Buying A TV - What You Need To Know

Basic Tips For Television Shoppers

Samsung KS8000 Series SUHD TV with Quantum Dots and HDR
Samsung KS8000 Series SUHD TV with Quantum Dots and HDR. Image provided by Samsung USA

We all know how to buy a television. Just open the newspaper, find the best price and go get one. In my days as a salesperson, I have seen this a lot; a customer comes into the store, AD in hand, and says "wrap it up". However, the best price may not be the "best deal". Here are some buying tips that are often times overlooked, but very important in the purchase of a Television, whether it be a small LCD TV for the bedroom, large screen LCD, Plasma, OLED, or the latest Smart or a 3D TV.

Note: Although CRT-based (Tube), DLP, and Plasma TV have been phased out, information on what to consider when buying these types of TVs is still provided as part of this article for those that may be buying such sets used through private parties, or online sources.

Tip #1 -- Measure the space the TV is to be placed in.

It amazes me how many times a customer will purchase a television, get it home just to return it because it just doesn't quite fit in the entertainment center, on the TV stand, or on the wall space. Make sure you measure the required space for your TV and bring those measurements and tape measure to the store with you. When measuring, leave at least a 1 to 2-inch leeway on all sides and several inches behind the set, in order to make it easier to install your TV and to allow for adequate ventilation. Also, make sure you have extra space for the installation of any cable and/or rear panel audio/video connections, once the television is in place, or have enough room to move the television so that cable connections can be easily installed or un-installed.

Tip #2 -- Size of Room/Type of Viewing Area

Make sure you have adequate viewing space between you and the TV. With big tube, Projection TV's, LCD/Plasma screens, and even video projectors, the temptation to get the biggest screen possible is hard to pass up. However, you must have the proper distance between you and the picture to get the most pleasing viewing experience.

If you are planning to buy a 29-inch LCD TV, you should give yourself about 3 to 4 feet to work with, for a 39-inch LCD TV give yourself about 4-5 feet and for a 46-inch LCD or Plasma TV you should have about 6-7 feet to work with. Needless to say, you should have about 8ft to work with when installing a 50-inch or 60-inch LCD, Plasma, or DLP set.

This doesn't mean you have to view from these distances but gives you enough room to adjust your seating distance for best results. Also, optimal distances will vary according to the aspect ratio of the screen, and also if you are viewing high definition content (that has more detail) or standard definition content. If you have a standard definition or analog TV, you should sit a little farther away from the screen than you would if viewing an HDTV. For more information on the optimal viewing distance for a particular size TV screen, check out our tip: What Is the Best Viewing Distance to Watch a TV From?.

In addition, if you are building a television viewing area or home theater room from scratch, even if you plan to do your own construction, still consult a home theater installer or a contractor that specializes in home theater to get an honest assessment of the actual environment that the television or video projector will be used in. Factors such as the amount of light coming in from windows, room size, acoustics, etc... will certainly be a major factor in what type of television or video projector (as well as audio setup) would be best in your specific situation.

Tip #3 -- Vehicle Size

Boy! Here is one tip that is definitely overlooked! Make sure your vehicle is large enough transport the TV if you plan to take it with you. With cars being smaller these days, most cars cannot fit any TV larger than 20-inch to 27-inch in the front seat or the trunk (open, with tie-down). Also, even though some compact cars can fit a 32-inch LCD set on the back seat, be careful when loading and make sure the set is secure and doesn't bounce around creating a potential safety hazard, not to mention possibly causing damage to the TV. If you have an SUV, you should be able to accommodate a 32, 37, or maybe even a 40-inch LCD TV without too much trouble.

However, even if you have room to take the TV with you, check with the salesperson to find out about delivery. Many stores offer free delivery on larger screen TVs. Take advantage of this, don't risk getting a hernia trying to lift a big screen up those stairs...and definitely let the store deliver a large screen Plasma or LCD television. If you take the set home yourself, you are out of luck if you damage the set. However, if you let the store deliver it, they take all the damage risk.

Tip #4 -- Picture Quality

When shopping for a television, take your time and take a good look at the picture quality, there can be marked differences in various models.

There are several factors contributing to a quality picture:

The darkness of the screen surface: The first factor is the darkness of the screen. With several televisions turned off, check the darkness of the screens. The darker the screens, the better the TV is at producing a high-contrast picture. A TV cannot produce blacks that are blacker than the screen itself. As a result TV's with "greenish" or "grayish" looking screens produce low contrast pictures.

Also, when considering an LCD TV, take note of the black levels when the TV is on. If the TV is a LED/LCD TV, check to see if there is any "spotlighting" in the corners or unevenness in black levels across the screen surface. For more on this, read my article The Truth About "LED" TVs. Find out if the provides Local Dimming or Micro-Dimming - which helps even out the black level response on LED/LCD TVs. If you are looking for a TVs that have a more even black level across the screen surface, and you have a light controllable room (you can make the room dark), a Plasma TV may be the better option for you than an LCD or LED/LCD TV.

On the other hand, if you are considering a video projector, projection screens are typically white, instead of black. In this case, you need to purchase a screen with high reflectivity as the image is reflected off the screen to the viewer. Although the brightness and contrast performance of the video projector mainly lies with the internal circuitry of the video projector itself, a screen with low reflectivity will dampen the viewer's experience. In essence, when shopping for a video projector, you also have to shop for the screen to use with it. For tips on what to look for when buying both a video projector and screen, check out Before You Buy a Video Projector and Before You Buy a Video Projection Screen

Screen Flatness: The second factor to consider, if buying a CRT set, is how flat the picture tube is (projection, plasma, and LCD televisions are already flat). This is important because the flatter the tube is the less glare you will get from windows and lamps, as well as less shape distortion of objects displayed on the screen (I don't know about you, but it bugs me to watch a football game on TV and see that the yard lines are curved instead of straight because of the curvature of the picture tube). Basically, if purchasing a tube-type TV (referred to as direct view), you might want to consider purchasing a flat-tube type.

LED/LCD, Plasma, OLED TVs - Flat or Curved Screens: Just when you thought you were getting used to those thin flat panel screen LED/LCD and Plasma TVs, along comes the Curved Screen TV. For more details, refer to my article: Curved Screen TVs - What You Need to Know.

Display Resolution: This is probably the most well-known factor that both the TV industry and consumers use to determine picture quality - but it is one of the several factors. However, the screen resolution expressed in lines (for CRT TVs) or Pixels (LCD, Plasma, etc...) can tell you how detailed an image the TV can display.

For HDTVs, 1080p (1920x1080) is the default standard for native display resolution. However, on many TVs with screen sizes 32-inches and smaller, or extremely inexpensive larger screen TVs, the display resolution might be 720p (usually expressed as 1366x768 pixels). Also, for Ultra HD TVs, the display resolution is expressed as 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels).

The key thing to remember for consumers is to actually look at the TV and see if the displayed image is detailed enough for you. In many cases, unless you are close to the screen, you may not be able to tell the difference between a 1080p and 720p TV. However, depending on the content source and your own visual acuity, you may start to notice a difference beginning with screen sizes 42-inches and larger. Also, the same goes 4K Ultra HD TVs, although there is a growing number of 4K Ultra HD TVs with screen sizes as small as 49-to-50-inches, depending on your seating distance, you will most likely not notice a difference between 1080p and 4K. However, just as with the difference between 720p and 1080p, content, seating distance, and visual acuity will also be factors. For many, the 1080p-4K difference may start to be noticeable with screen sizes 70-inches or larger.

When it comes to displaying resolution, you need to take a good look. However, there is another resolution-related factor to consider: Scaling.

Scaling: With the advent of HDTV (720p, 1080i,1080p) and Ultra HD TV (4K), scaling ability is also an important factor to consider when buying a TV.

To be frank, analog video sources, such as VHS and standard Cable, do not look as good on an HDTV (and definitely not as good on a 4K Ultra HD TV) as they do on an analog TV. There are several reasons for this that I outline in my article: Why Analog Video Looks Worse on an HDTV.

Scaling is a process where a TV, DVD, or Blu-ray player tries to eliminate the defects in a standard resolution video image to make it look better on an HDTV, but not all HDTVs perform this task well. Also, even with the best scaling capability, you cannot magically transform a standard resolution image into a true high definition image. For more details, check out my articles: DVD Video Upscaling - Important Facts and Upscaling DVD Players vs Upscaling HDTVs.

So, when considering an HDTV OR 4K Ultra HD TV purchase, also look at how well the TV looks with both high definition and standard definition content (for 4K TVs definitely consider how 1080p and lower resolution content looks). See if you can get the dealer to show some standard definition content on the TV before you buy it.

Keep in mind that if you buy a 4K Ultra HD TV, most of the content you will be watching on it will be upscaled from 1080p or lower resolution source signals, but there is an amount of 4K content available to watch. Of course, as the screen size gets larger on either a 1080p or 4K Ultra HD TV, the quality of a standard definition image keeps going down. Don't expect your VHS tapes or standard Cable signal to look very viewable on a screen larger than 50-inches unless you have a long screen to seat viewing distance.

HDR (4K Ultra HD TVs): Starting in 2016, another picture quality feature to consider if considering a 4K Ultra HD TV, is the inclusion of HDR on some models. TVs that have HDR (High Dynamic Range) compatibility can display increased brightness and contrast range, which also provides color quality from compatible content sources. Also, depending on the TV brand and model, some HDR compatible TVs can also display enhanced brightness, contrast, and color from standard video sources via HDR-effect settings. For more on HDR, refer to our articles: What is an HDR TV? and Dolby Vision and HDR10 - What It Means For TV Viewers

Comb Filter (CRT TVs):  An additional factor to be considered as a measure of picture quality is the presence of a comb filter on the TV. This is especially important in larger screen TVs. A TV without a comb filter will display "dot crawl" along edges of objects in the picture (especially on tube TVs). On smaller sets, this is not as noticeable, but on anything 27" and larger it can be quite distracting. This results in the inability of the "average TV" to adequately resolve the color and resolution of the image to be displayed. The presence of a comb filter fine tunes the picture signal so that colors, lines/pixels can be displayed more accurately on the screen. There are many types of comb filters: Glass, Digital, and 3DY, but they are all there to do the same thing, improve the picture you see on the screen.

Tip #5 -- Audio Capability/AV Inputs and Outputs

Check to see if the TV has a least one set of audio/video inputs and one one set of audio outputs.

For audio, TVs have built-in speakers, but with LCD, OLED, and Plasma TVs being so thin, there is very little interior volume to house a good quality speaker system. Some TVs provides several audio processing options, but for a satisfying listening experience, especially in a home theater environment, an external audio system is definitely preferred.

Most of the today's TVs provide either a set of analog or digital optical audio outputs, or the HDMI Audio Return Channel feature, or all three. Definitely check for these options, even if you don't have an external audio system right off the bat.

On the input side, check for RCA-composite and S-Video (being phased out on many TVs), and component video inputs. If you are going to use the TV for HDTV applications, check for component (red, green, blue), DVI-HDCP, or HDMI inputs for attachment of HD-Cable/Satellite Boxes, Blu-ray Disc players, Game Systems, and Network Media Players/Streamers.

In addition, most DVD players and all Blu-ray Disc players have HDMI connections. This allows the viewing of DVDs in an upscaled, HD-compatible format, or high definition Blu-ray, but only if you have a television with either DVI or HDMI inputs.

Some TVs come with a set of audio/video inputs on the front or side of the set (mostly CRT sets). If available, this can come in handy for hooking up a camcorder, video game console, or other portable audio/video device.

Also, when checking the HDMI connections on an HDTV, note if any of those HDMI connections are labeled ARC (stands for Audio Return Channel) and/or MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) - Both of these connection options provide added flexibility when integrating your TV with a home theater receiver and compatible portable devices.

Simply put; even if you don't have all the latest gear to hook up to your television, get a TV has enough input/output flexibility to add future components of various types.

Tip #6 - Smart Features

A growing number of TVs also have Ethernet connections, or built-in WiFi, for accessing audio/video content via a home network and the internet - TVs with this type of connectivity are referred to as "Smart TVs".

What home network connectivity means for TV buyers is that not only can you access TV programming and movies via the TV's tuner, via cable/satellite box, or Blu-ray/DVD players, but also via the internet and/or local network-connected PCs.

The selection of internet streaming services varies from TV brand/model varies, but almost all include popular services, such as Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, iHeart Radio, and much, much, more...

Tip #7 -- 3D

If you are considering the purchase of TV that offers 3D viewing capability - production of 3D TVs was discontinued as of the 2017 model year, but you may still find some models available used or on clearance. Also, if you are still considering 3D, many video projectors provide this viewing option. One important thing to point out is that all 3D TVs can also be used for normal TV viewing as well.

Types of 3D glasses Required to View  3D:

Passive Polarized: These glasses look and wear much like sunglasses. TVs that require this type of 3D glasses will display 3D images at a half resolution of a 2D image.

Active Shutter: These glasses are slightly bulky since they have batteries and a transmitter that syncs the rapidly moving shutters for each eye with the onscreen display rate. TVs that use this type of 3D glasses will display 3D at the same resolution as 2D images.

Some TVs may come with one or more pairs of 3D glasses, or they may be an accessory that must be purchased separately. Active glasses are more expensive than Passive glasses.

For the entire rundown on 3D Glasses, refer to my article: 3D Glasses - Passive vs Active.

Also, be aware that when buying a 3D TV, that you also need 3D source components and content to take full advantage of 3D viewing. In other words, you will need one, or more, of the following: A 3D Blu-ray Disc player, 3D Blu-ray Discs, and/or 3D capable Cable/Satellite Box and services offering 3D programming. There is also some 3D content available via internet streaming, such has Vudu 3D.

For everything you need to know about 3D, check out my entire Complete Guide to Watching 3D at Home

Tip #7 -- Remote Control/Ease of Use

When shopping for a TV, make sure the remote control is easy for you to use. Have the salesperson explain it to you if you are not sure of some of the functions. If you need to control several items with the same remote, make sure it is a universal remote and that it is compatible with at least some of the other components you have at home. Another bonus to check for is where the remote control is backlit. In other words, do the remote control buttons light up. This is a very practical feature for use in a darkened room.

As an added consideration, see if most of the TV functions can be controlled on the TV itself (the controls are usually located on the bottom front of the TV, below the screen). Also, in the case of LCD, OLED, and Plasma TV, these controls may also be located on the side. A few TVs may actually have the controls on top of the TV. This can be very important if you misplace or lose your remote. Exact replacement remotes are not cheap and generic universal remotes may not control all the important functions of your new TV. However, if you find that you do need an exact replacement remote control, a good source to check out

However, another remote option for many newer TVs is an availability of downloadable remote control apps for both Android and iPhones. This definitely adds more control convenience.

Additional Considerations

In conclusion, here are some final considerations regarding your television purchase.

Needed Accessories: When buying your television, don't forget additional accessories you might need, such as coaxial and audio-video cables, power surge protector, and any other items that you will need to make the installation of your television complete, especially if you are integrating your TV with an overall home theater system. Also, if you purchase a video projector, keep in mind that you will have to replace the light source bulb periodically, and to take that cost into consideration as a needed accessory cost down the line.

Extended Service Plans: Consider an extended service plan on a TV more than $1,000. Although televisions rarely need repair, those repairs can be costly. In addition, if you buy a Plasma, OLED, or LCD television and something happens to the operation of the screen, the entire set would probably have to be replaced, as these units are basically a single, integrated, piece.

Also, extended service plans usually include actual home service and may even offer some type of loaner while your set is being repaired. Lastly, many home service plans for projection televisions include a "once-a-year" tune up where a technician will come out to your home, open the set, clean out all the dust and check for the proper color and contrast balance. If you have invested a lot of money in your projection set, this service is well worth it to keep it top notch condition; if you choose to take advantage of it.

Of course, there are many other tips that can aid you in buying a TV, features such as picture-in-picture, commercial skip timers, channel block (every new TV now has the V-Chip), Networking and Internet access via Ethernet connection or WiFi etc... can all be taken into consideration, depending on your needs, but my purpose in this article was to point out some fundamental tips that apply to any TV purchase that we often overlook in favor of the "gadgets" or "good deal" approach to TV purchasing.