses, unless you have a few compatible RF pairs already knocking around. The monochromatic menu system is the standard Epson layout, which is intuitive, well laid out and easy to navigate. The out-of-the-box performance was reasonable with the greyscale tracking quite well, except for a very noticeable excess of green in the blacks and dark greys. The colours could have been more accurate but the video processing was quite good and the TW5200 handled standard and high definition content very well.
The black levels are poor and the dynamic iris did nothing to improve this but that really won't be an issue watching bright sporting events. Overall the Epson TW5200 performed well with both 2D and 3D and, as an added bonus, it was great for gaming. So the projector will have loads of other uses besides just watching big sporting events, meaning you'll get plenty of value from your relatively small investment. If you haven't considered a projector before it's certainly worth some thought and nothing beats getting your mates around to watch the game on a ten foot screen!
These suggestions only scratch the surface of what's available but it shows that you can get a big screen TV that will deliver a great performance without breaking the bank. Have you recently picked up a big screen TV and discovered the joy of being immersed in the picture? Or perhaps found an amazing bargain that you want to tell other AVForums members about? If so don't be shy, share your experiences in the thread below.
If you like the idea of going really big and are considering buying a projector, you'll find more suggestions in our World Cup Projector Shoot Out.
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