It doesn’t seem like so long ago when the only things you had to think about when picking a TV was brand, size, and maybe whether it was flat or curved. The halcyon days of old-school CRT TVs were certainly heavy, power-inefficient, and environmentally-unfriendly—but hey at least it wasn’t hard to figure out what you wanted.
Now there seems to be an endless parade of acronyms, technologies, and features that could easily confuse the mind of any potential TV buyer who hasn’t invested hours and hours poring over spec sheets and comparison articles. Many TV manufacturers have weaponized this difficulty of choice, and have armed their TVs with marketing tricks and fancy buzzwords to try and sway viewers over to their side.
Today, I’ll try my hand at dispelling all this confusion and list down everything you need to know about buying a TV in 2019. I’ll also provide a few recommendations that you might want to look into.
Display Panel Technology
I mentioned the CRTs of the old days, and for decades that was pretty much the only kind of TV you had to think about, save a couple of rare and expensive rear-projection monstrosities that also looked amazing.
Today, there are exactly two principal display technologies that you need to be aware of, and choosing between them is actually reserved primarily for the higher-end. That said, there are a few avenues of confusion that arise, once again due to marketing, and I’ll zero in on those after the jump.
LCD stands for “liquid crystal display” and is by far the most popular screen technology in the world. It consists of a backlight and a liquid crystal layer that can control the way light passes through it. The liquid crystal layer is divided into pixels, which can be set whether or not to let light through as needed. LCD pixels don’t emit light directly, and rely on the backlight as the source of light which the liquid crystal filters out to form images.
There are actually several kinds of LCD technology, such as IPS and VA, but you typically don’t have to worry about these when choosing a TV. That’s more of a topic for computer monitors than anything else.
LED stands for “light-emitting diode” and indeed refers to the same lighting technology that is present on many modern light bulbs and flashlights, as well as the indicator lights on a lot of electronic devices. LEDs are well-known for lasting longer and being vastly more energy-efficient (per light output) than fluorescent lights or incandescent lights.
It’s important to understand that “LED TVs” are not a different kind of LCD technology; rather, LED TVs use an LED backlight over a standard LCD screen. This is in contrast to the cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) that older LCD TVs used as their backlight.
Virtually all TVs today use LED backlighting. LED backlighting has allowed LCD TVs to be thinner and more energy-efficient.
Short for “organic light-emitting diode,” OLED technology uses a layer of organic material that can emit light when an electric current is passed through it. Unlike LCD, each OLED pixel emits its own light, which allows OLED TVs to have perfect contrast – a region of blackness on the screen will be truly black, whereas an LCD TV will invariably have a little bit of grayness in its blacks due to bleeding from the backlight. OLED is also known for its beautifully saturated colors and near-flawless response time, reducing blur in fast-paced scenes.
The downside of OLED is that it’s susceptible to a phenomenon known as burn-in, which is the permanent retention of static images that have been left on the screen for too long. This is one of the major concerns for OLED TV users, and care should be taken when using them for applications with lots of static images, like watching the news on TV, using them as a computer monitor, or for gaming. In addition, OLED TVs don’t get quite as bright as the LCD competition.
OLED is currently the main competitor to LCD after the decline of plasma TVs’ popularity, but because of the high price of OLED TVs (Php75,000 and up locally), you don’t have to consider them until you reach that price range.
LG is currently the only manufacturer of OLED panels. Other manufacturers of OLED TVs such as Philips and Sony use LG panels, but with their own image processing engines and feature sets.
OLED technology is the same screen technology used in every high-end Samsung flagship smartphone since the original Samsung Galaxy, and since 2017 in high-end iPhones as well. LG, OnePlus, and Xiaomi among others have also moved to OLED screens for their best offerings.
Short for “Quantum Dot LED,” QLED refers to Samsung’s use of quantum dot technology on its high-end LCD TVs. Samsung markets these as having greater “color volume,” which allows them to display colors more accurately and vividly even at high scene brightness levels.
QLED TVs are technically just LCD screens with quantum dot color filters. So-called “true” electro-emissive quantum dot displays would actually resemble OLED TVs, but they haven’t entered mass-production yet.
The first of the high-definition standards, 720p refers to a pixel resolution of 1280 horizontal pixels and 720 vertical pixels. Today, most 32” TVs and below are 720p, and rarely cost more than Php 13,000. “HD Ready” is a marketing term for 720p.
1080p refers to a resolution of 1920 horizontal and 1080 vertical pixels. For many people, it’s difficult to see anything clearer than 1080p if your TV is 43 inches and below in size. Many manufacturers still make cheaper 1080p TVs in large sizes like 55”. “Full HD” is a marketing term for 1080p.
“4K” refers to a resolution of 3840 by 2160. This is a very good resolution at nearly any TV size, and represents the majority of TVs today. 4K TVs aren’t actually that expensive – you can get a 43” 4K model by most major manufacturers for as low as Php26,000.
It should be noted that there isn’t a lot of 4K content out there at the moment. The majority of people using 4K TVs will be maximizing them by watching 4K streaming services like Netflix’s most expensive price tier, using a 4K gaming system like the PlayStation 4 Pro or a PC, and watching relatively rare 4K Blu-Rays.
Do pixels matter?
Just like in the camera world, pixels aren’t all there is to life. There’s still panel quality and image processing to consider, after all. However, today, display resolution often correlates to the quality tier of a TV, so oftentimes you can safely buy a 4K TV over a 1080p TV to improve your overall image quality.
Short for “high dynamic range,” the word “HDR” has made appearances in the world of computer graphics, photography, and now televisions, and it refers to very different underlying concepts in each. But at its core, “HDR” means that bright details are very bright, dark details are very dark, and detail is preserved in both.
In the TV world, HDR refers to a standard that allows for greater brightness and color reproduction than would be available to standard TVs. There are many standards out there, but the most important ones for now are HLG, HDR10, and Dolby Vision, so look for these when you buy a TV if you want to try out HDR content. And that’s another thing to note – HDR is useless if you don’t have content that supports it, and for now you only really see it in HDR games on consoles or PCs, 4K HDR Blu-Rays, and some 4K HDR streaming content.
Something that’s unfortunately harder to understand is that not all “HDR-supporting” TVs actually have true HDR certification. What instead happens is that they can accept an HDR signal, but then don’t actually have an LCD panel that can display the HDR signal correctly, so they convert it to a normal SDR (standard dynamic range, or non-HDR) image that they support. Learning what panels actually have true HDR support needs a little more advanced reading and learning about bit depth. I’d recommend a place like www.rtings.com to learn more.
As I mentioned in my OLED section, one problem with LCDs is that they can’t display true blacks, because the backlight bleeds through black pixels in the LCD. But what if you could turn off sections of the backlight underneath the black pixels? It won’t be perfect like an OLED screen, but it’ll definitely look much better than your average LCD TV with a single monolithic backlight!
This is the principle behind local dimming, which adjusts the LED backlight in “zones” underneath the LCD screen. Most high-end LCD TVs use some form of local dimming; the more zones they use, the more granular their control over the backlight and the more impressive the contrast difference.
Full-array local dimming
With full-array local dimming or FALD, numerous LEDs are distributed uniformly over the backlight layer behind the LCD. The TV separates the backlight into zones, which can go anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred.
FALD is the best kind of local dimming, though it also has its own scale of quality in the form of how many zones there are.
Edge-lit local dimming
Most LCD TVs are edge-lit – rather than having a whole layer of LEDs behind the screen, they’re just placed on the edges. This allows for a thinner and cheaper TV.
Some manufacturers offer a cheaper form of local dimming that can selectively dim the LED backlights on the edges. It only allows for dimming in vertical zones across the whole TV and can look rather strange at times, but it’s better than nothing.
Here’s a video that illustrates the difference:
The vast majority of TVs above Php 20,000 are all “Smart” in one way or another. LG and Samsung have their own TV operating systems, for example, which feature apps like Netflix and YouTube, while Sony uses Android TV.
In general, you shouldn’t really think too hard about a smart TV’s features, because it’s actually pretty trivial to add “smart” features to any TV by buying a simple media box that can cost less than Php2,000. Cheap Chinese Android TV boxes or a Chromecast can solve this problem pretty easily for you.
Curved vs Flat
Curved TVs have been billed as a more immersive setup, with the screen wrapping around the curved human field of vision. However, this only really applies for very large curved TVs and/or shorter viewing distances. In general, you shouldn’t think about this too hard either, and instead focus on other features.
That said, here’s a rule of thumb – if you have two identical models from the same year, and one is curved and the other is flat, and both are priced very similarly, there’s a chance that the curved panel is slightly elevated in terms of performance tier, so choose the curved TV.
So with this infodump out of the way, what are some great TVs to actually buy? Let’s have a look at a few at a couple of price points.
This killer entry-level 4K TV model has awesome colors and excellent contrast. It might not get very bright, but most people won’t even notice the difference. The NU7100 can be found in every size from 43” to 75”, with the 49” hitting a wonderful sweet spot at Php32,000, and it can get even lower if you pay in cash at many major stores.
There’s also a slightly more expensive, slightly better curved variant called the NU7300.
This 2017 model still performs well today, and it’s one of the cheapest LCD TVs to have a panel that actually supports the wide color gamut necessary for HDR. If you can find it on sale somewhere for Php38,000 at 43” and Php45,000 for 49”, you should consider it. Its newer and more expensive X800F cousins are pretty good, too.
LG OLED C8
Voted by many outlets to be the best TV of 2018, the LG OLED C8 has tremendous image quality – and a tremendous price to go with it. At around Php 100,000, for the smallest, 55” offering, this is not a TV purchase to make lightly. However, you can bring it down much lower if you negotiate on the cash price.