One of the perks of working at gap intelligence is that we are surrounded by industry experts on consumer electronics, and of course we take advantage of it every chance we get. It’s like having a team of personal shoppers at your disposal. On the hunt for a new washing machine? Christine can give you her top picks. Can’t figure out Smartphone pricing structures? Talk to Scott! Want to know the cheapest place to pick up a replacement toner cartridge? Lisa will know where to send you.
You get the idea.
As the TV analyst at gap intelligence, most of my inquiries come at the end of the year when great Black Friday and holiday deals abound. To help reduce the line of advice-seekers standing next to my desk, I decided to put together an FAQ and share it with the world. Read on for the most common TV-buying questions from my coworkers.
4K, UHD, HDR, HDMI, MHL, USB, OLED… Huh?
Ah, the alphabet soup of buying a TV. What do these terms mean, and are they important? Here’s the rundown:
4K = UHD = Ultra HD
A 4K Ultra HDTV (or UHD TV) has four times the resolution of your typical HDTV. What this means in practical terms is that a 55” UHD TV has four times as many pixels squeezed into the display than a 55” HDTV like the kind you currently have at home. You’ve all heard about “retina displays” being used in smartphones and tablets, right? It’s the same concept here: more pixels equals a sharper image on the screen. And before you ask: yes, they cost more. But not as much as you think! More on that later.
Photo Courtesy of: vizio.com
HDR = High Dynamic Range
Along with Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range is another picture-quality improvement for the TV. We’re all going to hear a lot more about it in 2016 as more TV models are equipped with the technology, but right now it is limited to the very highest-end Ultra HDTVs. Where Ultra HD increases the resolution of the picture, HDR increases the contrast. Dark areas of the screen are made darker, while at the same time lighted portions of the screen are made brighter, which results in a more true-to-life image. The image below from Dolby Vision illustrates the concept. The left part of the screen shows the image with HDR technology, while the right side shows what the same image would look like on your current TV.
Photo Courtesy of: Dolby Vision
HDMI, MHL, USB
These are all different types of ports that can be found on your TV. You want to make sure that you have enough ports of the correct type to plug in all of your peripherals. Double-check your Blu-ray player, gaming console, audio receiver, sound bar, set-top box, and anything else you normally plug in to the TV to make sure you know what you need.
OLED = Organic Light Emitting Diode
OLED TVs are relatively new, offered in the US only by LG, and until recently were very expensive. OLEDs were first used in commercial TVs in 2013 and create light differently than their LED TV counterparts. OLED TVs operate by running electricity through a layer of materials that create their own light, thereby eliminating the need for LED backlights, which makes the screen very thin. The main benefit of OLEDs is that the light can be shut on or off at a pixel-by-pixel basis, resulting in blacker blacks and greater contrast between the darkest and brightest parts of the image than is currently possible with most LED TVs.
Photo Courtesy of: lg.com
The current difficulty with OLED TVs is that they are challenging to produce, which makes them expensive. A 55” LG Ultra HDTV today costs an average of $1,117 but a 55” LG Ultra HD OLED TV will set you back $2,999. That’s a huge price drop from a couple months ago when the same OLED models would cost $3,999, but it’s still too pricey for most people. Nevertheless, enthusiasts and TV reviewers consider OLEDs to provide a superior picture than the standard LED alternative.
OK, now I understand what Ultra HD is, but it sounds expensive. Is it affordable for someone like me?
That depends! Ultra HDTVs have been around for a few years now, which means that prices have gone down and entry-level manufacturers have had time to create some cheap-o 4K TVs of their own. But if you want a model from a reliable brand name, it’s going to cost you. On average, a 55” Ultra HDTV from a name brand costs $556 more than the average HDTV from the same name brands. But the good news is that there are a lot of options to choose from within that name brand group. In fact, prices start as low as $699 and go up to $2,599 with a corresponding increase in features for the high-end 4K TVs. Yay! Ultra HDTVs for everybody!
Curved TVs: What’s up with that?
Curved TVs were released as a novelty by a few companies in 2013 and marketed more strongly by Samsung in 2014, but 2015 is the year when curved screens really scooped their way into people’s consciousness (see what I did there?). Samsung is the biggest pusher of the new form factor but LG has a handful of OLED models to choose from as well. The question isn’t so much “Should I go curved or not?” because that’s really more of a personal preference. The question I get asked most often is, “WHY?” The argument in favor curved TVs is that they provide a more immersive experience to the viewer by creating depth as well as the perception of a wider field of view. Think of it like a mini omnitheater in your living room. The effect is not for everyone, so definitely try before you buy.
Photo Courtesy of: samsung.com
What’s the difference between a Smart TV and a media streamer?
Smart TVs are great because they connect to the internet on their own so you can stream Netflix, Amazon Home Video, Hulu, etc. with no additional set-top boxes needed. Media streamers, such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast, are separate devices that allow you to stream content to your “dumb” TV by plugging into one of the ports mentioned above. If you are currently in the market for a new TV, you may be surprised by the number of Smart TV options on the market. About 72% of the TVs found in retail stores today have built-in streaming functions so they are hard to avoid, and the price difference between Smart TVs and standard TVs is often negligible. If you are not ready to buy a TV yet, a media streaming device can prolong the life of your standard TV by giving you access to additional content.
But before you pick up just any old model, you should know that not all Smart TVs are created equal. The list of available apps as well as the interface differs between manufacturers. I always recommend giving the system a test drive to make sure that navigation is intuitive and the apps you want are available on the system you choose.
Whatever happened to 3D?
After failing to catch on with consumers, TV manufacturers admitted defeat and backed away from the 3D push. The feature is now only found on high-end models from a few main manufacturers and is tossed in more as a gimme than a selling point. The feature is so unpopular that only about a quarter of all new TVs released in 2015 offer it.
I’m ready for a new TV. When is a good time to buy so I get the best price?
Black Friday sales will give you the best deals of the year on some models, but many of the deals advertised for Black Friday will be available through the end of the year. You won’t find any of the rock-bottom doorbuster prices, but you will see significant savings on top models throughout the holiday selling season. Shop anywhere you like: many brands enforce a universal pricing policy on their TVs, so prices are not likely to vary much from store to store.
All in all, the last few weeks of the year are a great time to get good deals on this year’s models. Be sure to do some research around screen size, Smart interface, and port needs and you are setting yourself up for a satisfying TV-buying experience.