Buying a new television is not something that we should take lightly. Usually it usually represents an important expense for the domestic economy and the device, as a rule, will have to last a few years while maintaining its functionalities. A couple of decades ago this last point was not very problematic, since the technological changes produced each year were minimal.
However, at present, every few months we are witnessing new advances that render obsolete the wonders previously announced. How to buy a television that does not become outdated in a short time? What do I have to look for? What characteristics do I have to have to last a few years?
These are difficult questions to answer given the enormous changes in services and features, especially now that we are at a turning point of several technologies. However, we can reflect on several key aspects that we must consider well before ordering our new model.
Technology and panel type
The first point to take into account and perhaps one of the most complex when deciding is the one related to the technology of the television panel, which goes beyond the resolution of the same (UHD in most cases, since the manufacturers no longer give us to choose). Currently there are basically two trends: LCD with LED backlight (and derivatives such as Samsung’s QLED) and OLED. Both are complementary and are focused on public and very different types of use.
OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) is the newest on the market, it does not use backlighting systems on the back of the panel as LCD, but it is able to turn the pixels on and off individually, which translates into much purer and realistic blacks with a better level of contrast and some colors that stand out more on the screen.
It also has higher viewing angles without loss of quality, no ghosting effect or residual background lights offering a perfect image from any point where we watch TV, both horizontally and vertically. However, it has several important problems that have not yet been fully resolved. To begin with, we have the subject of the so-called «retentions or burned» image similar to the old plasma models.
In theory, the new equipment controls this problem relatively well, but even so it is not advisable to leave fixed images on the screen for a long time. Therefore, if we are going to use TV as a computer monitor frequently, to have the web browser open, to watch channels with large and bright logos, let the children play the console for hours, etc. OLED is not for us.
The other big problem is related to the gradient of light emitters, which varies depending on the color and do not have a life as large as in the case of LCD, so it is not recommended OLED if we are going to have the TV on many hours a day (I would say more than 4-6 hours a day).
So, what technology do I choose if I want my TV to not become outdated or spoil in a few years? It depends on the use we are going to give it. For starters, if we want less than 55 inches then we forget OLED, since they are not manufactured with less than that size. If we want 55 or more inches and use the TV less than 4 or 6 hours a day mainly to watch movies and series, take an occasional game to the console and watch some DTT channel, then we can bet on OLED.
Otherwise, if the TV is the workhorse of our home, will be always on (more than 6-8 hours a day), we will see many channels of the DTT with logos and static images, we will use it to play the console or as a computer monitor, then we should bet on LCD with LED lighting. In the case that the subject of the angles of vision worries us and we need them to be a little broader, we can make the leap to the Samsung QLED models, although they are quite more expensive than the average.
HDR and its multiple versions
After the jump to the UHD resolution, for many the High Dynamic Range or HDR has been the true improvement in the televisions that really is contributing greater quality in the images. Its objective is to reproduce a wider range of luminance, generating more intensity levels between the darkest and clearest areas of an image, offering a greater level of detail.
In theory, it is able to provide blacks with blacks with brighter whites at the same time, that is, without one interfering with the others. The problem is that, as often happens in other technological areas, it has not been born as a single standard, but there are four different versions at the moment that we will have to look for in the specifications of our new TV if we want it not to become obsolete, or we can extract the maximum amount of content in the coming years.
The first two contenders are HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The first is an open standard that is supported by UHD certification and can be used on all UHD HDR and UHD Blu-ray players. Dolby Vision, on the other hand, is a proprietary format of Dolby Laboratories that is more demanding at hardware level and present, for the moment, only in some brands and models, such as LG’s OLED.
The biggest difference between both is given by the depth of color and the maximum brightness supported by the panel. Thus, while in Dolby Vision we talk about 12-bit color, in HDR10 the figure drops to 10 bits. In this way Dolby Vision has 4,096 possible RGB values compared to 1,024 values for HDR10. In terms of brightness, Dolby Vision supports a theoretical maximum of up to 10,000 nits (which in practice remain at 4,000 due to the limitations of the screens), compared to the 1,000 nits offered by the HDR10.
The third format of High Dynamic Range in discord is HLG or Hybrid Log-Gamma, whose mission is to bring the HDR closer to terrestrial, cable and satellite television transmissions. The fundamental difference with respect to its predecessors is that it is designed to transport in the same signal a conventional video without HDR plus a layer of extra information that in the appropriate receivers will be interpreted to generate the video with high dynamic range desired.
Finally, a few months ago a new contender came from the hand of Samsung and Amazon, who announced a new version of the HDR10 that they have baptized with the same name and adding the symbol «+», that is, as HDR10 +. It is a new iteration that incorporates the so-called Dynamic Tone Mapping or, what is the same, dynamic metadata that indicate to the television how to use the HDR scene by scene or even frame by frame, instead of coding the data in a general way. the whole movie.
It is a function that, in theory, was supported by the proprietary model Dolby Vision and that now Samsung wants to take the open model with HDR10 +. In fact, the brand has announced that its 2017 televisions will support the new standard from the beginning and 2016 will do so through an update. What the rest of the brands will do is still unknown. Ideally, our new TV support all four versions, but if not, at least directly HDR10 (this is usually supported by most) and Dolby Vision possible, although currently there is almost no compatible content.
A point to take into account for the use of television in the coming years is related to its wired and wireless connectivity. 4K content will become increasingly common and is no longer enough with network connections at 100 Mbps and wireless with WiFi N. We have to try that the Ethernet ports, if they have them, are Gigabit and WiFi connections of type AC.
If we are going to use the phone to play music content or external sound systems, we will need, in addition, Bluetooth connection and, at least, an optical port for sound bars, AV receivers, etc. It does not hurt a digital coaxial output, analog RCA and HDMI ARC (HDMI Audio Return Channel), which allows us to reproduce the sound of our TV in a home theater system only and exclusively through the HDMI connection.
But the most important thing in order not to become obsolete is that we have the highest number of HDMI 2.x connections possible, compatible with the HDCP 2.2 copy protection system. The most powerful current version is the HDMI 2.0b, with which we will be assured the support for the new HDR technologies, 4K content at 60fps with an 18Gbps bandwidth and the possibility of handling up to 32 audio channels.
However, this year the new HDMI 2.1 version has been introduced, which brings significant improvements in terms of speed and functionalities. For example, it will be able to increase its bandwidth up to 48 Gbps and deal with video up to 8K at 60 Hz or 4K at 120 Hz. It will also support variable image refresh technologies to synchronize the frame rate with the devices and avoid tearing.
The problem is that it will not reach the TVs, players, consoles such as the new Xbox One X and cables, because we will have to buy new special cables, until the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018, so we will have to wait a few more months if we want stay up to date with connectivity for a long season.
Finally, we must not forget to be well served USB ports, if they can be 3.0 better for 4K content, and make sure that our TV can decode the most common audio and video formats to avoid having to rely on an external player , although at the rate that these formats change, this is a point that will sooner or later become obsolete.
Smart TV platform
Manufacturers sell their Smart TV platforms as one of the key points of new TVs, with access to multiple services, simple menus that move quickly, voice control, games, infinite configuration possibilities …
Highlights for example WebOS in the models of LG, Tizen in Samsung and, above all, Android TV in brands such as Sony with a wider range of applications ready to download and install. However, we should not trust ourselves, since the TV is a device with a useful life that usually exceeds 5-10 years, so probably any current platform will be obsolete sooner or later.
Anyway we must ensure that at least we have access to the most current streaming services, such as Netflix or YouTube and check that the movement and navigation through the applications and menus is fluid, without stoppages or slowdowns, as it is something with what we will have to live with for years.
At this point, the TVs of medium-high ranges tend to offer better performance than the cheaper ones, since the internal hardware is more powerful. However, you should not obsess about having one or another smart TV platform. In the end they are all similar (with their differences, of course, but very similar) and if in a few years they are outdated with respect to access to services, we can always resort to an external receiver, a multimedia center, or HDMI pinch to update us.
It is one of the points that has evolved least in recent years. Moreover, since the appearance of increasingly thin TVs has involucion away from the television in favor of external equipment such as sound bars. The trend seems to continue down this road in the coming years, despite the latest releases that bet to integrate the sound directly into the panel.
This is the case, for example, of the new Sony OLED TV or the LG panels that emit sound from the screen. But make no mistake, unless there is some spectacular discovery in sound science in the coming years, even these technologies will still need an additional subwoofer to complement the low frequencies.
That is why an increasingly frequent option is to consider the TV speakers as an auxiliary sound system valid for the daily use of the DTT or series that must be complemented by a sound bar or AV receiver when viewing higher category movies. . And the surround audio formats that are coming to the new more expensive TVs like Dolby Atmos?
Neither should we obsess over this issue, since extracting surround audio from the poor speakers integrated into a television is little more than a utopia, although they are accompanied by a sound bar. That the TV is compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS: X? So great, but if not, nothing happens, since they are formats designed for complete home theater systems formed by an AV receiver plus 7, 9 or 11 speakers installed by walls and ceilings and not to be heard from a single source as the television.