• Inside the box

    Understanding today’s TV tech. By Gavin Dudley
    Inside the box

    Your TV set is one of the few tech gadgets where you actually have a chanceof getting value for your investment. Most people use their set for several hours a day, and often the whole family is sharing in the experience, so its worth some investment.

    Despite what manufacturers would have you believe, a good TV set can last 10 years. But you will need to choose carefully.

    Here, then, is our plain-English guide to the latest TV tech, and how to make it work for you.

    LED, Quantum Dot and OLED

    LCD is the original flat-panel TV technology, and it’s still in use today. Originally, fluorescent tubes at the back of the TV shone white light through a layer of chemicals (crystals) that would reflect different colours depending on how electricity was applied to them. This made up the TV picture that we are familiar with. More recently, tiny LED bulbs, which are preferable since they use far less electricity and last longer, replaced the fluorescent backlighting.

    The very latest Quantum Dot technology uses a layer of nanoparticles which glow red or green, combined with blue LED backlighting to create superior image with a much wider spectrum of colours. This also creates much better black shades because there is no white backlighting leaking through into the final screen image. This technique is called QLED on Samsung, Super UHD on LG and ULED on Hisense.

    Far superior to all this is Organic Light-Emitting Display (OLED) tech, which uses no backlighting at all, but a thin layer of particles that change colour as electricity is passed through them. This produces the best range of colour possible, but is far more expensive, and only offered by LG.

    4K and UHD

    A high-definition TV image is made up of 1 920 vertical lines and 1 080 horizontal lines, each one pixel wide. This makes up a 2K image, so called because it’s (nearly) 2 000 pixels wide. A 4K image is 3 840 pixels wide and 2 160 high. This is four times more image data than a 2K image, which makes it much harder to squash on to a DVD disc and to stream from the internet.

    Ultra High Definition (UHD) refers to all the resolutions above 2K, including regular 4K, cinema 4K and also 8K, which will only be used for large-scale signage. Some consumer cameras and phones can already capture videos above 4K.

    High Dynamic Range

    Of all the latest TV tech, this will have the greatest impact on your viewing experience. HDR is a set of instructions encoded into a video data file that tells the TV set to lighten or darken areas of the screen to get a more vivid image. Expect this technology to evolve and appear in budget sets soon.

    Motion smoothing

    Don’t be bamboozled by salesman talking about screen refresh rate in hertz. In theory, TV image moves more smoothly if the refresh rate is higher, anything from 100-400 hertz. In reality, most TVs use clever software tricks to achieve this smooth motion, and it often comes off looking unrealistic or plain inferior.

    Screen size

    Bigger is not always better. Pixels vary in size, so they are bigger on a very big TV, and this will be noticeable as a grainy picture if you’re watching up close in a smaller room. If you’re watching from five metres away, then TVs up to 55” are perfectly fine. You should only get a bigger TV if you are watching from more than six metres away. Curved screens and 3D capability are now passé.

    Brands

    Choose from Samsung, LG and Hisense. The TVs made by Sony, Panasonic, Philips and others are not properly supported at the consumer level. Samsung is the TV market leader worldwide.
    LG offers great build quality and innovation, including OLED. Hisense delivers solid features at a reasonable price. TV operating systems vary between brands and respective ranges.

    Internet

    Most TVs being introduced now connect to your home network over WiFi. This is important for several reasons: You can connect to internet video services such as Netflix (R93/month), ShowMax (R99/month), Amazon Prime Video (R35/month) and YouTube. You can also play files on your home PCs or even from your phone, and your TV can automatically update itself with new software and features. For a faster and more reliable data connection, consider running a network cable between the TV and router.

    Ports

    If you plan to plug in a decoder, media player or video game console, you’ll need several HDMI ports. USB ports are handy for plugging in drives, though this is less common now that we have a choice of three reliable internet streaming services.

    THE SET-UP

    Tips for optimising your TV experience:

    Whether your set is mounted on a wall or free-standing, make sure it is positioned at the height of your eyes and ears when you’re sitting on the couch.

    TV sound is often overlooked. Dig into the audio settings and set up profiles for movies, news and after-hours viewing.

    Make sure all your sources, from DVD players to PCs and gaming consoles are set to play in either HD or 4K, depending on your TV’s capabilities.

    Only use HDMI connections throughout, as these carry digital audio and video together in a single cable. Expensive HDMI cables don’t work any better than cheap ones.

    To keep your eyes relaxed, try positioning a small light to shine on   the wall behind the TV.

     

    Our top picks

    Here are three TVs definitely worth looking out for 

    Samsung 65Q7F 4K QLED TV

    Despite using traditional TV tech, Samsung’s QLED has been aggressively chasing down LG’s OLED. Amazingly, the colour richness and solid black shades of its latest TVs are just about indistinguishable from OLED, but at a much better price. The Invisible Connection system moves image processing from the TV chassis into a standalone box that can be concealed. A single cable travels, hidden in the stand, from this box to the TV. Now it also uses a remote control with voice-activated features.

    65” screen, 4K UHD, HDR, Dolby Digital,
    4  HDMI, 3  USB, LAN/WiFi, Tizen OS

    R45 000

    Hisense 55M7000UWG 4K ULED TV

    Technically this is
    a 2017 model, but that fades into irrelevance when you consider its superb picture quality, which is right there with the best of Samsung and LG, but at a fraction of the price. It uses the Opera operating system, which has apps available for the main services (Netflix, Amazon Video
    and YouTube), but not for SA’s own Showmax. We particularly liked the styling and all-metal finishes on this model, although the bezel is less subtle than in the pricier models.

    55” screen, 4K UHD, HDR, Dolby Digital,
    4  HDMI, 3  USB, LAN/WiFi, Opera OS

    R12 000

    LG OLED65C7V 4K OLED TV

    LG’s OLED screens are the top TV tech out there, and this is the top model in SA. From the side, it looks like a sheet of glass pasted on to a sheet of metal, forming
    a centimetre-thin sandwich (the image-processing tech fits into the thicker lower
    section). LG’s webOS software isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the voice-driven remote control has been steadily improved. This is one of few TVs to combine Dolby Vision (high-end HDR) with Dolby Atmos (3D surround sound).

    65” screen, 4K UHD, active HDR, Dolby Atmos/Vision, 4  HDMI, 3  USB, LAN/WiFi, webOS 3.5

    R65 000

     

    GET SMART

    Early flat-screen TVs can’t connect to the internet, so they can’t download the apps you need to connect to video-streaming services. To get great video content on these older TVs, you need to install a standalone media player such as the Apple TV or the MyGica player, which runs the Android TV OS.

     

    Although Samsung doesn’t make OLED TVs, it makes all the OLED screens for Apple’s iPhone X

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