The best thing to do is to go out and look at a TV so you can decide what they look like for yourself right? Well … NO! They set up those store displays to try and fool you! Often they will show you fake scenes with oversaturated colors displaying some landscapes, but no people with flesh and blood! They TVs are showing either static images or slowly panning ones. This way you won’t see all the horrible stutter and pixelation when you play action scenes!
So, let the expert reviewers do their job and analyze everything. Let them tell you all about it! This blog isn’t going to review TVs, although I’ll give you a few suggestions based on my own research and what I ended up purchasing. The main focus of this article is to compress down all the technospeak and give you a good overview of what you are looking at.
How to Compare TV Types
The most common TV is the LED TV. The first thing to know is that it’s really a misnomer. The image isn’t formed by LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). An LED TV is really an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TV with an LED backlight. Tricky marketing! What you want to look for is something called “full array dimming”. This means that the screen is divided up like a checker board, and each square gets its own LED backlight. This lets the TV change the brightness of specific sections of the screen to increase contrast, and the contrast ratio is one of the key features to look for on an LED screen. The more squares, the better. Stay far away from “edge backlighting”, where the backlight is on the edge of the display.
IPS vs VA vs OLED
LCD screens come in two main flavors, IPS or VA. There is a third, called TFT, but there aren’t too many of those around any more. TFT screens simply suck. Don’t bother, no matter how cheap they are. As for the other two, think of horizontal blinds vs vertical blinds. In fact, VA stands for Vertical Alignment. As electricity hits the liquid crystal, it bends and rotates, letting in light, much like how a set of window blinds lets in light.
IPS displays get great viewing angles. They are like horizontal blinds, so the light can be seem equally well from the sides. This is great if you have a wide living room and need to watch TV from the sidelines, but it kinda leaks a lot of light all over the screen and the contrast ratio’s aren’t as good.
VA screens are like vertical blinds. You can’t see the light through them very well from the sides, but when you close them, it’s really, really, dark. VA is the most common because people like the contrast and when you look at them in the store, you are always right in front. Don’t expect great viewing angles.
OLED, or Organic Light Emitting Diodes offer the best of both worlds. Instead of a backlight and an LCD window shade, each pixel has its own little LED. These tiny LEDs use organic compounds in order to work. They are very bright, can be seen from wide angles, and when they are off, they are totally black, meaning an infinite contrast! They also tend to update faster since you don’t have a backlight driver and moving and twisting LCD crystals. So, get one of these right? Well, the organic compounds wear out, and since the blue takes the most energy, it wears out fastest. If you play a video game that keeps a static image on the screen for long periods of time, it can wear out the brighter parts faster than the rest causing something called “burn-in”, much like the old CRTs, just not as bad. In practice, the chance of burn-in is pretty slight. The other factor is cost. Only LG makes TV sized OLED screens, and the manufacturing process is expensive. The cost of an OLED screen is often more than most people can afford. Sony also uses OLED screens, but they actually purchase the screen itself from LG.
Samsung offers another technology called QLED. And Vizio is now competing with it’s Quantum-dot displays. What’s this mess all about?
First, LEDs don’t actually come in white. They have blue LEDs with a phosphor that turns the blue light into white. The white light generated isn’t very pure and tends to vary. Now, quantum dots are chemically reactive to light and generate pure red or green light in return. So, since TVs use red, green, and blue pixels, we strip off the useless phosphor off the backlight and spray quantum dots all over. Then the LCD activates filters that determine how much of each light gets through. By using a large number of backlight LEDs, you can get a contrast ratio that compares very favorably with OLEDs, colors that are often as good or even more accurate, and much higher brightnesses. In a dark room, an OLED’s perfect blacks have a slight edge, but when the lights are on, the super bright quantum displays have an edge.
What to buy?
Most places will tell you about contrast ratios, refresh rates, and brightness (usually measured in nits), but won’t tell you how uniform that brightness is. Let’s compare two of the most popular bargain sets, the Vizio M series and the TCL P607. Both sets are 4K/HDR Smart TVs with VA screens and a similar price range and you’ll find varying views about which is better. The following information was compiled by looking at a number of sites. I encourage you to really look at all the reviews and ignore the “overall score” The problem with overall scores is you don’t know how important certain features are in determining those scores.
Click the pictures below for more information and purchase options!
Pros: nice uniform grey levels, uniform black levels, high color accuracy, great HDR color and Dolby Vision, great brightness for the price range (around $500 for a 50 inch), flicker-free image thanks to high frequency backlight, clear motion thanks to black frame insertion (BFI), stutter and judder compensation (especially important for 24Hz movies), HLG support (broadcast HDR standard)
Cons: local dimming not as good as the TCL, mediocre reflection resistance, poor upscaling of low-res content, only 1 of the HDMI ports supports full HDMI 2.0 bandwidth and ARC audio.
Overview: The Vizio is kinda odd in that the 2017 model doesn’t even have a tuner. Instead, everything is streamed through its built-in Chromecast interface with a “WatchFree” (branded PlutoTV) taking the place of a tuner. Even the on-board “apps” are actually cloud stored Chromecast apps! The 4K and HDR are brilliant with smooth motion and no flicker or stutter. The remote kinda bites but there are alternative remotes with things like a Netflix button. BTW, this TV gets a bad UI interface rating for how long it takes to navigate the menus to get to the YouTube app, but most people will likely start with YouTube on a phone and choose to cast the good stuff. The Netflix button on the alternate remote pulls up the Netflix screen in about 2 seconds. So again, careful of the reviews. If you compare Netflix load times instead of YouTube, this is a winner. if you watch a lot of 4K/HDR movies and like to stream everything, this does an amazing job. If you have a lot of old SD content that you watch or need on-air stations, then this is a bad choice.
Pros: Great contrast and local dimming, great brightness, decent reflection resistance, great upscaling of older content, nice wide color gamut, great price, good input selection, low latency for gaming
Cons: not the most uniform in blacks and greys, has some flicker, no black frame insertion of judder correction of 24Hz movies, sound quality of built-in speakers is lacking.
Overview: Most people rate the TCL P-Series as a better value than the Vizio M. This is often due to the built-in Roku, which some people may find easier than the Chromecast. Others note that the brightness is slightly higher and that the color spectrum a bit wider, but that negates the value of smoother motion and a flicker-free screen. Note that this model is ad-free, but not all TCL TVs are so lucky! Some will stick a big ad that takes up about 1/3 of the screen in that fancy main menu. Beware!
I get migraines from flicker so I had to pick the Vizio. Plus, the built-in Chromecast fits nicer into the Google Smart-Home ecosystem that we’re building here. The TCL uses Intel’s Miracast for Casting rather than Google’s Chromecast. Of course, you can plug in an external Chromecast into the TCL and plug in a Roku box into the Vizio. And personally, I’m not a big Roku fan. The Roku you have apps and an app store while the Vizio is totally cloud based and based on open standards.
I’d also like to mention that to top either of these two TVs, you are going to need to spend about double in order to get a better picture. TCL and Vizio M series are the two GEMs. Research whatever you buy!
Want more comparisons? How about the high-end brands? Leave your questions and suggestions in the space below and I’ll update this article or add new ones. Also stay tuned for the next article where we explore how to start controlling everything you own from your smartphone, and later, with just your voice alone!