Buying a new 4K TV and feeling a little lost? We’re here to help.
TVs have come a long way since the days of the cathode ray tube – especially in recent years.
With the advent of 4K (and HDR) TVs, picture quality has never been sharper, brighter, or more colorful. TVs get thinner as screens get bigger, and more and more TVs integrate features and services that reduce the need for extra devices.
But all these technological leaps have led to greater complexity, and frankly, buying a new TV can be overwhelming. Deciphering all technology-related acronyms is a daunting task, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between subtle changes in phrases and technologies.
To help decipher the madness, we’ve put together the tools you need to navigate the world of 4K TVs and make the right decision when you finally decide to pull the trigger.
SIZE AND CONFIGURATION
When you’re looking at a new TV, the first thing to check is how much space you have in your entertainment room. Keep in mind that TV screens are measured diagonally, so when you see a TV listed as 65 inches, that’s the diagonal measurement, not the height or width.
These dimensions can be found on a TV’s product page and are often listed in reviews. Most living rooms work well with a 50-inch or larger TV, although you can go as large as your entertainment center – and wallet – will allow.
If you are going to use a TV stand, be sure to include the stand dimensions in your calculations to ensure a good fit. It’s also important to understand that more and more TVs are mounted on legs on the outside rather than on bases in the center, which requires even more space.
HD resolution, or Full HD 1080p, used to be the default screen resolution, but that’s no longer the case. The industry has moved to adopt 4K Ultra HD – which offers four times the pixel resolution of HD 1080p – as the new standard. The latest resolution offers all the benefits expected from such a huge increase in pixel count; the image is sharper, fine details are clear and visible, and you can sit closer to larger TVs without noticeable image degradation.
Of course, some manufacturers are still producing 1080p or 720p screens, but generally, it’s the lowest quality TVs with the smallest screen sizes within a particular manufacturer’s lineup. So, even though 4K is still relatively new, it’s likely that any new TV you’re researching will have a 4K UHD resolution. Don’t worry about having to look for one – they will come to you.
While the amount of 4K content is still behind the hardware that displays it, an even higher resolution is in the works: 8K. With four times the pixel resolution of 4K and 16 times the resolution of HD, 8K is another big upgrade in image quality. Don’t worry about whether or not you can make it, as the technology is still in its early stages.
While there are 8K TVs, they are mostly prototypes or intended for professional use, and 8K content barely registers at scale. So go ahead and focus on 4K UHD when looking for a TV to buy.
HDR is short for a high dynamic range. This technology increases the contrast of a TV image, which translates to more accurate brightness and even more accurate color tones for a more vibrant and lifelike image from your TV. There are several levels of HDR quality, as well as different formats like HDR10 and HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log-Gamma.
This may all sound complicated, but the end result is essentially the same, just to varying degrees of quality and use cases. Product reviews will help you see how the HDR features on any particular TV stack up against others at its price point, including levels of brightness, contrast, and overall picture quality.
Smart TVs connect directly to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi cable or Ethernet (usually both), and come with built-in streaming apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, and more. Some even have built-in Google Chrome features cast on more complete platforms, such as the Roku TV or Amazon Fire TV Edition models.
You can stream shows and movies, play games, and even browse the web (albeit with limited capacity) on some models. As we said with regard to 4K UHD resolution, the vast majority of TVs available are now Smart TVs, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find one.
Smart TV features are convenient, and integrating streaming apps and other services directly into the TV frees up space and HDMI ports. That said, you can always upgrade any TV with a streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku Stick, or set-top boxes like Nvidia Shield, to get all these smart TV features in one convenient package. This is important because many smart TV interfaces leave a lot to be desired.