TV buying guide: Everything to consider when buying a TV

Buying a television today is tough. Manufacturers are promoting different panel technologies and different software ecosystems. Deciding which television to buy is a decision made today, but it's one you'll need to live with in the years to come.

Following is a list of the most important factors to consider when buying a television.

Should you buy a UHD television

Ultra high definition, also known as 4K, is the next generation television standard. Its 3820x2160 resolution produces four times as many pixels as the current Full HD standard and it will present UHD content in unprecedented clarity.

All four of the largest television manufacturers agree that UHD will be the future of television. Only letting it down today is a lack of content. UHD televisions have to format lesser content -- ranging between 576i to 1080p -- to larger screens. Most of the time, you won't be getting the most out of those extra pixels even though you've paid a premium for them.

It makes sense to buy a UHD television now if you plan on keeping it for the next decade. The trick is to buy a television with a good upscaling engine, so that it makes the content available today look good on its screen.

Head into a store and view the televisions from Samsung, Sony, LG and Panasonic side-by-side. Ask store staff to put ordinary broadcast television on. Or to watch a YouTube video on the various screens. You could even ask them to play a favourite Blu-ray.

Take particular note of the picture quality in dark scenes, such as those common to film noir movies like L.A. Confidential, Se7en and even Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. These scenes best test the performance of an upscaling engine, often revealing artifacts, too much image noise or colours that are flat.

You could -- should -- go OLED

Where the big companies stand divided has to do with the display panels. Most companies nowadays use an LCD display with LED backlighting. The backlighting is always on, if dimmed, even at times when the screen is meant to be black.

Deviating from the pack is LG, which has introduced the first generation of OLED displays. Samsung, Sony and Panasonic have all promoted OLED as the next-gen panel technology at one stage or another. Only the manufacturing process is challenging and a low yield rate has meant none of them have been able to take it to the market.

OLED displays have pixels that are individually backlit, and this means the light for each pixel can be turned on for bright colours and then off for true blacks. In comparison, LED-backlit LCD televisions shine light on black -- a colour that is meant to be defined by the absence of light.

LG offers an OLED television that has a UHD resolution, and the good news is there's barely any price disparity between it and the LED-backlit LCD televisions on offer from its rivals.

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The ecosystem

Which ecosystem your television belongs to directly influences how it will be used, the applications that will work with it ,and whether it will work with your smartphone, tablet and computer.

The four largest television companies in Australia are each backing a different operating system.

" Samsung TVs run Tizen " LG TVs run webOS " Panasonic TVs run Firefox " Sony TVs run Android TV

It's important to check if your streaming video-on-demand service, such as Netflix, Presto, Stan and Quickflix, along with your favourite catch up TV service, has an application designed for your TV. And whether or not applications important to you can work on what will be the biggest screen in your home.

Use it with your smartphone, remote or tablet

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The television you buy should communicate with the smartphone, tablet and computer you already own. Some televisions promote a closed ecosystem. Take Samsung's Tizen televisions, for instance, which work best with Samsung Galaxy smartphones.

Others support Android smartphones and even those running Apple iOS. Owners of an iPhone will appreciate that they can cast content to a Panasonic TV because the company has invested in a companion smartphone application.

LG's webOS televisions support this functionality, but primarily with Android devices. Most of its range works with Miracast; a wireless standard that makes it possible makes to mirror a smartphone's display right onto the TV.

Sony's latest televisions runs a version of Android 5.0 Lollipop specifically designed for TVs. It has Google's Chromecast technology built in, and this means content can be cast to the television seamlessly.

Google's Chromecast works too with Apple devices, provided they install Google's Chrome browser or the Chromecast app.

Most of these televisions make it possible to use your smartphone as a remote control. All of them come with two separate remotes, sans for LG's, which has one 'magic remote' fit for all situations.

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The most underrated television feature

Audio performance is the most neglected feature when it comes televisions. The trend of thinner televisions is antithetical to producing wholesome sound. Speakers need space.

A TV from any one of the big four brands can have its sound quality augmented with a soundbar or surround sound system. Take a look at the room you intend on putting the television in and consider if the space would lend itself to a soundbar or a sound system.

Otherwise there is a company selling a TV with sound good enough to not need a standalone system. That company is Sony.

Sound dictates the design of Sony's premium televisions. They boast a 'peak design', which makes them thicker at the bottom than they are at the top. The extra space on each side is used as a chamber for its mid- and bass-driver.

All of them are treated as exposed showpieces and the two drivers are of the magnetic-fluid variety. This means the speakers can be pushed harder because the magnetic fluid lowers their operating temperature. And because magnetic fluid speakers have a smaller footprint, larger speakers can be packed into the smaller space.

Sony is not only focussing on the hardware; its televisions support its HRA standard for high fidelity audio.

And of course, how big is too big

Buying the largest set available can dwarf an entire room, leave a creak in your neck and turn an immersive experience into one that is uncomfortable.

The rules on this aren't set in stone. In fact, we've written a whole separate guide designed to help you calculate the right size TV for any one room. You can read it all here.


Tony Ibrahim

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