4K TV Buying Guide – Everything you need to know about modern TVs

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4K TV Buying Guide Feature

Black Friday kicks off this week, so everyone is starting to really think about the big electronics they might want to buy. Purchasing something like a TV is a big investment, so getting a sizeable chunk of the price knocked off is always a good deal. But frenzied buying leads to mistakes, and the shiny allure of sales talk and in-store images could lead you to make a long-term purchase that you’ll very quickly regret. So if you’re looking to buy a TV this week (or in the foreseeable future), here are a few good things to keep in mind.

When looking for a TV in 2017, there are a few things you shouldn’t be compromising on right now: Display Type, Resolution, HDR and Local Dimming. TVs are meant to last for years, so you don’t want to purchase something without definitely important technology already set in. Some features are also ones you can ignore, because they’re so common that they’re past selling points. TVs touting features like Smart functionality are a dime a dozen, so if that’s front and centre in the marketing, start getting wary of what it’s trying to hide.

The core pillars are important, and the ones you should be scrutinising the most. So let’s break them down.

Display Type – LED vs. OLED (and everything in-between)

4K TV Buying Guide OLED

If you’re buying a TV, there are two types you’re going to come across. OLED will make up the most expensive purchasing decisions, and LG is really ahead of the competition when it comes to that. These panels have an array of LEDs that can each be controlled in terms of brightness individually. When a scene is meant to be dark, the pixels literally turn off – producing the deepest blacks you’re going to ever find. It’s leagues ahead of LED panels that require backlights, and can never truly get as dark. But OLED suffers when it comes to overall brightness, and concerns of image retention and input lag still crop up from time to time.

LED LCD TVs are far more common, and make up anything from top of the range to the lower end of the spectrum. They require the use of backlighting to produce brightness and reduce the amount of light on the screen, which can come in two forms (more on that later). LED LCD panels are incredibly advanced too, and have a lot of range when it comes to vibrant colours and extremely high brightness levels (very important for HDR). It helps too that they’re way, way cheaper than OLED at the moment, which definitely comes into the discussion.

Some companies, like Samsung recently, attempt to blur the line with their own marketing terms such as QLED. But even Samsung’s sets are still LEDs, albeit with much brighter ranges and more colour saturation. It’s still not, however, the same as OLED.

Resolution

Unlike choosing between OLED and LED LCD, resolution is not a question. It’s 2017, and you shouldn’t be looking to spend money on a TV that isn’t producing a 4K image. This will ensure your purchase lasts more than a few years as content for 4K becomes increasingly more common, and will ensure the best display possible for your modern consoles.

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

4K TV Buying Guide HDR

Probably more noticeable than just the bump from HD to 4K, HDR has quickly become the most talked about feature on modern TV sets. And with good reason. HDR isn’t just one setting but rather a collection of multiple. It encompasses a wider colour depth, with most HDR standards calling for at least a 10-bit depth. It also concerns brightness, with LED LCD sets needing to hit 1000 nits (OLED sets require only 600 nits) to be considered HDR-10 compliant. This helps bring details out in bright areas and lets dark areas stand out better in contrast, with the wider colour depth letting the picture seem far more vibrant.

Now when you’re looking for a TV, there’s going to be a lot of confusion when it comes to HDR. There are many, many different standards that each manufacturer is subscribing to when it suits them, making each of their individual marketing HDR terms dilute the waters even more. In short, ignore them. Look up specifications around maximum brightness and colour support, and ensure that they’re 1000 nits and 10-bit respectively. Standards such as HDR10 and Dolby Vision are important too (the latter being a stricter one to hit), so keep an eye out for that.

Many sets will say they’re HDR capable, and they are. But they’re not hitting the generally accepted standards for good HDR, so it’s easy to waste your money.

Local Dimming

4K TV Buying Guide Local Dimming

Part of a good HDR set is local dimming – a feature that allows your TV to dynamic light and darken certain sections of the set based on the image being displayed. This is crucial to making bright parts really shine past otherwise darker areas of the image, and is the crux of good HDR quality. This is where the LED and OLED difference is most apparent. Recall that OLED sets can individually turn off pixels when required. So they stand unrivalled in this space, giving you the best contrast between bright and dark scenes you’re going to find on the market. And hence the best HDR picture.

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Local Dimming on LED LCD sets is where things get murky. There are two core differences here: Edge-Lit and Full Array Dimming. Edge-lit is what you’re most likely going to find, especially on mid-range to high-range sets. Strips on the edges of the set light up to brighten up sectors on the TV, but reduce the number of individual zones that can be controlled. Large columns of light either horizontally or vertically on the screen are common, which can make some bright images seem washed out when they’re not meant to be.

Full-Array fixes this in a manner close to OLED. Instead of on the edge, the lighting array is placed behind the panel and has far more individual zones that can be independently controlled and altered. It’s still nowhere near as accurate as OLED, but it’s a big improvement over edge-lit. And should always be considered if possible.

Ok, so what TV do you even look at?

This is a lot to digest, I know. And if you aren’t excited by new advancement in display technology like I am, it’s an incredibly boring wall of text to read through. But it’s important to know these small details when making an expensive purchase like this, and even more important when rash decision making is thrown into the mix. But if you’re really just looking for a handful of sets to think about, the few below will be good options to sort through:

Money is no object

4K TV Buying Guide LG B7V

If keeping to a budget isn’t really a concern, then you’re probably going to be looking at LG’s OLED range. And despite the ridiculous escalation in price, you will be just as well served with some of their cheapest in the range. The LG B7V is easily the best OLED pick here, featuring the same performance and image quality as the higher C7 and coming in for a lot less. It’s got top of the class HDR support, and a high peak brightness for an OLED screen. The input lag is minimal too, which makes it perfect for video games. You’ll be looking to spend just shy of R50,000.00 in most cases, but it’ll be money well spent.

Talking about the mid-range

4K TV Buying Guide Samsung Q7C

LG dominated the OLED market, but it’s the mid-range LED LCD market that’s far more bustling. Here it’s a fight between Samsung, LG and Hisense (locally at least, since Vizio and Sony don’t really feature here at all). And in the regard, Samsung usually comes out on top. Their KS8000 was the top pick for HDR support last year in the middle price range, and their new QLED Q7C takes that spot this year. You’ll find it for around the same price (R19,999.00 on Black Friday) and get a slightly better image with the new LED technology. Beyond that it has a great peak brightness over 1000 nits, and deep colour to make all the details really pop. The Q9C might be alluring, but the Q7C does all you need it to.

4K TV Buying Guide HiSense M7000

Around the same price range you can also start looking at the HiSense M7000. It might not feature the same QLED technology (HiSense calls their own display a ULED one) but it hits all the same notes that you’d expect for the price. Hisense has a well established record of reliability and good picture quality, so if you’re finding it slightly cheaper than the Samsung equivalent you might be even better served.

Dipping your feet into HDR

4K TV Buying Guide Samsung MU series

But let’s be real – not everyone is looking to drop R20,000.00 on a TV. And there are thankfully decent options well below that, which serve similar purposes. Samsung and Hisense both have horses in this race too. Samsung’s new M-series takes the place below their QLED line, and mimics the performance of their Series 7 and 8 displays from last year. The Samsung MU6300 is a good HDR set with some lacking brightness and colour reproduction, but good response times and HDR quality that it’s still a strong choice. The MU7000 is slightly pricier and more readily available, but the MU6300 is a good choice if you can still find it.

4K TV Buying Guide HiSense M5000

Hisense features a similar range too with the same sorts of drawbacks, but is far easier to find on a shelf. The M5000 series feature HDR support and local dimming, but both lack the performance on their pricier M7000 sets. Still it’s a good decision for an entry-level HDR screen that will still serve you well in the coming years, and should be just as important a decision as the Samsung MU series.

These certainly aren’t the only sets out there warranting a purchase, and knowing about the many different aspects of a TV might help you make even better-informed decisions that the ones made here. But buying a TV in 2017 is a much more complicated process than just picking from the display. So make sure you know what you want, what you’re willing to spend and what is the most important feature for you before pulling out that credit card.

Last Updated: November 22, 2017

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff's a bastard.

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