What to look for in a TV on Black Friday?
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You’ve circled Black Friday on your calendar to buy your next television and all things being equal will likely get a very good TV at a very good price. No better way you can think of to binge on all that fresh new streaming content.
Some of the deepest discounts come from lesser-known brands, but you’ll also find relative bargains among the manufacturers you’re most familiar with.
Either way, the basics of TV buying largely remain the same, and they boil down to factors that have always been critical: budget, picture quality, and screen size, as well as lesser considerations, such as their built-in apps or whether you can control the TV with your voice.
Among the questions you're asking:
How big a screen do I need?
The answer ties directly to the dimensions of the room you’ll be putting the TV in, and its purpose. Whether it's the centerpiece of your home theater, a spare or heading for a dorm will impact that decision. Another factor, of course, is your budget.
But, assuming space and budget are no object, go as big as you can, 55 inches as a minimum, though you’ll end up thanking us if you choose 65 inches or more.
For a rough idea, Samsung recommends investing in a screen size that is half of your viewing distance (in inches). In other words, a 60-inch TV if you sit about 10 feet from the screen.
If you do have to “squeeze” a TV into a cabinet, remember, in measuring dimensions, that you’ll need an inch or two on both sides of the TV to comfortably get to HDMI ports and other connectors.
Is 4K the way to go?
In a word, yes. 4K TVs, sometimes written out as 4K Ultra High Definition or Ultra HD, are now pretty much mainstream. 4K has four times (3840 x 2160) the resolution or picture sharpness of full high definition (1080p) or Full HD TVs.
That higher resolution makes it possible, for example, to sit closer to a 4K TV than an HDTV. If you plan to play 4K games or watch 4K videos on Netflix, Amazon, Apple, via your TV provider, or on a 4K Blu-ray, that might be a consideration.
The truth is, HD screens still look perfectly fine to most consumers, and the sharpness and clarity that you’ll notice on a larger 4K TV are far less visible on smaller screen TVs meaning you can save money if you don't need a gigantic TV.
“It’s not a myth. The added detail in the 4K picture can’t really be appreciated on a small screen,” says Phillip Swann, who publishes the website The TV Answer Man!
Still, there’s not a ton of 4K content to watch from the broadcast networks, though you do have a few more choices coming at you from streaming services.
Those caveats aside, 4K is the way to go at least for those larger screens, and it can't hurt even on a smaller display, especially since you're no longer breaking the bank to own one. And for sure, the supply of 4K content will continue to increase.
What about 8K?
You can safely avoid this next-generation format for now, which promises four times the number of pixels of 4K. If you think there isn’t an abundance of 4K content to watch, 8K fare is virtually non-existent, save for a few thousand videos on YouTube and Vimeo. And while a few 8K models currently exist – Samsung has even dropped the price on a 65-inch Class Q900 8K Smart TV by about two-grand to around $3,000 – most of you shouldn’t even entertain buying an 8K TV for at least another year of two, if then.
What about HDR?
Many 4K TVs now come with some flavor of HDR, an industry buzz term short for high dynamic range, and yes, you’re going to want it. The promise is greater contrast and a more expansive color palette – or, as Best Buy puts it, offering the viewer a bigger box of crayons.
But the consumer electronics industry is famous for format battles that serve only to confuse consumers. Thus, we have several HDR variants, notably HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma). 4K TVs can support more than one of these variants.
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Geeks and reviewers may argue about which version at this point is superior, but it’s best not to get bogged down in such details. Besides, to fully exploit HDR, you’ll need to be watching compatible content, and have a TV with adequate brightness levels (expressed in "nits.")
How many HDMI ports should it have?
As many as possible, but three is likely the minimum on all but the cheapest TVs. Most state-of-the-art TVs adhere to the HDMI 2.0 standard. But as is frustratingly often the case in tech a new standard, HDMI 2.1, is emerging. It’s not a big deal now, but could be in the future when more gaming consoles and other gear take advantage of the extra bandwidth and other features made possible by the newer standard.
OLED or LCD?
The consensus among industry experts is that OLED screens are superior to their more common LCD (or LED)-type counterparts, the quality of which varies quite a bit. But be prepared to pay since OLED is also way more expensive. It goes without saying that If at all possible, look at the TV screen you're considering before you buy it. That's not always possible if you’re taking advantage of what looks to be a sweet online deal.
Smart TV or dedicated streaming device?
What makes a TV “smart?” In short, the built-in apps and internet connectivity that lets you stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube, among other choices, without you having to plug in a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, AppleTV, Chromecast, or some other set-top box or HDMI stick. There's a good chance the TV you buy will be marketed as smart anyway, even if that wasn't the purchasing driver.
But set-top boxes and sticks can inexpensively make any TV smart or smarter, supplying, or supplementing in many cases, the 4K-capable apps that the TV you chose may not have. (There's sure to be overlap on the apps as well.)
If you're a fan of Roku but don't want an extra streaming box or stick, you can buy a dedicated Roku TV, from brands that include TCL, Sharp, Hisense and Hitachi. Roku promises software updates and a simple remote control.
Amazon has taken a similar approach with the dedicated Fire TV Edition televisions available from Insignia or Toshiba. These feature a voice remote with Alexa, with the added bonus of being able to control lights, locks and other smart home products.
Not to be outdone, Google is pushing Android TV with the Google Assistant, available from such manufacturers as Sony, Hisense, Nvidia, Philips and Sharp.
Am I really getting a Black Friday bargain?
That's difficult to say, since the quality of the TV you’re buying and the price you pay can vary so much and depends on all the aforementioned features. As a rule of thumb, the old cliché about getting what you pay for applies.
During the holidays, "companies such as Insignia, Seiki, Element, Haier and Sceptre often advertise TVs at prices far lower than comparably-sized sets from name-brand manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and LG,” Swann says. If you're buying a TV larger than 40 inches, he recommends sticking with “tried-and-true TV manufacturers (that) have devoted years developing a reputation for reliability and quality and, consequently, are more likely to invest the extra time and money to ensure that the set is top-shelf.” But he adds that a lesser-known brand can manufacture a very good TV as well, and many do.
“Before buying, read what customers and reviewers are saying about the no-name brand set," he said. "If it appears that people are mostly positive about it, then go ahead and buy it. You’ll save some money.”
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