Technology

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Televisions

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There are some great TVs in our latest test.

From our test

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How we test TVs

Our test includes an assessment of picture quality, sound quality and ease of use.

Find out what our test scores mean, and how our experts assess each of the TVs that pass through our test lab.

Find out more

Smart TVs

A smart TV has most or all of these features.

  • Connects to the internet via cable or WiFi (or both).
  • An internet browser.
  • Built-in apps that can connect to services such as on-demand TV, Facebook and YouTube.
  • DLNA functionality (this lets you connect your TV to your home network and stream media from a computer).
  • Built-in games and other apps that might be useful (such as weather updates or a world clock).
  • Some form of speech or motion control.
  • A specialised remote (or other device) to make entering text easier.
  • Upgrades software via the internet.
  • Records and plays back from a USB device.
  • Accesses content from a smartphone or tablet.
  • Identifies upcoming programmes you may be interested in.

We think WiFi should be standard on TVs now. Why’s that? Because in the next few years you’ll be using the internet increasingly on your TV. More importantly, you’ll be using your home WiFi network to connect your portable devices (phones, tablets and whatever) to your TV so you can share content between them.

A good example of this is the YouTube app, available on almost every “smart TV” system. Once it’s set up you can easily “flick” videos you find on your phone to the TV. Perfect for showing your friends that cute cat video you loved.

Other considerations

Before you buy, think about ports and plugs, controls, sound quality and more.

Sound quality

When checking the sound, listen for clear high notes – they shouldn't sound tinny or harsh. Mid-tones should be full-bodied and voices should be clear. Bass should be more than just a booming sound, and it shouldn't distort. Check where the speakers are placed, as speakers facing to the sides can produce a muffled sound.

Every time we test flat-panel TV sets we find many with average to poor sound quality. As manufacturers make the sets slimmer and reduce the edging that holds the screen in, they make decent sound increasingly difficult.

There's really only one answer: an external sound system. A relatively cheap home-theatre system will improve the sound of any TV we've tested. And true surround sound gives you a much more satisfying movie experience. We’ve also found an amplifier and speakers connected to a TV has produced better sound and cost significantly less than many expensive home-theatre systems.

Ports and plugs

You’ll need to think about everything you want to plug into your new TV, to make sure it has enough plugs in the back to accommodate them all. For example, a Sky decoder will take one HDMI port, a game console will take another one, a media hub will take yet another. That’s 3 HDMI ports used up – and most TVs have a maximum of 4. For similar reasons check the number of USB ports.

The newest Samsung TVs have made this super-simple. They have 1 plug in the back which connects to a separate box with all the connections in it. This “outsourcing” means upgrading your TV is a lot easier: you can just upgrade the box instead of the whole screen. It also makes it easier to hide all the cables and means the screen can be much thinner.

Some TVs have the new USB 3.0 ports as well as USB 2.0. USB 3.0 allows faster data transfer than USB 2.0 and is more efficient at powering any devices that could need faster transfer. So whether you want one depends on what you plug into your TV.

Remote control

Look for a remote where the most frequently selected buttons (volume, channel selector, standby, and mute) are easy to use and placed prominently. It's best if these buttons are a different shape or size from the rest, so you can locate them by touch only.

Voice and motion controls

Some of the TVs we've tested have voice and motion controls. Samsung and LG especially have been pushing this new technology – but the results are mixed.

The voice controls are generally good, even when your accent’s Kiwi. You can change volume and channels by saying numbers and you can ask the TV to suggest something for you to watch. But the microphone’s in the remote control – so you can easily just press the button instead of talking.

Motion controls are less successful. There are 2 versions: 1 uses gyro-sensors in the remote control (much like Wii or other video game consoles); the other uses a camera in the TV to detect movement.

While the remote version works OK and is reasonably good for navigating smart-TV menus, the camera-in-the-TV version is terrible. The motion either takes ages to detect (leaving you with your arm in the air) or picks up false positives (people in the room moving their arms can set it off). This idea needs much more work.

On-screen menus and instructions

Check the on-screen menu to see how easy it is to read, and whether you'll be able to follow the instructions. As well, look for a manual with clearly labelled diagrams and step-by-step instructions, written in plain English.

Child lock

A child lock disables specific channels or locks the on-board buttons, useful if you have small children.

Setup

What to consider before you install your new television.

Cables and connectors

TV screens aren't always supplied with a full range of cables. Talk to the retailer about the best setup for you, and get this sorted before you take delivery of the TV. Make sure you get the right cables and connectors for your needs: your DVD player/recorder, home-theatre receiver, Sky decoder, cable decoder, camcorder, and so on.

For digital cables like HDMI cables and optical audio cables, remember there is little to no difference between an expensive cable and a cheap one, so don't be pressured into buying an expensive gold-plated version.

Camcorder users should look for easily accessed front or side connections. That means you won't have to fumble around at the back (or even worse, un-mount the screen from the wall) to plug in.

If the connection challenge is too much for you, ask how much it would cost to have the television installed.

Positioning

Ask about the cost of a wall mount (if that's where you want your screen). And think about where all those cables will go! To make it all look clean and tidy, the cables may have to be put inside your walls – usually at further cost. You'll need an electrician to fit an electrical outlet behind the screen and to install inside the wall all the other connections.

All the technological advances in the world of TVs have yet to defeat the sun. Glare on a screen is still a major problem – even the new curved screens suffer from glare – so be aware of this when choosing where to put your TV.

Reliability

6207 members told us about their TV's reliability in our 2014 appliance reliability survey.

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Jargon buster

Some of the terms you may come across when you're looking for a new TV.

Bluetooth

A wireless technology used to “pair” devices. In TVs it’s useful for connecting compatible wireless keyboards and smartphones.

Composite, component, stereo RCA

Connections used for older analogue video signals. Composite uses a single cable for video (usually yellow) and is often paired with stereo RCA (left and right stereo cables usually red and white). Component breaks the video signal into 3 channels: this gives a better picture but it also requires a separate audio signal.

DLNA

An industry standard that allows TVs to communicate with other devices. Often used to connect to DLNA-compliant media servers set up on home computers.

DVR (digital video recorder)

Records content in a digital format (usually on a USB hard drive or internal memory).

EPG (electronic programme guide)

An onscreen TV guide. It’s available on digital TV services like Freeview and Sky.

Ethernet (aka RJ45)

Connects your TV to your modem.

HDMI

The standard cable for digital connections. If you want your TV to show an HD picture from a device like a blu-ray player, you’ll need to connect with an HDMI cable.

Headphone port

This is useful for connecting hearing aid devices as well as headphones to your TV. But using this port often mutes the main speakers in your TV.

Smart TV

A catch-all term for TVs that use the internet to deliver services and content.

Toslink

A digital audio connection.

USB

A standard connection often used to connect USB hard drives for recording or playback.

WiFi

Usually means a wireless internet connection or network. However, if a TV “has WiFi” we mean it has the ability to connect to a WiFi network.

WiFi direct

Similar to bluetooth. It establishes a direct link between 2 devices and allows them to exchange data.

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