TV Buying Guide: What you should know before you buy a TV

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Of the many consumer electronics out there, the Television is one of the most necessary ones, owning the monopoly of entertainment in a majority of households. Manufacturers and engineers have been busy, innovating and improving the technologies that go into a TV. These improvements and innovations have resulted in better TV sets. If you have been planning to upgrade to a new one or make your first TV purchase, there has never been a better time. In this TV buying guide, you will be walked through all that you need to know before you go shopping.

Definitive TV buying guide

Here is what you should know:

Tv size

Perhaps the most critical factor to consider when buying a TV set is the screen size. For most folks, bigger is better, but this is not entirely true. When determining the size that is right for you, there are three things that you have to account for: the size of the room, the viewing distance, and the resolution of the TV. Let’s have a granular look at these three factors.

Room size and Viewing distance

We will start by looking at these two together because they are synonymous with each other. Apparently, if you have a bigger room, it is better to go with a bigger screen. Now to determine the best screen size, you have to consider the viewing distance. The viewing distance is the distance between the TV and where you and your roommates or family members will be sitting.

The viewing distance of a TV
TV viewing distance

Hence for a bigger room, this distance will be more, depending on your furniture set up. Here is a simple formula that you can use to get a suitable maximum and minimum screen size based on your viewing distance.

  • Viewing Distance (In inches) ÷ 3  =  Minimum recommended TV size (in inches)
  • Viewing Distance (In inches) ÷ 1.5  =  Maximum recommended TV size (in inches)

So for instance, if your viewing distance is 90 inches (7.5 ft), then the minimum and maximum recommended TV sizes would be:

  • 90 Inches ÷ 3 = 30 Inches min
  • 90 Inches ÷ 1.5 = 60 Inches max

Note: The size of a TV, typically measured in inches, is the diagonal distance of the display. The image below shows a TV with a diagonal length of 40 inches. Hence it’s a 40 inch TV.

The diagonal measurement of a TV
A 40 Inch TV
TV Sizes Min Viewing Distance Maximum Viewing Distance
24” 36 Inches (3 ft ) 72 Inches (6 ft)
28” 42 Inches ( 3.5 ft) 84 Inches (7 ft)
32” 48 Inches (4 ft ) 96 Inches (8 ft)
42” 63 Inches (5.25 ft) 126 Inches (10.5 ft)
48” 72 Inches (6 ft) 144 Inches (12 ft)
50” 75 Inches (6.25 ft) 150 Inches (12.5 ft)
55” 82.5 Inches (6.87 ft) 165 Inches (13.75)
60” 90 Inches (7.5 ft) 180 Inches (15 ft)
65” 97.5 Inches (8.12 ft) 195 Inches (16.25 ft)
70” 105 Inches (8.75 ft) 210 Inches (17.5 ft)
75” 112.5 Inches (9.37 ft) 225 Inches (18.75 ft)
80” 120 Inches (10 ft) 240 Inches (20 ft)
85” 127.5 Inches (10.58) 255 Inches (21.25 ft)
90” 135 Inches (61.25) 270 Inches (22.5)

Common TV sizes and their recommended min and max viewing distance.

Note: The “ in TV sizes, for example 32”, represents inches, hence a 32” TV, is a 32 Inches TV.

Resolution

Resolution
The resolution of a TV is the number of pixels the screen has on each dimension. So when a TV’s resolution is indicated as 1080×1920, it means that it has 1080 pixels vertically, and 1920 pixels horizontally.
Pixel
Think of a pixel as a tiny square that can change its color. These pixels are put side by side to make the TV screen. When a TV is showing video, it’s these small squares changing their colors to construct that image. The more the pixels, the better picture quality a TV will have.

Selecting the right resolution for a specific TV size

Most people get puzzled when they learn that different TV sizes can have the same resolution—for instance—a 24 inch and a 32-inch TV having the same resolution of 1080×1920.

However, for the bigger TV to have the same resolution as the small one, the bigger one trades off on picture quality and sharpness for its extra size. This is because the bigger one will have larger pixels, which translates to a lower pixel density.

Pixel Density
Pixel density is the measure of the total number of pixels within a fixed area. It is usually measured in PPCM (Pixel per Centimeter) or PPI (Pixel per Inch), with the latter one being common and widely used.

To get the best TV, you have to find the right balance between the resolution and size to maintain the best pixel density. The table below summarizes our suggestions on the most common TV sizes and their recommended resolutions.

TV Sizes in Inches TV resolution Also known as Short hand
Below 28 1280 x 720 HD or HD Ready 720p
29 – 32 1920 x 1080 FHD or Full HD 1080p
33 – 40 2560 x 1440 QHD or Quad HD 1440p
41 and above 3840 x 2160 4K, UHD or Ultra HD 2160p

TV Sizes and the recommended resolutions.

The more resolution your TV has, the better the picture quality will be. However, it is important to note that, you will notice the difference only if the media you are playing is specially made to take advantage of extra pixels. If you stream a 720p and 4k video on a 4k TV, of course, the 4k video will look much better.

NB: If you are reading this article in 2018 or later, its best you invest in a 4k TV, as that is becoming the industry standard.

Another factor to consider when selecting the right size is the size of your media center. Make sure it is big enough to handle the TV you are buying. If not, you might want to go for wall mounting.

Wall Mounting

As mentioned above, wall mounting a TV is an alternative to placing it on a media console. Wall mounting is possible for flat TV, and in some instances, preferred for its aesthetic value, because it blends nicely with the environment. When buying a TV, make sure it comes with or supports the Vesa mount flat display mounting interface. Most TVs will have this by default, but its best to be sure. The Vesa mount interface is the industry standard, hence the possibility to use third party mounts.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio of a TV is the ratio of the width to the height of the display screen. The standard aspect ratios are 4:3, 16:10, 16:9. The most common aspect ratio is 16:9. This is because it easily downscales to other aspect ratios, earning itself the industry standard label. Most media files use this as their primary aspect ratio. Unless you have a specific reason for choosing a particular aspect ratio, we recommend that you go for 16:9.

Screen Technologies

Display technologies, which include Plasma, LCD, LED, and OLED just to name a few. There are other display technologies such as CRT, but those are outdated. So lets a look at the ones you should know.

Plasma Display Panel (PDP)

A plasma display is a display that uses small cells filled with electronically charged ionized gases. Each cell can be controlled to produce a particular color, so when put together, they form the display which displays media content.

Plasma displays have both advantages and disadvantages, compared to the other technologies. The benefits include:

  • Better contrast ratios, hence being able to produce deeper blacks. This will make sense once you read about the other display technologies.
  • High refresh rates, providing a higher response time, and less motion blur. This is why they are best for gaming.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Use more power compared to LCD and LED displays.
  • Doesn’t work well at altitudes above 2, 000 meters. This is usually because of the pressure differential between the air pressure at that altitude and the ionized gases in the screen. In such altitudes, they cause a buzzing sound.
  • Plasma front panels are made of glass, therefore making them heavier and delicate to handle. The glass is also notorious for reflections, especially in a well-lit environment.

However, plasma displays are uncommon these days, due to the availability of cheaper LCD panels.

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) Panels

LCD is the most commonly used type of panel in most TVs. LCD produces color by leveraging the light-modulating properties of liquid crystals. However, these liquid crystals do not produce their light, so a panel made of fluorescent, known as the backlight, is placed behind the LCD panel to generate visible images. Here are some of the benefits of these display technology in TVs.

Benefits of LCD Display

  • Inexpensive, the main reason why it has the most significant share of the TV market.
  • Low power consumption
  • Very thin, enabling the creation of thin TVs.

Disadvantages of LCD Display

  • Poor dynamic ranges compared to plasma, hence produce poor blacks. This is because the crystals do not produce their light, therefore impossible to dim the fluorescent backlight at certain points.
  • Lower refresh rates compared to plasma.
  • Loss of contrast in high-temperature environments.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) Displays

We are not going to spend a lot of time on LED displays, because they are basically LCDs, but rather than using fluorescent backlighting, they use LED. The advantages of this setup are: even lower power consumption compared to LCD; even thinner panels because they are much smaller compared to fluorescent; and better dynamic ranges because the LED backlight array offers some level of control as opposed to a fluorescent backlight, resulting in much better blacks.

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) Displays

OLED displays use LEDs to produce both the color and light, just like plasma. Ok, not exactly like plasma because the LEDs have a layer of an emissive electroluminescent organic compound that emits light in response to an electric current. The combination of the two produces a panel with the same properties as a plasma one with regard to light emission.

This design was aimed at addressing the drawbacks of LCD (and LED, they are the same thing as explained above), which it has managed to do. OLED provides a better dynamic range, producing deeper blacks and lighter whites. It also has better refresh rates, making it good for gaming and watching fast-moving content. However, given that this technology is still new to the market, OLED TVs are a bit expensive at the moment.

So it comes down to what screen technologies you should choose. Our recommendation is to go for an OLED TV, but if you can’t afford one, an LED display will do just fine.

Curved TVs

Samsung Curved TV on display | Image by Kārlis Dambrāns

Curved TVs have started emerging, promising an immersive experience, but here at Techkali, we are not buying into that idea. The curve reduces viewing angles and offers no noticeable advantages over their flat counterparts. They also cost more than flat TVs. For now, we advise you to stay away from curved TVs.

Smart TVs

A smart TV is one that comes with the native capability to connect to the internet so that you can use streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, keep in touch on social media, and surf the web in general. Most TVs on the market right now are Smart TVs. But if you can’t afford one, worry not, there are various devices that you can use to turn any TV into a Smart TV at an affordable price. Some devices you can use to turn your normal TV into a smart TV include Roku Streaming Stick, Apple TV 4K, and Fire TV Stick, just to mention a few.

Audio

Even with all the advancements being witnessed in the TV industry, audio seems to be getting worse. It very simple, for better sound, you need bigger speakers, and now that TVs are ever getting thinner, little room is left to mount better and louder speakers. You can either get a traditional surround sound system or go modern with a TV Sound Bar. These are much smaller, elegant, and easy to set up and get the job done for a fraction of what you would pay for a surround sound audio system. We recommend Sound Bars that come with a subwoofer for an improved cinematic experience. Below is an image of a typical sound bar.

A TV sound bar
A typical sound bar under a TV | Image courtesy Amazon

Here are our top five recommended sound bars to match your new TV.

Connectivity

As of the writing on this guide, the only ports you should look out for are USB and HDMI. Most TVs already have these, so it won’t be hard to get one. Make sure it has at least 2 USB and HDMI ports. These are very important, especially when connecting TV box devices like the above mentioned Roku streaming stick. DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA are a bonus for connecting legacy devices but not a must-have in a modern TV.

The common display ports on monitors
Common Display Ports

That brings us to the end of this comprehensive guide. Hopefully, you found it useful, and get that perfect TV you have been looking for.