Dummies Guide to TVs 2020 – don’t buy anything until you read this

TV buyers guide

The Dummies Guide to TVs 2020 will help you understand what you should look for in a new television. TVs are long-term purchases; this guide is your best defence against the relentless sales hype.

Why do you need the Dummies Guide to TVs 2020? A lot has changed over the past few years. 4K is now standard. A 65″ TV is costs from $899 to over $5995. And there are so many made-up marketing terms that don’t always mean the same thing.

GadgetGuy asked Angus Jones, former marketing executive at LG Electronics Australia (so he knows all the tricks) and now Managing Editor of Small Business Answers (a GadgetGuy sister site aimed at small business advice and guides) to pen a few words. Angus wants to keep this ‘Dummies Guide to TVs 2020′ relatable to Joe and Jane Average’, and we have prepared a companion’ Technical Guide to TVs’ as well for those who want a little more detail!

Dummies Guide to TVs 2020
Angus Jones – Editor Small Business Answers

Dummies Guide to TVs 2020

Your checklist – factor in these points for any decision

  1. TV type: LCD or OLED?
  2. Design: How does the big black slab look in your home?
  3. Where do you watch TV: Straight on or off to the side? Wall or pedestal mount?
  4. What do you watch: Free-to-air (FTA) TV, sport, movies, or games?
  5. Colour, brightness, and contrast: Do the colours look real?
  6. SDR (Standard Dynamic Range), HDR (High Dynamic Range), HDR10, HDR10+ or Dolby Vision
  7. Resolution: 4K is standard – is it time to look at 8K?
  8. Size: 65″ is standard – go bigger or smaller?
  9. Do you need a smart TV: Will you stream Netflix et al. or want to run apps?
  10. Sound: Does it sound good enough, or will you need a soundbar?
  11. Remote control: Is it easy to use or way to complex? To that, we add voice control.
  12. Connections: HDMI, eARC, SPDIF, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more. What do you need?
  13. Power use. Some TVs chew more than a four 100W lightbulbs!
Dummies Guide to TVs 2020

The Dummies Guide to TVs empowers you to decide without getting buried in Excel spreadsheet comparisons.

1. Types of TV

There are only two types of TV panels – LCD and OLED. LCD uses LED backlighting, and with OLED each of the 4K pixels (8 million-plus) are tiny lights – self-emissive.

Note: We use 2K to describe 1920×1080 for convenience. 4K/8K is four/eight times that resolution.

If you have a big, open Aussie lounge with copious amounts of light coming in at all angles, LCD (especially Quantum Dot) can appear brighter. If you can control ambient light (curtains or no bright light), OLED is better.

In order of brightness and price

  • Edge-Lit LED/LCD (lit from the edge of the TV)
  • Direct-Lit LED/LCD (still edge-lit but has a small number of local dimming zones)
  • FALD (Full Array Local Dimming) – the best type of LED/LCD
Dummies Guide to TVs 2020
LED/LCD can be brighter can never achieve true 100% black or White like OLED

2. Design

TVs are big, black slabs when turned off – a dominant feature of your lounge room.

Will its materials, stand type or cable management, look good in your home – nothing is worse than cable spaghetti.

More expensive TVs can be pieces of art (Samsung Frame or LG OLED), display photo galleries (Google Photos) or have lovely screen savers with clocks and weather etc.

Dummies Guide to TVs 2020
May TVs now can act as a picture gallery – Samsung has some interesting lifestyle formats

3. Where do you watch TV: Straight on or off to the side? Wall or pedestal mount?

Imagine where your furniture is in relation to the TV. Not just chairs but everywhere you are likely to want to watch TV in your typical Aussie open plan area. If you are not in the sweet spot, you will see a massive colour shift and distortion.

Here OLED shines – it still has the same colour and crisp image when viewed from all angles.

LED/LCD loses colour and definition as you move off angle. OLED does not.

Practical hint: Stand at the same angle/distance you will watch when at home and compare how the different TVs look at that angle.

Pedestal or wall mount?

A wall mount is best and means the middle of the screen is slightly above seated eye height. Remember that you don’t want cables hanging down so you need to work out power, HDMI (could be up to four of these), TV aerial, and perhaps an Ethernet cable routing.

You may need a sparky, chippy and plasterer to put it up. If you have a soundbar, you may want to wall mount that as well.

Pedestal mounts (sit on entertainment units) are easy. Bigger TVs need a larger stand depth. Some sit flush on the entertainment unit and can interfere with soundbars. Some only have a centre pedestal and larger base. What works for your location?

You can actually watch 4K 65″ closer up (1.8m) as you don’t see the pixels

4. What do you watch: Free-to-air (FTA) TV, sport, movies or games?

What you watch dictates what type of TV you need.

  • FTA TV is pretty undemanding, so 4K UHD and standard dynamic range (SDR) is fine
  • Sport tragics need to look at things like motion smoothing to ensure that fast action does not have any motion tears.
  • Movie lovers want to see HDR/HDR10/HDR10+ and the king of great pictures – Dolby Vision. HDR adds details in the dark or light areas that a normal TV would not show.
  • Gamers want low screen response. If they have the new Xbox or PS5, then they will want HDMI 2.1 and real 120Hz or higher screen refresh, G-Sync and Free-sync.

5. Picture quality – colour, brightness and contrast: Do they look real?

Retail stores use at least two tricks to show off TVs. You ask why when you get it home, it does not look as good.

First, the ‘store demo’ mode setting (all manufactures have this) drives the TV panel to its limits for colour, brightness and contrast.

Second is the demo content. Instead of real-world free-to-air 1K content, it is a demo reel of extremely well designed and produced 4K content.

Practical hints:

Do the colours match real-world ones? Is the Coke can the right red?  Look particularly at the colour of the grass or the newsreader’s skin tone. Does it look real?

If you are spending good money demand demo mode be turned off or go elsewhere.

6. SDR, HDR, HDR10, HDR10+ or Dolby Vision

Low-cost TVs are SDR. If you do not know the difference, that is all you need.

HDR, HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision (from adequate to best) shows details in the shadows or bright areas that you never knew were there.

A Sony OLED promotion for its HDR10 (L) and Dolby Vision (R)

Dolby Vision (when properly set up with a 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar) is pretty close to perfect.

6. Resolution: 4K is standard now. Is it time to look at 8K?

4K TVs ‘upscale’ lower resolution content. Most wrap the same coloured pixels around the original. Better TVs use AI to identify objects, lines and colour boundaries and predict the pixel colour to wrap around.

The 8K TVs we have seen so far seem to do a good job, but it is not time to buy unless you have money to burn.

Practical hint:

Use a 10-15x magnifying glass to compare TVs. Which looks brighter or sharper? Cheap upscaling has jagged, pixelated edges on any line that crosses the screen.

7. Size: 65″ is now the biggest seller – go bigger or smaller?

Go as big as you can afford that will suit the room. You can get the cheapest TVs from about $899. By comparison, a 55″ is $699 and a 75″ is $1795.

8. Do you need a smart TV: Will you stream Netflix et al. or want to run apps?

Most TVs are smart, e.g. they plug into the internet. Subject to paying a subscription you can get Netflix, Prime, Stan, Foxtel Go, catch-up TV and much more.

As for operating systems (in descending order of apps and services)

  • Android TV: Sony, TCL
  • LG WebOS:  Great range of apps and streaming services, with an on-screen, easy navigate, ‘pink’ cursor
  • Samsung Tizen: Good range of apps and streaming services
  • Hisense VIDAA 3 or 4: Maturing but not as comprehensive as the above
  • Other: cheaper TVs may have a home-grown OS that have limited apps and services. It is less likely these will receive updates or security patches

Practical hint: Research or ask for a demo in-store and consider how you might benefit from these new features. 

9. Sound: Does it sound good enough, or will you need a soundbar.

Sound is 50% of the TV experience. TV sound is generally very poor.

Most TVs have two speakers (stereo 2.0) that  focus on clearer voice. Ignore any claims of high-quality sound. Any TV will immensely benefit from a low-cost 2.1 soundbar.

Bottom line – TV speaker sound is there for convenience – not sound fidelity.

Many TVs claim to have Dolby Atmos and DTS sound for immersive, blockbuster 3D (height) sound. Wrong! These TVs decode 3D sound metadata and downmix it to the TVs 2D speaker system.

This brings us to GadgetGuy’s separate Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos and DTS – read this before you buy a soundbar.

Dummies Guide to TVs 2020

Practical hint: If TV sound is important, get a soundbar.

10. Remote control: Is it easy to use or way to complex? To that, we add voice control.

It is your interface to the TV. It needs to be clear and easy to use. Older people may need larger buttons. Some TVs come with both a full and a simple remote.

Practical: Ask for a demo of the remote and see how easy it is to drive! Some remotes even allow you to speak commands.

11. Connections: HDMI, eARC, CEC, SPDIF, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB and more. What do you need to connect?

Assume all TVs have a basic range of necessary connections. For example, HDMI to connect to a soundbar or DVD/Blu-ray/Xbox/PS4/media centre.

For Dolby Vision and Atmos, you need

  • HDMI 2.0 or 2.1
  • eARC
  • Ethernet or Wi-Fi 5 AC for 4K streaming

12. Power use

TVs are like fridges or washing machines and must have an Australian Energy Star rating sticker. TVs will cost you about 5 cents per 100W per hour.

GadgetGuy’s take – Dummies Guide to TVs 2020 – buy what you need

There is no point in spending lots of money on TV if your main use FTA or occasional streaming. That is why 75% of sales in Australia are lower-cost, edge-lit TVs. Look at things like build quality, warranty, after-sales support and overall picture quality.

If you have a bright environment, then QLED may be brighter, but it is going to cost a little more.

If you are a movie buff, then buy an OLED, a decent soundbar and pay for a wall mount.

Which 2020 TV should I buy?

Main brands are Samsung, LG, Sony and challenger brands like Hisense and TCL. Then there are the Chinese no-names.

Here are our 65″ picks – shop around for a better price: