Tips for Buying a Smart TV

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  • The usage of television has been reduced in favor of Internet.
  • The Smart TV attempt to bring the Internet to the TV.
  • The 4K HDR TVs will be the standard for years to come.
  • The offer of apps is different in each manufacturer.

Tips for Buying a Smart TV

1: Do I need a TV or Smart TV?

Buying a Smart TV is an increasingly complicated decision. It is no longer enough to look good or fit in our living room. Now it is also necessary to be compatible with HDR content, which has a certain response time if we connect a console or computer, or integrate certain apps with the services we subscribe to Netflix, HBO, Facebook, Google, etc.

We must choose between curve and flat, the type of panel to determine the angle of view, as well as the type of control, Internet connection or USB inputs.

The Smart TV concept refers to interactive features. It is a feature that is not as important as it used to be. Of course, it is imperative that the TV has an Internet connection, but Smart TV content today can be easily achieved by other means. For example, all consoles play Netflix, and HBO Spain has confirmed that it will be available very soon on Xbox One and PS4. With a device like Chromecast (Analysis), which only costs € 35, it is possible to connect any TV to the Internet and send content and apps from the mobile or the computer.

Some Sony, Vizio and Sharp TVs already integrate Chromecast hardware inside, so you just need to use the Google Cast app to send content and run apps from your mobile.

By this, we mean that you do not have to buy a TV because of its Smart TV functions because they are easily replaceable. But once we know the characteristics that a TV should have, it is a good idea to check what features Smart TV has, to see if it offers the ones that interest us, or we will have to resort to an external device.

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2: IPS, OLED, flat, curved… and what about 3D?

The first decision we have to make when buying a Smart TV is the panel technology. This will allow us to make the first discards.

There are still some 1080p TVs in stores, but it is already a lapsed technology. The new content is being rolled in 4K. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO, and other platforms already offer content with 4K / Ultra HD resolution. The new PS4 Pro and Xbox One consoles have games and movies at this resolution, and the new Blu-ray 4k Ultra HD format takes months to sell.

In addition, the 4K Smart TVs are the only ones that offer HDR technology, which will be discussed below. The future is the 4K HDR binomial, so buy a TV of this type, if you do not want to regret it within a few months.

Are you interested in 3D cinema? It has been a domestic failure but you may like it, and there are spectacular Blu-ray 3D movies. Some 4K HDR TVs are also 3D. Check the specs if you have movies in this format.

Curved or flat panel? It is a matter of taste. The boom of the curved televisions happened last year. They are no longer a priority for manufacturers and there are fewer models in this format. If you like, you can buy it but they are not trending anymore. And repairs will cost more…

Tips for Buying a Smart TV

Also important is the manufacturing technology of the panel, as it greatly influences the price. The IPS panels are the most common. They guarantee the highest viewing angles (ideal for large families) but blacks are not very deep, they look more washed. The panels VA offer a better color but with lower viewing angles. The OLED panels are those that offer the highest image quality and are perfect for HDR, as each pixel can be switched on or off individually, but are quite expensive. Samsung has just released a technology called QLED, which, it claims, offers the quality of OLED at a much lower price.

Another aspect to keep in mind is the way the panel is illuminated. There are televisions that receive light from the back and full surface (Full-array Backlight). Others are lit from the edge (Edge-lit Backlight), so they are not so accurate when it comes to lighting the independent areas required by the HDR.

Finally, we must keep in mind that the new 4K telephones make the difference in large panels. Choose the largest screen size you can afford. You will thank him for years.

3: Connectors

Today the connectors of a television are as important as before was the remote control. Let us remember the essential:

WiFi 802.11ac: All modern TVs have WiFi, but only a few meet the 802.11ac protocol, which allows connecting in the band of 5 GHz, not to share the same channel with smartphones or home consoles. This way you can enjoy streaming even if there are other devices connected to the Internet. Highly recommend.

LAN cable connection: Some models allow you to connect to the router via cable. Every time is less common but if the TV has a LAN port, you can avoid the WiFi and the interference and loss of signal that it entails.

DLNA: This standard allows you to exchange files between your TV and computers, mobiles and other compatible devices. Use it to watch videos or photos, for example. Recommendable.

MHL: A technology of direct connection between the mobile and the TV, to send videos and other content.

Chromecast / Google Cast: As we have discussed, some Sony, Vizio and Sharp TVs already have a Chromecast inside them. Recommended.

Miracast: Alternative to Chromecast, popular in the USA. There are many devices and apps compatible with Miracast.

Bluetooth: More and smarter TVs include a Bluetooth connection, either to connect wireless headsets or gamepads to play games on models compatible with Android TV or similar technologies. Recommendable.

When talking about connectors, 4K Smart TVs come with HDMI 2.0 inputs, which are backward compatible with the previous ones. Today we connect from everything to TV, from consoles to Chromecast, players, etc., so they must include a minimum of three or four HDMI inputs. Also, a pair of USB connectors to read data or play video, and power devices such as Chromecast, or a miniPC Raspberry Pi. An interesting extra is an SD card reader.

The inputs composite, component and Scart video should exist only if you want to connect older enabled device. It is also quite common DisplayPort, a computer alternative to HDMI.

One more detail when choosing a smart TV is that it has a DVB-T2 decoder that is compatible with the new digital television that is to come, and that will offer us an image of higher quality and resolution.

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4: 4K HDR

The 4K televisions have been with us since 2012. They did not raise expectation, so the manufacturers concluded that today the resolution is not so important, what matters is the quality of the image. That is why in 2016 they released the 4K HDR technology. The 4K resolution, also called Ultra HD, offers four times more definition than 1080p, reaching 3840×2160 pixels. The tagline HDR refers to new information that is encoded in the video, which activates the TV lighting zones independently. This way you get whiter whites, darker blacks, and colors more similar to reality. Here you can see the difference between a simulated image without and with HDR:

Tips for Buying a Smart TV

There are three types of HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. HDR10 is the most popular and possibly the one that ends up being imposed because all manufacturers can implement it free. Dolby Vision is used in the cinema and is the one that offers the highest quality, as it regulates the HDR independently for each scene, while HDR10 uses the same light level throughout the film. But you have to pay a fee for use by manufacturers and producers. HLG is employed by some television networks such as the BBC and is a minority. The 4K TVs are compatible with one or more of these formats. Only LG TVs are compatible with all.

Platforms like Netflix, HBO or Amazon Prime Video already offer 4K HDR content, mainly HDR10. The Xbox One S and PS4 Pro consoles only support HDR10. The new Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD format uses HDR10 and/or Dolby Vision, depending on the movie.
Our advice is to buy a 4K HDR TV with HDR10 because it is the most compatible. If you also recognize Dolby Vision even better. HLG is not currently used in Spain.

Keep in mind that the 4K content is still low, and during the first few years 80% of the viewing time is certainly dedicated to 1080p content or less. So look for information in specialized forums and websites to make sure that the Smart TV you choose has a good 1080p to 4K rescaling algorithm.

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5: A new world of color

The 4K resolution and the HDR are not the only technological innovations of the current Smart TVs. 4K TVs manufactured in 2016 offer a wider color gamut (Wide Color Gamut or WCG), which conforms to the standard Rec.2020. This means they offer more colors and a greater chromatic gradation between each color. In contrast, the 4K telephones of 2014 and 2015 follow the standard REC 709 (less color range), and almost all use 8-bit panels.

There are 4K HDR TVs with 8-bit, 10-bit and 12-bit panels. It looks like a simple number, but the difference is huge. An 8-bit panel can only display 16.8 million colors with just 257 variations of each of the primary colors. However, a 10-bit panel displays more than a billion different colors with 1024 different values for each of the RGB colors, while a 12-bit panel reaches 4096 variants of the same color. In simple words, a 10-bit or 12-bit panel presents a much smoother gradation of the same color, which produces a more spectacular and real image, and the HDR offers more realism. On the left, you can see an 8-bit panel without HDR, and to the right a 12-bit HDR panel:

Tips for Buying a Smart TV

You will see that some TVs also carry the Ultra HD Premium label. It means that they meet the optimum quality standards set in a 90% DCI P3 color gamut, a maximum brightness of 1000 nits, and a black level of 0.05 nits. For OLED TVs the range varies between 500 and 0.0005 nits. Any TV that matches these values will offer an excellent luminance level with HDR. Lower values also work, but the image quality goes down. Look for this data in the specifications.

6: Beware of marketing

The technologies we are showing in this article are the standards, but then each brand puts its own names to make them sound more spectacular. HDR Pro, ULED, Crystal Color, refresh rate of 3000 Hz… It is pure marketing, so does not be overwhelmed and go to specifications or user forums to translate these terms. There are websites like Display Specifications where they show the actual specifications of the televisions.

7: Smart TV platform

The concept of Smart TV is implemented through software and an operating system. Depending on the software used by a certain TV and the agreements you have reached with the content companies, you will be able to access different apps and services. Many brands have several different Smart TV systems, so you have to check each model on your website.

Tips for Buying a Smart TV

There are different operating systems with exclusive functions:

Android TV: It is one of the most common, for example in Sony panels. Its main advantage is that it shares many apps with smartphones, although not all are available.

Web OS: one of the most versatile and powerful. It starts to be used in LG models.

Smart Hub and Tizen: Samsung uses its own software and even its own alternative OS to Android. It stands out for many apps.

Firefox TV: Used by Panasonic on some of its TVs.

Some models have 8 or 16 GB of storage and use powerful 4-core processors, so they are able to download apps and run games without help from a console or Android box. 4-core processors to manage Smart TV software are becoming necessary-have standard.

Many Smart TVs include a camera on the front for video calls. It can be useful if you use Skype or equivalent often, but our advice is to tap it with a rag or cover (if included) when not in use.

8: Apps you should have on your Smart TV

There are a number of essential apps that Smart TV must have:

Social networks: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

TV platforms: Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime Video, Wuaki TV, etc.

Services: Gmail, Google Maps, Skype, browser, etc.

Extras: Functions like favorite apps on the cover, last used, etc.
It is also important to check if Smart TV allows you to download and install new apps.

9: The controls

The interactive features of the Smart TV have forced manufacturers to renew the remote control, which now includes new features.

There are controls that incorporate a microphone for video conferencing, or to give spoken commands to the television, such as finding movies or launching an app. The Samsung controls allow you to operate the TV by making gestures.

Tips for Buying a Smart TV
There are also motion sensors, such as LG, to play different games.

The most interesting are those that incorporate touch panels because they allow a more versatile control. It is also important to check if there is an app that allows you to use your smartphone as a remote control, with additional features such as social networking queries while you watch a chapter, to discuss with friends.

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10: Are you interested in games?

Many users use their living room TVs to play video games. Nowadays they are perfectly prepared for it, but some things have to be taken into account.

If you are connecting a PS4 Pro or Xbox One console, it is necessary for the TV to have a 4K mode at 60 Hz. The cheaper ones only reach 30 Hz. It is also very important that the response time of the panel is low so that your movements with the gamepad are reflected instantly on the screen. The response time in the TV Game Mode must be less than 55 ms.

If you are going to play, the games offered by the TV itself through its integrated apps it is better to opt for the Android TV platform, as it offers many of the mobile games. The TV should also include Bluetooth to connect wireless gamepads.

Some televisions already begin to include game streaming in their specifications. Philips’ new TVs allow you to play about 60 PC games in streaming, via Gamefly, without the need for a PC or console.

11: And the sound?

While the picture of televisions has improved dramatically in recent years, quite the opposite has occurred with sound. As the screens are getting flatter, the speakers are also smaller and thinner, negatively influencing the audio quality. Our advice is that you do not pay too much attention to the audio system of the TV, and opt to buy a sound bar or a 5.1 or 7.1 system to enjoy the maximum of this section.

12: Conclusions

At present, if you plan to buy a mid-range / high-end TV, it is rare that it is not a Smart TV, although there are still very attractive models that do not have advanced connectivity options.

If you don’t plan to access social networks, YouTube or navigate with the TV, it’s not worth paying more for a Smart TV.

In addition, if you get curious afterward, you can always use one of the many multimedia players capable of giving your television some of the functions of these smart TVs.