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What You Need to Know When Buying a New TV

Stressed out by TV shopping? We're here to help, with everything you need to know about screen size, resolution, input connections, and more.
Updated
Man Buying TV

You walk into the store expecting to choose a television in record time. But while that may sound appealing, the TV-buying process is often more complex. With so many sizes and features to choose from, finding the perfect set can be overwhelming — but don't fret.

From resolutions and HDR to refresh rates, we tell you about the key factors to consider when buying a new TV.

Smart or Not?

By connecting to the internet, a Smart TV lets you play your favorite tunes or stream movies, shows, or videos directly through your television. This can be done via apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, and Pandora. As a bonus, buying a Smart TV usually gets you "better picture quality — and expanded features... [which] means you get more for your money than just an internet connection and apps," according to Tom's Guide.

SEE ALSO: Do You Need a Smart TV?

You may not need a Smart TV, though, if you you already have a streaming device (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, or similar) and plan to keep using it for awhile. Just keep in mind that manufacturers are implementing Smart capabilities in most newer TV models, so this feature will more than likely be standard sooner rather than later.

The bottom line is that buying a Smart TV will cost you a bit more, but the price difference could be well worth it. And it'll minimize clutter around the TV stand if you don't plan to mount the TV to the wall.

Screen Size

Do you need the 70" set or will the 32" one suffice? It depends. If you prefer a larger picture and can comfortably afford the TV, go for it. But before moving forward with the purchase, you'll need to take a few measurements to ensure it's a good fit.

Here's what Digital Trends recommends for deciding what size TV to get: First, jot down the height, width, and depth of the desired location. Also measure the TV stand to ensure the TV will fit, if you don't plan to mount it on the wall.

Digital Trends recommends a screen size of at least 50" for most living rooms, but you can customize the size to your specific space using a distance calculator.

Then determine screen size based on the optimal viewing distance. There are two ways to do this: You can measure the distance in inches from the TV to your seat and multiply that number by 0.84. The end result will tell you how big of a screen you need. Or you can use an online viewing distance calculator like the one found here.

Note that with the manual method, your screen-size result may be significantly higher than what's ideal for you. Digital Trends recommends a screen size of at least 50" for most living rooms, but feel free to go bigger if your wallet can handle it.

SEE ALSO: Ask an Editor: When Is the Best Time to Buy a TV?

Another important consideration is the correlation between screen size and price. Simply put, if you purchase an oversized TV at a low price, you'll more than likely have to compromise on quality. For this reason, "it's best to balance size with picture quality for long-term watching enjoyment," Digital Trends suggests.

LCD, LED, or OLED?

Wondering what the heck these abbreviations mean? In a nutshell, they refer to the TV display technology and are best described as follows:

  • LCD (Liquid Crystal Display): It uses liquid crystals and external light to display the picture on your screen.
  • LED LCD (Light-Emitting Diodes): LED LCDs are identical to LCDs, but specifically use light-emitting diodes on the screen's back or edges to illuminate light, making the picture on your screen more bright.

Screen Resolution

The higher the resolution, the sharper the picture on your screen. Resolution refers to how many pixels make up the picture on a TV, and resolution names come from the number of lines of pixels appearing on your screen at once. For example, if you think of your TV as a grid, a picture with full HD (or 1080p) resolution is 1,920 columns of pixels wide and 1,080 rows of pixels high, totaling 2,073,600 pixels.

Ultra HD TVs carry four times the amount of pixels as 1080p sets, meaning images and text on the screen will be sharper.

You can get TVs with resolutions as low as 720p (720 rows of pixels) for a bargain. But industry experts agree you should avoid them, if possible, in favor of one of the following resolution types.

Full HD or 1080p Resolution
This resolution is most common in the industry, and displays 1,920 by 1,080 lines of pixels at a time. Plus, it'll give you a much clearer picture than you'd get with a 720p TV.

Ultra HD or 4K Resolution (Plus HDR)
With a resolution of 3840x2160, ultra HD or 4K TVs carry four times the amount of pixels as 1080p TVs. This means the images and text appearing on the TV screen will be sharper for the viewer.

Keep in mind that some content may not be available in 4K yet, but buying a TV with this resolution may be worthwhile if you plan to keep it long-term, since many manufacturers are rapidly adopting this technology. Plus, 4K prices have dropped so much that on Black Friday, we saw 49" 4K TVs that were even cheaper than the price we predicted for 1080p sets of the same size.

SEE ALSO: What Is HDR?

If you're shopping for a 4K set, you may see many featuring support for high dynamic range, or HDR. This technology can greatly expand the range of contrast and color in an image, giving it more "depth." And according to Digital Trends, "many in the industry believe HDR represents a significantly bigger leap in picture quality than UHD's higher resolution." Though HDR TV content is limited right now, this technology may be worth it if you're looking for a future-proof TV.

Connections

If you're planning to do more than just watch live programming with your cable box, you'll want to pay close attention to the inputs. Here's what you want to be mindful of.

  • HDMI ports: They're used to stream audio and HD video. Many TVs come with HDMI 1.4 ports, but you'll need HDMI 2.0 ports for 4K TVs. For the latter, you can also confirm the port is HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) compatible. You'll also want enough ports to accommodate gaming consoles. In essence, the more ports, the merrier.
  • USB ports: You'll need these to access images of multimedia files from a thumb drive, or you can use them to power streaming devices such as the Google Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick.
  • A/V jacks: You can use these to connect a DVD player to your TV.
  • Coaxial cables: You'll need these to connect cable boxes and antennas.

Curved or Flat?

It's a matter of personal preference, but there's no real evidence to support the theory that a curved TV is better. In fact, it could put a damper on your viewing experience if you're watching from a side angle. And it doesn't help that curved screens can be more expensive than flat ones.

SEE ALSO: 8K TVs Are Coming: Should You Skip 4K and Wait to Buy 8K?

Refresh Rate

You'll get a sharper picture with higher refresh rates. The standard rate, which is denoted in hertz, is 60Hz (meaning the image is refreshed 60 times per second). But a refresh rate of 120Hz will prevent you from experiencing pixelation on your screen during fast-paced scenes. Some TVs are accompanied by a refresh rate of 240Hz, but those models come at a premium.

Readers, what do you look for when shopping for a TV? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Contributing Writer

After spending several years as a governmental accountant, Allison transitioned into the world of freelance writing. Her work has appeared on on a number of reputable sites, including The Wall Street Journal, Investopedia, Daily Finance, MSN Money, and Credit.com.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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4 comments
bruno187
No mention of HDR10+?
dezvfx
If local broadcasts are important, make sure the "tv" actually has a tv tuner built in. Many monitors don't have one and an external tuner and antenna has to be bought to pick up local stations HD broadcast.
drshuey
The number one thing to think about is what you will be watching on the TV. If you only watch cable or satellite, you only need a 60 hz 1080p screen, and even that's overkill. If you are a big fan of action movies and have a Blu-Ray player, then you can start thinking about refresh rates above 60hz. When deciding if you need 4k, you need to think about how close you are to the screen. If you sit further away then six feet from the TV, you won't distinguish the difference between 1080p and 4k on a 50" TV. From a former TV salesman, stick to 1080p 60hz TVs and get a separate streaming device for your smart content. You are more likely to get updates from a stand alone smart device than relying on your TV's smart features.
kinghiggs
If you buy a 4K set, be sure that one of the features it has is "upconverting." TVs with this feature take incoming 2K HDTV signals and upconvert the signal to display 4K-like quality pictures from "regular" sources. Without that feature, the 4K ability of the TV is wasted on all but original 4K content, which is relatively rare (and much more expensive).