Here’s What You Need to Know When Buying a TV

Here’s What You Need to Know When Buying a TV
Contributor: Phillip Tracey, Chris Neill
At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

When it comes to buying a brand new TV, it’s not something you want to half-arse. Ideally, this is something you won’t need to upgrade for a long while. It’ll also set you back a couple hundred dollars (or even thousands), so you’d want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.

With such a wide variety of TV options available, it’s easy to get tripped up on all of these different variants and their features. What’s the difference between an OLED and mini-LED TV? How will HDMI ports and refresh rates affect your gaming? How do you determine the right size TV for your living space?

If you’re not sure where to start with your TV quest, we’ve done the hard work for you. This guide will go over the important TV specs you should know about before buying one. By the end of it, you’ll have all the tools to choose the best TV, whether it’s to watch your favourite movies in stunning 4K, game without suffering any lag or binge Netflix until your heart’s content.

Which smart TVs do we recommend?

To summarise, the best mainstream TVs on the market today have OLED, QLED, or mini-LED panels; 120Hz or higher refresh rates; support for multiple HDR versions; and at least one HDMI 2.1 port with support for 4K @ 120Hz video output. This is only the short answer, of course. We encourage you to check out our full explainers below and use these tips to find the perfect TV for your needs.

As a starting point, here are a few screens that we recommend.

TCL 55″ C845 Mini-LED TV

Image: TCL

Powered by Google with mini-LED display panels, the TCL C845 is a great option if you own a PS5 or Xbox Series X. With VRR and ALLM support, along with 144Hz refresh rates, you’ll experience some incredibly smooth and lag-free on-screen motion while gaming.

The C845 can support HDR10+ and Dolby Vision enhancement, so you can get the most out of your picture quality. This TV also comes equipped with four HDMI 2.1 ports, so you won’t have to constantly swap out plugged-in devices.

Where to buy the TCL 55″ C845 Mini-LED TV:

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Sony 55″ A80L Bravia OLED 4K Smart TV

Image: Sony

If you’re interested in grabbing an OLED, you can’t go past Sony’s A80L range. It supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhancement, XR 4K upscaling and a Game Mode that’ll help you hit a refresh rate of 120Hz. As we mentioned before, OLED displays are great options if you’re looking for incredibly vivid colour displays without blooming, and the A80L is no different.

Where to buy the Sony 55″ A80L Bravia OLED 4K Smart TV

Samsung 55″ S90C OLED 4K Smart TV

Image: Samsung

The Samsung S90C is a 4K OLED TV with a lot going on under its display. It uses self-illuminating pixels powered by Quantum Dot technology, which results in some incredibly rich colours and perfect blacks. It also includes features like AMD FreeSync Premium and Variable Refresh Rate, which is fantastic if you’re looking to optimise your game experience.

Where to buy Samsung 55″ S90C OLED 4K Smart TV 

Hisense 55″ U7KAU ULED Mini-LED 4K TV

Image: Hisense

If you’re looking for a new TV while on a budget, Hisense‘s U7KAU series is a solid pick. While it’s listed as a ULED, the Hisense U7KAU still uses the Quantum Dot technology found in QLED displays. On top of that, it also features HDR10+ and Dolby Vision HDR, which will help to bump up the TV’s contrast, colour and brightness. The U7KAU also includes gaming-specific features like VRR and ALLM, with two HDMI 2.1 ports.

Where to buy the Hisense 55″ U7KAU ULED Mini-LED 4K TV

Choosing the right size TV

Authentic Couple Spending Time at Home, Sitting on a Couch and Watching Latest Blockbuster on Flat Screen Television Set. Man and Woman Streaming Movie or Show Using Home Cinema System.
Image: iStock/gorodenkoff

When people buy a TV, they tend to focus on the size of the screen. Should they go with 42, 50, 55, 65 inches or larger? It’s an important consideration, but first, think about what will fit in your space. Bigger is usually — but not always — better. Buying an 80-inch TV for a small studio apartment is the equivalent of buying a front-row movie theatre ticket.

Based on guidelines set by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, you should strive for a sitting distance that makes the TV fill at least 30 degrees of your field of vision. For a more movie-like experience, the THX recommends 40 degrees or a minimum of 36 degrees.

But what even is 30 degrees and how do you measure such a thing? Let’s simplify things with a basic rule of thumb: if you’re buying a 1080p TV, the size-to-distance ratio should be about 2x; you can sit closer to 4K TVs without suffering from eye strain so that ratio drops to 1.5x for UHD sets. Some quick and easy maths here: If you’re eyeing a 65-inch 4K TV then your couch should be about eight feet away (65 x 1.5=97.5 inches, or just over 2.44 m). We’ve thrown together a chart (see below) because nobody should force someone to do maths if they don’t have to (and here’s a nifty calculator you can use).

4k tv viewing distance
Image: Phillip Tracey

Now, take out a measuring tape, because you don’t want a TV that doesn’t fit your wall or entertainment centre. Oh right: now is the time to decide whether you want to place your TV on furniture or on the wall using a VESA mount. Wall mounts give you more flexibility and save space but can make ports less accessible, can be tricky to install, and aren’t allowed in some apartments.

Planting a TV on a credenza is easy enough so long as the surface is larger than the width of the legs. One thing to note here: the “size” of a TV — 42, 50, or 55 inches — is the diagonal measurement of the screen, not the entire width of the product. Measure your furniture then check the TV spec to make sure it fits with a few inches of extra space on each side.

Some TVs also come with adjustable stands, which can be placed at the width of the screen or installed toward the centre of the TV to help a large set fit on smaller surfaces.

Resolution: 1080p, 4K, or 8K?

Image: Roku

The easiest recommendation is also one of the most important. If you’re going to buy a new TV for sports or movies, then get one with 4K resolution. Unless you really need to future-proof, 8K TVs are too expensive, and not enough content is being captured at that resolution to benefit from the extra pixels.

If you’re buying a TV for gaming, at this moment in time, neither the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X offer any 8K upscaling support and are currently capped at native 4K resolutions. That’s not to say the PS5 or Xbox Series X can’t achieve an 8K output, the feature just isn’t available yet. Both Sony and Microsoft have mentioned that future software updates would unlock 8K functionality, but that’ll only happen when 8K content is available.

You should also steer clear of 1080p TVs, which are quickly becoming obsolete and don’t cost much less than 4K models.

Not everything is broadcast or streamed in 4K. But this doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from owning a 4K TV. That’s because 4K, or UHD, TVs must upscale content, or increase the pixel count, to get a lower-resolution 1080p feed to fit on a much higher-res panel.

How good that upscaling looks depends entirely on the TV. This technique is complicated and requires significant processing; in general, more expensive TVs are better at upscaling content, and flagship models get things to look pretty close to native 4K.

High refresh rates

Image: EA

A bright, vivid picture is ruined when fast-moving objects appear choppy. This is why you should buy a TV with a fast refresh rate. But what is that, exactly? A TV’s refresh rate describes how many times per second an individual frame or image can be updated, or refreshed, on the screen.

Refresh rates are expressed in hertz and almost every TV either has a 60Hz or 120Hz rate — that is, they can show 60 or 120 frames every second. The higher the number, the better the TV can keep up with fast-moving objects, like a tennis ball. While crucial when watching sports, high refresh rates are also great for gamers who favour first-person shooters or racing games.

Unfortunately, TV brands have a habit of stretching the truth, and that is certainly the case with the refresh rates advertised on the box. One sneaky approach is to artificially double the refresh rates by adding an extra flicker between each frame. This way, refresh rates of 240Hz can be advertised as “effective refresh rates,” a red flag term that indicates non-native refresh rates. You should also keep an eye out for marketing terms posing as effective refresh rates.

For now, the majority of native 4K TV refresh rates are only 60Hz and 120Hz. However, during CES 2022 both TCL and Samsung unveiled the first generation of 4K TVs with actual 144Hz refresh rates, so expect to see that pop up as a standard feature in the future.

Check its inputs and types of HDMI ports

hdmi 2.1 cable
Getty Images

Every TV comes with HDMI inputs, but they don’t all have the same amount and type. Consider how many devices you’ll need to connect to your TV. These could include game consoles, streaming boxes, computers, soundbars, or Blu-ray players.

Now, add up how many of those need to be continuously plugged in and that should give you a rough idea of how many HDMI inputs your TV should provide. We would recommend buying a TV with at least four HDMI inputs to avoid unplugging a device to use another. If you’re going to use a soundbar or A/V receiver to enhance your TV’s speakers, make sure to plug those audio systems into an HDMI ARC port, a feature that lets you use a single HDMI port for high-quality input and output audio.

This leads us to the unnecessarily confusing process of determining whether your TV has the right HDMI ports. The latest version is HDMI 2.1, but just because a TV says it supports the standard doesn’t mean it supports every feature. In fact, TV makers can claim HDMI 2.1 support so long as their product contains a single HDMI 2.1 feature. Silly, right? Anyway, the spec to look for is the ability to output 4K video at 120Hz. If you own a current-gen console (PS5, Xbox Series X), be sure to read the fine print to ensure the TV you’re considering comes with full HDMI 2.1 support.

If you’re buying a TV for gaming, HDMI 2.1 support is important as it’s the only way to use features like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which will help smooth out on-screen motion and lower input lag, respectively. Those 120Hz and 144Hz refresh rates for 4K TVs we mentioned earlier are only achievable with an HDMI 2.1 connection.

What to know about HDR

Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

HDR stands for high-dynamic range, and it delivers brighter highlights, better contrast, and more vivid, realistic colours than panels without the feature. Once again, though, there are some caveats. First, there are many flavours of HDR, and to make things more confusing, these are often combined. Also, to benefit from this feature, you need both an HDR TV and HDR source material.

We’ll briefly go over the different types of HDR so you can buy a TV that will make you feel as if you’re at SoFi Stadium. HDR10 is a good starting point that now comes standard on every modern TV. It is a significant improvement over SDR (standard definition) but has its limitations. This is where HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and HLG come in. HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are direct rivals — the former is championed by Samsung and the latter has wider support. The two share similar capabilities but some services, like Netflix and Apple TV, support only Dolby Vision (for now).

Hybrid Log-Gamma, or HLG, is only supported by select TVs and was created by the UK’s BBC and Japan’s NHK to enhance SDR broadcast images. This, along with the nascent Advanced HDR by Technicolor standard, aren’t must-have features for your TV viewing, but you should strongly consider a TV with Dolby Vision or HDR10+ (on top of standard HDR10).

OLED vs. QLED vs. mini-LED

tcl mini led
Image: TCL

Today, most flagship TVs use either OLED or QLED technology — each of which has its own pros and cons. OLED is widely considered the current leader because these emissive panels don’t use a backlight; instead, each tiny pixel in an OLED screen creates light depending on how much electric current runs through it. In dark scenes, you can cut off current entirely to create perfect black levels, and as a result, OLED screens have “infinite” contrast ratios (the difference between the brightest and darkest a TV can be).

Along with rich blacks, OLED TVs exhibit vivid colours and don’t suffer from blooming, or when bright spots bleed into dark areas. Unfortunately, OLED panels are susceptible to burn-in, or when an image is permanently retained on the screen. Modern methods ensure burn-in on OLED TVs remains a rare occurrence, but there is always a chance it could ruin your TV.

QLED displays are similar to a standard backlit LED TV but add a quantum dot layer that enhances the brightness and colours of a picture. While less exciting tech, QLED panels get considerably brighter and don’t suffer from burn-in. Still, if you want the very best picture quality, OLED is generally the way to go – although they’re considerably more expensive.

Also worth considering are mini-LED panels, a relative newcomer to the fight for the best picture quality. While the technology has become more widely known now that Apple started using a mini-LED display for its 2021 iPad Pro, TCL’s TVs were the leading manufacturers in this space. TCL first released its first mini-LED 4K 8-Series TV in 2019, which was then followed by the more popular mini-LED 4K 6-Series.

As the name suggests, mini-LED TVs consist of tiny LEDs (from hundreds of LEDs in a traditional backlit panel to tens of thousands) in 100 or more dimming zones that allow for better control of brightness, dark levels, and contrast. And while they don’t quite meet OLED on picture quality alone, some mini-LED TVs get twice as bright as comparable OLED options. As is the case with each of these panel types, there are downsides. Where OLED can suffer from burn-in, mini-LED TVs can show blooming.

While some consider micro-LED TVs the future of television, you can forget about it unless you’re filthy rich – we’re talking tens of thousands of dollars expensive.

Pick the right OS

lg c3 review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Choosing between operating systems is usually a question of Windows versus macOS or perhaps iOS versus Android, but smart TVs come with their own software, and choosing the right one is crucial. After all, a smart TV’s OS is the portal you navigate to access streaming apps, picture settings, and inputs.

You shouldn’t have any problems finding your favourite streaming apps on any of these common operating systems, but we recommend doing some quick Google searches of your favourite apps to see which OSes support them. If you love a certain TV but it’s missing apps, don’t worry; you can always connect an Alexa Fire TV Stick 4K, Chromecast with Google TV, or Apple TV 4K.

Lead image credit: TCL

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At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.