Don’t come home with a telly that’s the wrong size or doesn’t have enough ports. Here’s how to make sure the biggest screen in your home is right for you.
The two most important decisions to make when choosing a TV are its resolution, and its size relative to your room.
Any new TV you buy should at least have the 1920x1080 resolution, also called 1080p or full HD (high definition).
The resolution is how many pixels (dots of colour) are on the screen. It’s a good guide to how sharp images will look. Resolutions are displayed as “width x height”. For example, 1920x1080 means 1920 pixels along the horizontal and 1080 pixels on the vertical.
Another high-definition format is 1280x720 or 720p, but it’s quickly becoming dated. Anything less is considered standard definition (SD).
4K/UHD (ultra-high definition)
UHD resolution is 3840x2160, with twice as many pixels in each direction as full HD. The same resolution is also called 4K, for being roughly 4000 pixels wide.
Whether to buy 4K is about budget. There’s nothing wrong with saving money with a 1080p TV. However, 4K looks better and is more future-proof – broadcasters and streaming services will likely offer 4K video as standard in the coming years.
TV software can “upscale” content to a higher resolution by guessing the colours of the extra pixels.
Upscaling is important for 4K TVs in particular because it means that, while most content isn’t available in 4K, HD content can still look better on a 4K screen.
It works surprisingly well for the most part, but native high-resolution content will always look better.
TVs are measured in inches along the diagonal. The most common sizes are 55'' and 65'', but you can reliably find TVs from 32'' to 75''.
A bigger screen isn’t always better. The size you choose should depend on the room it’ll be in – specifically, how far away you’ll sit.
For most HD TVs, you should sit at least two metres away to get the most from the picture.
With a 4K TV, our maximum recommended distance is the same as the minimum distance for HD. However, you can also sit closer to see all of the detail.
There are two common classes of screen. OLED screens are the premier technology for those who can afford them.
LED (light-emitting diode)
These screens were the pinnacle of screen technology for a decade from around 2005. They still dominate the market because they’re cheaper to produce and available in a wide range of sizes.
The colours actually come from an LCD (liquid crystal display) panel. They’re named for being backlit by LEDs, to distinguish from earlier (inferior) backlight tech.
In our test results, we refer to these TVs as LCD as we believe it’s a more honest label. Some retailers may do the same.
OLED (organic LED)
OLED TVs are the benchmark for high-resolution and high-dynamic-range (HDR) screens, but they cost more and are generally only available in larger sizes.
The strong advantage of OLEDs is that they produce both colour and light so don’t need backlighting. OLED screens have better control over exactly what’s displayed and, because fewer layers are needed, can be thinner than LCD-based TVs.
QLED (quantum LED)
To make things more confusing, some brands sell “QLED” TVs, which are a variety of LED-backed LCD.
QLED TVs provide vibrant colours and excellent brightness and tend to be high-end models. However, OLED still has the overall edge in image quality in our testing.
Surprisingly, “quantum” isn’t just marketing spin – QLED TVs contain a layer of molecules that behave differently due to quantum mechanics.
What to look for in-store
So you’ve decided on a resolution, screen size and type. You’re standing in front of rows of shiny display models. How do you narrow it down further?
Ports and plugs
Count how many devices you want to plug in to your new TV. Does it have enough ports to accommodate them all?
HDMI is the standard digital connection, so those ports are like gold. Sky decoders, game consoles and media players such as Chromecasts each take up one HDMI port. TVs have between two and four.
If you use USB devices such as hard drives or external keyboards, check the USB ports too. USB 3.0 ports have faster data transfer speeds than USB 2.0. Some will even charge your phone if you get really desperate.
HDR (high dynamic range)
An HDR display can render a wider range of colours. HDR-ready content features subtler shades – in particular, whites and blacks look better, and contrast is starker between bright and dark areas.
Colour range is quickly becoming more important than resolution when it comes to picture quality. If you’re already coughing up for a 4K resolution, don’t skip on HDR.
HDR10 is the default standard, while Dolby Vision and HDR10+ are slightly better.
Imagine using the remote. Is it comfortable to hold, with the buttons you’ll regularly use within easy reach? Could you locate those buttons by touch in the dark?
Nearly all new TVs are ‘smart’, meaning they can connect directly to the internet. It’s a great way to use streaming services – most TVs have Netflix pre-loaded, with many also including local apps such as Neon and Sky Sport Now.
However, smart TVs are notorious for lacklustre operating system support. A few years after buying, you might find your TV stops receiving updates. That can lead to anything from streaming apps failing to open, to your TV becoming vulnerable to malicious attacks.
Those with the Android TV operating system are likely to be supported for longer, but there’s no silver bullet.
Extra costs: audio and mounting
A new TV is expensive enough by itself, but don’t forget the hidden costs. If you don’t have a sound bar or home theatre system already, you should budget for one because modern TVs typically have poor sound quality. If you want to hang your TV on a wall, factor in the costs for that as well. A basic mount might cost as little as $40, but it could be more like $200-300 if you want an articulated swivel mount or need a tradie to install your TV for you.
When to buy a TV
You might not need to splash out on a new TV at all.
If your current TV isn’t smart enough any more, you can plug in a streaming device like a Chromecast or SmartVU to get apps back up and running.
If you do need a new one, look for last season’s model and avoid buying over winter if you can.
For more, including whether Black Friday and Boxing Day sales are worth waiting for, read our tips on when to buy a TV.
Energy rating labels
The Energy Rating Label has a scale of stars to show how energy efficient a model is, compared to other models of the same size/capacity.
More stars = more energy efficient.
The energy consumption figure is in kilowatt-hours (kWh) and you can use this figure and the cost (tariff) from your latest power bill to calculate how much this model will cost to run. The MBIE-reported national average cost of a kWh in New Zealand is 29¢.
Lower kWh = cheaper to run.
TV annual energy consumption in kWh is based on standards testing and assumes the TV is on for 10 hours a day and on standby for 14 hours.
You should only compare star ratings of televisions with the same or similar capacities.
For information on energy ratings and how to use them, see our Energy Rating Labels explained article.
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