The Techies Guide to TVs 2020 is a companion to our Dummies Guide to TVs 2020 and deep dives into TV tech and terms to help you select from the vast morass of marketing hype.
Now before all the technophiles start asking about edge-lit, local dimming, upscaling, Delta E, DCI-P3, nits, cd/m2, G-T-G response, WebOS, Tizen and more there is something as too much information – this is usually part of our reviews.
I am not sure we can ever consider The Techies Guide to TVs 2020 complete as marketing experts make up new terms so if you think we need to cover more let us know.
The Techies Guide to TVs 2020 – applies to 4K, 16:9 flat panel TV only
Resolution: 4K is standard – is it time to look at 8K?
Size: 65″ is standard – go bigger or smaller?
Do you need a smart TV: Will you stream Netflix et al. or want to run apps?
Sound: Does it sound good enough, or will you need a soundbar?
Remote control: Is it easy to use or way to complex? To that, we add voice control.
Connections: HDMI, eARC, SPDIF, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and more. What do you need?
Power use. Some TVs chew more than a four 100W lightbulbs!
1. Type of TV panels
There are currently only two types of consumer panels. LCD and OLED, but there are a few variations.
Panels are typically VA (Samsung like this type and call it PLS) and IPS (the majority of lower-cost Chinese panels use this).
VA (Vertically Aligned) has better picture quality, higher contrast (often up to 3000:1 but the trade-off is a reduced 20° viewing angle. To increase off-angle viewing (called ultra-wide-angle), some use a Fresnel lens (like in a lighthouse) layer to bend light, but it reduces contrast to IPS levels at best.
ISP (In-plane-switching) has nearly twice the viewing angle at 36° (when it loses 50% brightness) but the trade-off is contrast at 1000-1500:1. Also, IPS can suffer from a lack of black uniformity.
LCD cannot produce higher contrast levels – the difference between pure black or pure white – because it uses an LCD gate to block backlight, and there is always leakage. OLED uses self-emissive pixels – on or off.
There are lots of different LCD screens that account for picture image quality and cost differences. From lower-cost to higher-cost (based on 65″ panel):
Edge-lit: The TV is backlit by blue LEDs along one edge – there are no local dimming zones. Panel cost is about US$250-270.
Direct-lit: Still edge-lit but uses fibreoptics to channel blue light to a small number of local dimming zones (<30). Panel cost is about US$340
FALD (FULL ARRAY LOCAL DIMMING) uses a greater number of LEDs – zones – as a backlight (could be 30 to 100s). Panel cost is about US$500 (depends on the number of zones)
Dual Cell LED/LCD Edge-lit (Hisense’s new 65SX – Edge-lit but from 1-2 million micro-zones). Panel cost is about US$650-800
Mini/Micro LED/LCD backlight – like FALD but could be thousands of zones and not yet mainstream. Panel cost is about US$500-1000
All low-cost TVs are IPS, Edge-lit, standard dynamic range (SDR). Frankly, there is little between them all except the race to the bottom on price! Don’t forget that all you need to add is an inexpensive tuner, picture electronics, amp/speakers and power supply. This segment represents 70% of the Australian market. If you get five years of life, you are lucky.
Quantum Dot (QD) is also known as Samsung QLED, Hisense ULED, LG NanoCell, and Sony Tri-luminous to use just a few recent marketing terms. Well, it is just a fancy term for an overlay of different colour wavelength nanoparticles on any of the above LCD type that gives better colours. However, QD requires a higher brightness and contrast screen to make colours really pop. It adds about US$100 to a panel cost. This segment is fast growing to 20% of the market.
So, when a manufacturer has several QD price levels, you can assume that it uses the cheapest to the more expensive panel.
Ergo, the best LCD TV will be a FALD with Quantum Dot, 5000:1 or greater contrast and these can support Dolby Vision (or Samsung’s HDR10+)
OLED or specifically WOLED
Until recently LG supplied most of the OLED panels to Sony, Panasonic, Hisense and other OLED TV brands. Its panels are at least Gen 8.5, and there is no company offering that quality.
However, Chinese companies like CSOT (TCL), BOE, AU Optronics, Innolux, JOLED, Royole (Huawei) and more are ramping up OLED TV panel production. The catch 22 is that these are invariably Gen 4-6. Put LG, and these side-by-side and LG stands out. So, OLED ain’t OLED anymore, and some pretty woeful cheap OLED TVs are coming.
LG uses WOLED-CF that uses four white OLED subpixels with colour filters on top (W+RBG). These panels cost between USD$800-1000 and account for about 10% of the market.
Because each 4K dot is a pure white ‘light bulb’ OLED can create pure black (light off – 0 cd/m2) and pure white (light on) or anywhere in between giving it an infinite ∞:1 contrast.
OLED produces the absolute best picture and handles all forms of HDR. But it is not quite as bright as LCD. It is best where you have reasonable ambient light control. Having said that some 2020 models are rivalling LCD brightness.
Again, there are too many marketing definitions and too many willing certifiers for a price! Colours relate to what we can see (colour range) and depend on colour-depth (8-bit, 10-bit and 12-bit), luminosity range (SDR-HDR) and Colour Volume is the “Colour Gamut” + the “Dynamic/Luminosity Range”.
Now 8-bit colour is 16.7 million colours and tones. 10-bit colour is over 1.07 billion colours and tones. No TV can achieve 100% of the 1 billion colours. For example,
DCI-P3 is one measurement standard based on Hollywood movies producers. It uses about 45.5% of the available colour spectrum. The best OLED and QLED panels achieve about 90% of this and earn the Ultra HD Alliance (UHDA), Ultra HD Premium certification. This relates to a 10-bit screen capable of over one billion colours (that we can’t see that anyway). OLED still wins because of its pure blacks and whites.
Some TVs claim 100% colour volume but do not specify brightness etc. Take these claims with a grain of salt. At present, the best standard to use for movies is DCI-P3.
If you want to deep delve into colour, AVSForum has a good article here.
Motion Blur and Refresh rate
Motion blur is the softening of the image when an object, or the entire screen, is in motion.
Most panels are native 50/60Hz refresh (number of screen refreshes per second). It is the same as your electricity – Australia is 230V/50Hz, so the base is 50 (PAL), not 60Hz (NTSC)
Australian SDR TV transmits at 24/50Hz. US TV is 30/60Hz. No matter – manufactures use the US terminology as it sounds higher.
TVs often quote ‘made-up’ rates. LG TruMotion, Samsung Motion Rate, Sony Motionflow etc.
Cheap TVs use black frame insertion (BFI) to call a 60Hz panel 120Hz. Some use two/three BFIs and claim 180/240Hz. Not good – this is commonly known as the soap opera effect. Turn it off except where the content can accommodate it.
Better TVs start with a more expensive 100/120Hz panel and use frame interpolation (AI) to estimate what the frame insertion content should be using the last frame and the next. These are advertised as 200/240Hz.
QD makers make a big thing about OLED image burn-in issues. The short answer is that it is not an issue due to screen savers. The long answer is that burn-in can happen if the image is static for a long time.
Design is a matter of personal taste. TVs are big, black slabs when turned off – a dominant feature of your lounge room.
It is not the most important issue but 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. But decorative TVs often have trade-offs in specifications.
Tech issues here are additional electricity costs, any subscriptions for art and media content and decorative TVs may have a price penalty.
3. Where do you watch TV: Straight on or off to the side? Wall or pedestal mount?
Most of the time, you are going to sit on the couch or lounge chair at about 2-3 metres from the TV.
Most LCD TVs wrongly quote 178° vertical and horizontal views few get more than 115°. 0° is straight on, and 25° is off to one side – that is 115°. OLED can get 140°.
So, 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 kitchen, lounge dining and TV area. If you are out of the sweet spot, you will likely see a massive colour shift and distortion.
Here OLED shines – you can be way off-angle, and it still has acceptable colour and image. Some QLED TVs have a Fresnel lens that bends light to give a wider viewing angle, but these perform no better than an IPS LCD.
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?
My preference is a wall mount where the middle of the screen is slightly above seated eye height. But that can create issues with 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.
Plus, you need to buy a strong wall mount and may have to pay for professional installation. Genuine mounts are typically a few hundred dollars. These are best as they have the correct mounting points or special hardware. Third-party mounts are cheaper and generally use a VESA 300/400mm plate.
Then you may need a sparky, chippy and plasterer to put it up. Make sure you leave room in any cable cavity to pull through new cables!
Once wall mounted you need to change the TVs speaker settings to ‘wall’ so the sound in ‘angled down a little.
And if you have a soundbar, you may want to wall mount that as well – more cost.
Pedestal mounts (sit on entertainment units) are easy, but the bigger TVs now need quite a depth to be stable. For example, the new Hisense 65SX needs 400mm depth as its sub-woofer is part of the stand. Some lower-cost TVs have legs up to 600mm depth.
Many pedestal TVs sit flush on the entertainment unit, and some interfere with soundbars. Some only have a centre pedestal and larger base. What works for your location?
4. What do you watch: Free-to-air (FTA) TV, sport, movies or games?
What you watch dictates what type of TV you need.
For example, if all you ever watch is FTA TV, then it is pretty undemanding FHD 1920×1080 (1K), standard dynamic range (SDR). Even if you stream from Netflix chances are that you also have an FHD/SDR account. Any LED/LCD 4K TV will handle undemanding viewers.
If you are a sport tragic, you may need to look at things like motion smoothing (not the same as panel refresh) to ensure that fast action does not have any motion tears. Some TVs have sports settings for audio and video that can handle the screen showing, say a bright field of grass for an extended period without losing details of the players.
If you are a movie lover, you will want to see HDR10/HDR10+ and the king of great pictures – Dolby Vision. HDR (to varying degrees) adds details in the dark or light areas that a normal TV would not show.
Gamers usually want extremely low screen response times (so that the image is only a few milliseconds from the reality). 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 the colours look real?
Retail stores use at least two tricks to show off TVs. You ask why it does not look as good at home.
First, the ‘demo’ mode setting (all manufactures have this) drives the TV panel to its limits for colour, brightness, and contrast. If you used this mode all the time, it could damage your TV.
Second is the demo content. Instead of real-world free-to-air 1K upscaled content, it is a demo reel of extremely well designed and produced 4K content. This accentuates the positive and eliminates the negative. For example, the content will never place primary colours (RGB) against secondary manufactured colours. It will never have content that needs lots of HDR (all dark and light areas are minimal). And sound frequency response is boosted for bass and mid (warm and sweet)
And there is often a trick with overhead showroom lighting to remove the colour impact of fluorescent, halogen, LED or sodium warehouse lights.
Get the picture – if only you could.
Do the colours match real-world ones? Is Coke can or Netflix logo the right red? Look particularly at the colour of the grass or the newsreader’s skin tone. Does it look real?
Try to see real FTA TV (or any standard 1080p DVD) and ask, nay demand, the salesperson to turn off demo mode (it is easy – either a factory reset, or you will find display mode under the ‘settings’ icon).
For lower-cost TVs, the salesman will not do a damned thing. But if you are spending good money, demand it or go elsewhere.
6. HDR, HDR10, HDR10+ or Dolby Vision: Or are you happy with standard dynamic (SDR) range?
Low-cost TVs are SDR. They are fine because FTA and DVDs are SDR too. If you do not know the difference, you won’t miss it.
HDR10, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision (from adequate to best) show progressively more details in the shadows, or bright areas that you never knew were there. If you have a Netflix 4K HDR account and 4K Blu-ray discs you will love the difference this makes.
But there is a lot of difference.
SDR is 8-bit or 16.7m colours – no metadata
HDR10 is 10-bit colour (1.07 billion) 1000 nits max and static metadata sets the colours once at the beginning of the content.
HDR10+ is a Samsung invention, and it is also 10-bit but uses dynamic metadata to set the colours on a scene by scene basis.
Dolby Vision is 12-bit colour (68.7 billion) 4000-10000 cd/m2 and uses dynamic metadata and a Dolby Vision chip to set colours on a frame-by-frame basis.
There is also ‘Calibrated for Netflix’ that uses Netflix metadata to produce the best possible image on a panel.
Let’s just say that Dolby Vision (when properly set up with a 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar) is pretty close to perfect for 4K content. Dolby Vision, as are the others, are backwards compatible. In other words, the TV will downscale to the panel’s capabilities. This is either via clipping (just cuts tones out that it can’t handle losing details) or remapping those tones (keeps details) to one it can handle (best).
7. Resolution: 4K is standard now, so when is it time to look at 8K?
FTA TV is 640×480 (307,200 pixels) in a 4:3 ratio – think all those old Black and white movies. These are usually ‘letter-box’ stretched and zoomed to fit a modern 16:9 TV. Upscaling past 1K is extremely difficult. This is why low-res images can look blurry or have indistinct edges on most TVs.
FTA Standard Definition (SD/SDR) has 1280×720 (921,600pixels) in a 16:9 format – this is most common TV broadcast
FTA Full High Definition (HD/SDR) has 1920 x 1080 (2,073,600 pixels) in 16:9
4K – Netflix, Stan, Foxtel IQ4 and 4K Blu-ray discs can stream content up to 3840 x 2160 (8,294,400 pixels) 4K/HDR in 16:9 format
8K – 7680 x 4320 (33,177,600 pixels) in 16:9 format.
Now even the most basic 4K TV has to ‘upscale’ lower content. Most just wrap the same coloured pixels around the original. So, to upscale 720/1080p to 4K, you need to wrap 9/4 pixels around the original. This can result in odd colours, jagged lines and a softer image.
Better TVs use AI to identify objects, lines and colour boundaries and predict the colour of the pixels to wrap around.
As for 8K – well, there is no commercial content and at present.
Due to massive file sizes, it is impossible to broadcast it over FTA or even most cable networks without severe compression. 8K has to upscale everything – sixteen times from 1K and four times from 4K. The 8K TVs we have seen so far seem to do a good job with 1K and 4K, but FTA SD/SDR TV is patchy.
Use a 10-15x magnifying glass to look at potential TVs to compare which may look a little brighter or sharper. Cheap upscaling will have jagged, pixelated edges on any line that crosses the screen.
But if you want a better TV look carefully at those lines. Are they smoother and are different adjacent colours well defined? That is AI at work.
8. Size: 65″ is now the biggest seller – go bigger or smaller?
How big should you go? As big as you can afford that will suit the room it will be in. But the catch 22 is panels over 75″ tend to be lower specified, and because of the manufacturing failure rate, they are more expensive.
Now as one that has had black and white and colour 16/28/32″ CRTs TVs and thought they were great; later moving to 42″ Plasma (around $10,000); and then to LCD and later OLED, the distance you need to sit away from a set is all about pixel size. If you got close to a CRT, you could see pixels. If you got too close to a 1K – ditto.
Well, the higher the resolution, the closer you can sit although there are limits to your eye’s field-of-view.
Let’s just say that the theoretical ‘optimal’ viewing distance for a 1K 65″ TV is 2.5m and for a 4K is 1.25m. It is even less for 8K. Conversely, you can sit further back – that increases your field-of-view so you can watch even bigger screens.
The most popular 4K TV size is 65″ (↑25 brands/models) followed by 55″ (↓21 and fast shrinking) and wait for it 75″ (↑19 and this segment is growing).
In part the move to 65″ is about the price. You can get the cheapest ones from about $899. By comparison, a 55″ is $699 and a 75″ is $1795.
9. Do you need a smart TV: Will you stream Netflix et al. or want to run apps?
Almost all TVs now are smart. That means you can get (subject to paying a subscription if required) Netflix, Prime, Stan, Foxtel Go, catch-up TV and much more.
Smart TV is solely about internet connection and apps to do things. So, you need a decent internet connection to stream. Conversely, a smart TV can be a dumb FTA TV too.
SD – 3Mbps (Megabits per second)
1K – 5Mbps
4K – 25Mbps
But you say, “Well I have a basic NBN plan – 25/2Mbps, so I should be able to get 4K streaming. Wrong!
NBN speeds vary depending on the time of day – these are the speeds to your router. Then your router converts this to 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi bands and shares it with every device on your home network. And finally, Wi-Fi is half-duplex so that NBN 25Mbps at best is 12Mbps.
We recommend that you try to use a full-duplex Ethernet cable to connect your smart TV to the router as it will get preference over Wi-Fi connections. Just a small warning – lower-cost smart TVs have only a few Megabytes of storage to ‘buffer’ that stream and will often ‘stutter’ as that buffer empties. Better TV’s have a few Gigabytes of memory.
Better TVs will have voice control and more apps like accessing Google Photos or Apple AirPlay 2.
As for operating systems (in order of apps and services)
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. Compare TVs by how easy it is to access these smart features. If you are into Netflix, what is the experience like?
10. Sound: Does it sound good enough, or will you need a soundbar. What about 3D sound like Dolby Atmos?
Sound accounts for 50% of the TV experience. TV sound is generally very poor.
Most low-cost TVs have two speakers (stereo 2.0) not much bigger than you find in a set of headphones, powered by a couple of cheap 5W amplifier chips. These focus on mid-range frequency response for clearer voice. So, forget any immersive experiences and ignore any claims of high-quality sound.
More expensive TVs will have 2.1 (stereo plus a sub-woofer for bass), 3.1 (adding a centre channel for clear voice) or some may have more speakers like tweeters and mid-range.
Our strongest advice is that any TV will benefit immensely from attaching even a low cost 2.1 soundbar via HDMI. 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 simply decode 3D sound metadata and downmix it to the TVs 2D speaker system.
Practical hint: If TV sound is important, you will need to increase your budget to get a soundbar. Listening in a TV showroom or warehouse will not duplicate your experience at home.
11. Remote control: Is it easy to use or way to complex? To that, we add voice control.
Most people buy a TV never having picked up the remote. It is your interface to the TV, so it needs to be clear and easy to use – and you are stuck with it for the life of the TV. Older people may need larger buttons or be intimidated by the dozens of buttons. Some TVs come with both a full and a simple remote.
Most only use the remote to turn on/off or change channels/sources. We mentioned LG has a unique on-screen cursor that is the easiest to use.
But remotes are also the way to use voice control. “OK Google, find me a Cary Grant movie on Netflix?” Some require you to push a button to ask Google, Alexa or Siri to do something. Some have a voice assistant built-in. Most smart TVs now can use voice assistance by adding a separate smart speaker.
Practical: Ask for a demo of the remote and see how easy it is to drive! Some remotes even allow you to speak commands.
12. 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.
But the cheaper ones will have lower speed connections. For example, most have HDMI 1.4 that only does 4K@30Hz and will not transmit uncompressed Dolby Vision/Atmos to the soundbar (you need HDMI 2.0 or 2.1 for that). Some have single-point Bluetooth meaning you cannot use two sets of BT headphones or a BT speaker.
Common connections include:
HDMI: Look for at least HDMI 2.0 for Dolby Vision/Atmos. Gamers will want 2.1
ARC or eARC: Look for eARC for Dolby Vision/Atmos
Bluetooth: ideally BT 5.0 multipoint to connect wireless headphones, keyboard, maybe a mouse, soundbar, etc
Gigabit Ethernet: Wired connection to the internet
USB-A: 3.0 is better
Wi-Fi: The best is Wi-Fi 5 AC dual-band 2.4 and 5Ghz (use 5Ghz for 4K streaming)
Older connectors like Optical, RCA and VGA are almost useless.
13. Power use
Peak electricity rates (mid-afternoon to late evening) vary around Australia from 35-50 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). TVs are like fridges or washing machines and must have an Australian Energy Star rating sticker.
As a rule (based on eight hours a day) the cost per year is (plus the amortisation of the purchase cost)
1-star – $350+
2-star – $300-350 (QLED TVs often fall here due to high brightness backlights)
3-star – $250-300
4-star – $175-200 (LG OLED generally falls in 4-5-star range)
5-star – $140-160 (Many edge-lit LCDs fall in this category)
6-star – $110-120 (Very few and these are likely to have lower brightness)
Smart TVs need to be left on idle and most only use a fraction of a watt for that.
GadgetGuy’s take – The Techies Guide to TVs 2020 – you may be a techie but buy what you need.
You may have heard the term using a Rolls Royce to do the shopping (or a sledgehammer to crack a nut).
There is no point in spending lots of money on TV if your main use FTA TV or occasional streaming. That is why 72% of sales in Australia are lower-cost, edge-lit TVs. Here you should 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’s going to cost more to buy and run. And consider at least a 5.1.2 soundbar
If you are a movie buff, then buy an OLED and a decent 7.1.4 soundbar and pay for a wall mount.
Let me tell you that until I worked at the AV industry price was my main driver. Now that I have tasted true Dolby Vision and Atmos from Netflix and 4K Blue-ray I can’t go back.
But it all comes down to budget. Buy the best you can afford.
Which TV should I buy?
The main brands are Samsung, LG, Sony and challenger brands like Hisense and TCL. Then there are the largely Chinese made like Akai, Bauhn, FFalcon, Teac, Philips, Linsar, Blaupunkt, Palsonic etc.
If you are still confused and just want some advice, here are our 65″ picks – and shop around for a better price:
OLED with Dolby Atmos/Vision and HDMI 2.1: LG OLED65CX smart TV RRP $5,399 (you may see it for around $4,495). Sony also has great OLEDs, but its 2020 models have been delayed.
Quantum Dot in a bright room: Samsung Q80T RRP $3,099 (or Q95T) – note these don’t have Dolby Vision but convert it to Samsung’s HDR10+.
Quantum Dot with Dolby Vision/Atmos: LG Nanocell 65NAN091TNA $2495 or Hisense 65Q8 RRP $2,299
Low-cost TV <$1000: For fear of sounding like a ‘TVphile’ you get what you pay for. Make sure you buy it from a brick and mortar store like JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, Bing Lee or Harvey Norman. Try to stick to the main brands to get a local warranty (buying a TV from an online store is never a good idea, especially when something goes wrong). Don’t fall for the trick of buying extended warranty – not worth the paper it is written on.
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