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Picking a new TV

I get asked from time to time about what TV to buy or what to look for in a good TV. So here are some of my tips for buying a new TV.

What size TV to buy?

Thats a bit of a loaded question, but assuming you don't have any space limitation and are just looking for the best size for you viewing distance, I usually refer to a distance viewing chart such as the one below from the avsforums.

Source: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1491784/lightbox/post/23761864/id/280903

Source: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1491784/lightbox/post/23761864/id/280903

UHD 4K or HD 1080P | Which should you buy?

"ULTRA HD! BUY, BUY, BUY!"

Well, thats what all the signs in th big box stores will tell you and sure theres nothing wrong with wanting to have the latest and greatest. But theres a catch, most of your TV viewing is still only coming from content at 1080P, 1080i, 720P or less! So how do you get to see that 4K in all of its shining glory? Well today your options are limited almost entirely internet streaming to get TRUE 4K content from providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Sony. Ultra HD Bluray players at set to hit the market soon, but that also means you will have to buy the newer 4k Bluray discs to get the true 4K benefit. 

So what about all of those old DVDs, Blurays and your television boxes? In the meantime even if you can't have true 4K, most TV's come with a built-in upscaler that will take those lower resolution formats and scale them up to 4K. The picture will not be the impressive 4K look that actual 4K content can provide, but in many cases it will improve the overall look of your existing content.  

But wait, theres more! 4K isn't just a magic cure all. Believe it or not your eyes have an actual limitation to how they perceive detail, but your brain loves to play tricks on you to make you think something is better than it really is. Seriously...ask anyone who has watched a professionally calibrated TV (Shameless plug: check out Dandytechcal!) and then gone to the big box stores only to feel like every TV has some sort of problem, only to have a friend who has never seen a calibrated image comment on how "incredible" the picture quality looks. With 4K its important to remember, your primary benefit comes from two factors; the viewing distance and the TV size. The chart below provides a guideline for the size of a TV and your viewing distance for the optimal 4K viewing experience.

Source: http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/01/27/resolution_chart.jpg

Source: http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/01/27/resolution_chart.jpg

One important factor to keep in mind is that the Ultra High-Definition standard is about more than just resolution (AKA 4K). Its also about High Dynamic Range (HDR) and expanding the color gamut from Rec. 709 to Rec. 2020. Both HDR and Rec. 2020 are still future innovations that will take much more time to make it to the television in your house and are likely to hit the theater and professional display in the near term. 

Forget about contrast specifications!

Seriously, they are all insane to convince you that you'll get a better picture. And by the way, turn off "enhanced contrast" settings. All its doing to skewing the accurate colors to make this "enhancement". A good calibration will do much more for the picture than most of these advanced modes.

Turn off "VIVID" or "Showroom" mode.

Most TVs that you see in the store are setup to do one thing; grab you attention by being the brightest and most colorful display you see. Unfortunately that is also the least accurate mode and the worst for picture quality. So when you looking at a TV, grab the remote or ask the salesperson to change the picture mode to cinema which is often dimmer because its intended for movie watching but it is also usually the most accurate  mode. Its also a good idea to check out the "normal" mode as well. Just make sure you do the same for every set your looking at. 

The Grass is not nuclear green!

Make sure you get a good chance to view some natural test patterns. Grass is a great example of something that should look green like grass, not like a nuclear glow. The sky should be blueish, not as blue as stained glass. 

Turn off the Soap Effect!

Are you watching a movie as a demo and it looks like a daytime TV soap opera? Thats a setting in the TV that creates a smoothing effect for motion. Its about as unnatural for film as it is for TV. If you like the effect somewhat and actually don't want to turn it off, consider turning it down to "low" or "minimal". 

Look for calibration features.

Most good display panels are married to some enhanced features that would allow a skilled calibrator to tune the picture of your set to be as accurate as possible. Features to look for would be 2-point greyscale adjustments, Gamma adjustments and in higher end sets; color management systems (CMS).


Blu-ray Players

Buy Big Name Brands!

It inevitably happens that I run into someone who has a problem and can't figure out why they can't play newer or certain blu-ray movies. Usually its all of about 2 seconds for me to find out that they purchased an off brand player. What happens is that the off brands never update the firmware for their blu-ray players which means that as newer discs come out, they can become incompatible with outdated players. My advice is to buy the big name brands like Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Sharp or Oppo.

Know what you need.

Blu-ray players come with a lot of different options for connecting to your setup. For most people there are two important connections. All blu-ray players will have at least one "HDMI" connection, and for about 90% of people that will be enough. But if you have a separate audio amplifier capable of 7.1 channel surround sound, you will either need to cable the blu-ray player through the receiver, or in some cases where the receiver isn't 3D or 4K compatible you will need a blu-ray player with two HDMI outputs. If your receiver is a 5.1 channel setup, then an Optical output connection and one HDMI port will work just fine.

Wifi capable or included?

If your looking for a blu-ray player that includes web based video streaming services like Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime an Hulu Plus, then it needs a connection to the internet. Since most people will use WIFI its important to note a couple of things. Make sure that the particular player you are looking at already has the WIFI built in and not just as an option to add on. The add on WIFI cards are usually more expensive than just getting it built in. Check online reviews for other users impressions of how well the video streaming works on a particular player. Some players do a fine job at streaming, but some (often the lower priced models) tend to stop an buffer frequently. Lastly, if you have the option, most players have an option for a hardwire RJ45 connection.


Cables

So I'm sure if your like most people you've been to those big box stores and if you've bought a TV, you also got a sales pitch about buying some "special" $100 HDMI cable thats gold plated and is going to get you the "Best Picture" for your shiny new TV. If you actually bought that cable, I'm sorry to break the news to you but you've been taken. Not to say the cable won't work, but its realistically no better than a $5 HDMI cable.

Why, you ask?

Well its all because modern connections between TV's and other components are typically a digital connection, which means all it transmits are 1's and 0's. As long as it isn't losing any of those 1's or 0's, it's getting the same picture no matter the cable type. 

So what should you be looking for?

Well, with HDMI there are several specifications. Most of which are fairly backwards comparable. The latest is HDMI 1.4, which is really designed with new Ultra HD 4K TV's in mind. For everything else HDMI 1.3 will work Jim dandy!

Where do you get a good cable without getting ripped off?

My #1 goto place for cables is without a doubt Monoprice.com! They have great cables (and a lot of other things too) for just about anything at absolutely great prices!

If your looking for a basic cable that will work great, the basic HDMI's will work just fine.

If you need something really flexible or even easy to manage, the RedMere HDMI's will work great, but at a slightly higher cost. Still nowhere near that $100 cable.

(It is important to note that RedMere cables are an "active" cable, and both ends are labeled. You will need to make sure the end labeled "TV" is plugged into the TV and the "Source" side is plugged  into your Blu-ray player, Media Extender, AppleTV, Roku, Xbox, Playstation, Etc.)

What about analog cables for older type connections?

Older analog connections are still used a lot in some cases, whether you have old tape players, or even some older DVD players and in some cases "audiophiles" prefer analog connections. In the case of analog, then yes a nicer cable is preferred. Gold connectors and cleaner copper with a larger gauge can help. But you still don't have to spend $100 to get a good cable. If you are using a standard Red/White 2 cable connection for basic audio and have an optical audio output/input as an option, then consider using that instead. 

The moral of the story is...don't overspend on cables!


Screen Cleaning

Whether its dust or a kid that has finger painted all over you TV, cleaning a display becomes a necessity eventually. The question really is, what should you use? Head over to the big box stores and you can find a litany of products that are "designed for" your TV. Prices vary a little, but the results are a mixed bag. The answer I found was actually something my wife has been using for years! Shaklee's Basic H2 organic cleaning concentrate is a great all purpose cleaner that happens to also do a great job of cleaning displays. I've had the dreaded streaks leftover by other display cleaners, where Basic H2 leaves none. Just follow the directions on the amount of water to add, mix well, spray directly on a microfiber cloth and clean away.

Basic H2 comes in a concentrated bottle of cleaner that will make around 48 gallons of actual cleaner for you to use, so feel free to use it for more than just your TV!


DIY Calibration

If you wish to spend a little bit of money to get better picture and sound from your new TV, then I highly recommend the Disney World of Wonder Calibration discs. It has some great explanations of what each adjustment will do and includes a blue filter for use with the set. While this is not an ISF level calibration, it will certainly help improve your picture quality.


Professional Calibration

Want the absolute best possible picture quality from your TV? Then a professional ISF level calibration is what you need. An ISF calibration uses a specific set of test patterns, a sensor and a computer to measure and set your TVs, color gamut, luminance, gamma, grayscale to accurately display a picture the way a director intended it to look. Most professional calibrations however will run you anywhere from $300-$500 depending on the settings you TV has.

If you're interested in having your TV professionally calibrated check out my professional services page for display calibrations and submit a request if you are interested.