Thanks to new LCD and OLED panel technology, high-end televisions can display wider color gamuts and finer gradients of light and dark than before. Standard video was built around the limitations of older televisions, intentionally using a set range of color and light information in the signal.
HDR breaks those limitations and uses expanded ranges with finer values between them. Basically, this means HDR displays can produce more colors and more shades of gray or, rather, luminance values than standard dynamic range displays. HDR is still a developing technology, and it's easy to be confused by it. HDR 10 is an open platform that uses bit color values.
Dolby Vision is a closed standard used by Dolby, which supports bit color and determines ranges in the signal it provides to a display on the fly, based on the display itself and the needs of the scene. Televisions that support Dolby Vision will note so on their packaging. We'll see how they are adopted in the future.
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Whether one standard is better than the other is difficult to determine at this point; HDR 10 uses more concrete values and is easier to technically evaluate, but Dolby Vision is designed to specifically fit the needs and limits of whatever television you use. No matter which you use, HDR-capable televisions can produce a better picture than TVs that don't support the wider color gamuts or increased range of luminance information.
This doesn't necessarily mean the prices for the current models will drop quickly, though. New TVs don't usually hit shelves until spring, so you're looking at a solid three or four months where you know what new TVs are coming out. If you can find deep discounts for the previous year's models in January, and you know they're good performers based on our reviews, you should go for them.
Keep an eye out for sales around big sports events like the Super Bowl, or when football season is just starting. You might be able to find price cuts of a few hundred dollars or more. Like all sales, pay attention to which models are on sale; different tiers and series of TVs can have wildly different performance. Huge price slashes on Black Friday often promote budget or midrange televisions with seemingly big discounts, but their pictures might not be nearly as good as higher-end models. Check the model numbers against the reviews for a good sense of whether the discount you see is worthwhile.
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It could be a steal, or it could be a disappointment. Performance among budget TVs varies wildly, and trends toward the mediocre. You'll find a few very good deals, like the TCL P-series that manages to combine excellent picture quality with a low price. You'll also find a sea of cheap TVs that don't measure up. Don't count on big names to be reliably high-quality in their budget lines, either.
While companies like LG, Samsung, and Sony can make some incredible flagship TVs, their inexpensive models generally aren't any better than baseline models from more budget-centric brands like Element, Hisense, and TCL—and they're usually a bit more expensive. As always, our reviews and the picture quality tests we perform can help you find a screen that doesn't trade quality for price. Plasma TVs were the only flat-panel models available when they were first introduced more than a decade ago.
They're now a dead category, and you won't see a major television manufacturer offering a new plasma television any time soon. LCD panels themselves aren't lit, so they need to be illuminated. There are further differences in the various designs. LED TVs can be either edge-lit or backlit.
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Edge-lit TVs light up their screens with arrays of LEDs along the edges of the panels, allowing the set to be thin and light. Backlit TVs use a large array of LEDs directly behind the panel, making the screen a little thicker, but allowing it to more evenly illuminate the panel and, for high-end screens, adjust individual LEDs to enhance black levels in scenes. Very good edge-lighting systems can produce excellent pictures, though, and TV manufacturers are making backlit LED arrays smaller and thinner, so the distinction means less than it used to.
No matter the technology, an LED TV's thinness and brightness will be roughly proportional to its price range. OLED organic light-emitting diode displays are a rare and very expensive technology for TVs, and despite their name are drastically different from LED-backlit televisions.
In fact, they're closer to plasma screens in how they work. Each diode generates both color and light, like in plasma screens, but they can be much smaller and thinner than even LED-lit panels, and can produce some of the best black levels possible. A big TV that's too close can be just as uncomfortable to watch as a small one that's too far away, so don't assume that the biggest screen available is the best choice.
There are a few different rules of thumb regarding TV screen size based on your distance from it. Generally, the distance of your couch to your TV should be between 1. So if your couch is six feet away from your screen, you can comfortably watch a TV between 42 and 60 inches.
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If your couch is five feet away, a to inch screen should work well. If you want the absolute biggest picture possible, you should think about getting a projector. Most televisions have flat screens. Curved screens were a more prominent fad a few years ago, when several TV manufacturers Samsung in particular pushed curved televisions as premium products.
Some manufacturers claimed that curved TVs offered some form of visual benefit.
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This doesn't reflect in our testing. Performance-wise, there is no reason to opt for a curved television screen. Whereas a smaller curved gaming monitor can provide a more immersive viewing experience for a single viewer, a curved TV can make it harder for large groups to get consistent picture quality. Those looking at the screen from an off-center angle may experience distortion.
Design-wise, curved screens might look visually striking, but they certainly don't justify an increase in price over a similar flat TV. One of the biggest problems with narrowing your choices to a single TV is the sheer number of specs. To make your job a little easier, two of the biggies, refresh rate and contrast ratio, are safe to ignore. Refresh or response rate, the speed at which your TV's panel refreshes its image, is expressed in hertz 60Hz, Hz, Hz, Hz, or Hz. The theory is that a faster refresh rate results in a smoother image. But in reality, there are several reasons this simply isn't true, and it's not worth paying more for a set with a faster response rate.
In many cases, 60Hz will do just fine for films and Hz will be plenty for video games and sports though you should probably turn off those higher refresh rate modes when watching most shows and movies, or else you'll get that jarring soap opera effect. Contrast ratio, meanwhile, is the difference between the darkest black and the brightest white a panel can display. In theory, the highest contrast ratio possible is desirable since dark blacks and bright whites contribute to a high-quality picture. There isn't a standardized way for manufacturers to measure this spec, though, so Samsung's numbers aren't directly comparable with, say, Panasonic's or Sharp's numbers.
And, as you might imagine, vendors are vying to come up with the highest ratios, so they can charge more. Ignore any claims of contrast ratios in the millions or infinity; with the exception of LG's OLEDs which are the only TVs we've tested to actually produce an "infinite" contrast ratio with a perfect 0 black level , the best TVs tend to have just five-digit contrast ratios. Almost all TVs now offer web apps and built-in Wi-Fi. Many also integrate social network services like Facebook and Twitter, and many manufacturers offer entire downloadable app ecosystems with other programs and games you can use on your TV.
These apps are also available in most Blu-ray players, all major video game systems, and even on inexpensive media streaming devices, so they're not vital. But a friendly interface and the services you want to use available directly on your TV adds some convenience, and doesn't require you to buy any additional devices.
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Your ideal TV should provide enough video connections not only for now, but for the foreseeable future as well. The most important input is HDMI, which supports all major forms of digital video sources including Blu-ray players, game consoles, set-top boxes, cameras, camcorders, phones, tablets, and PCs through a single cable. It's the best way to send p video from your devices to your screen with one cable, and will be the main way you connect your main sources of entertainment to your TV.
It's the latest standard that supports 4K video at 60 frames per second; older HDMI ports can only handle 4K up to 30 frames per second, at best. As for cables, unless you have a huge home theater system and plan to run cables between devices at distances longer than 25 feet and that's being generous , brands and prices don't matter. We've compared the performance of high-end cables and inexpensive ones, and found that they all carry digital signals similarly.