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TV buying guide

Although we’re watching on more devices than ever, many people still choose a TV as the main way to catch the programmes they love.

A TV is no longer that bulky box in the corner of the living room, and more a part of your room design. But the jargon and technology can be confusing. Here are 10 top tips to help you choose the right TV for you.

10 things to bear in mind when buying a new TV

What’s the right size TV for your room?

Too small, and you’ll miss detail and action. Too big, and you’ll overwhelm the room. TV screens are bigger than they used to be. Unless you’ve moved, your living room won’t be. It’s worth measuring the available space, and deciding if you’ll put your TV on a stand or mount it on the wall.

Remember, sitting too close to a TV can cause eye strain, so measuring how far away you sit can help you work out the screen size to go for. One rough calculation says the distance between your seat and the screen should be around 1.5 times the screen size. So if you sit six feet (72”) from your screen, the ideal size would be about 48”.

What’s your budget?

The amount you pay for a TV can vary, from under £200 to thousands of pounds at the ultra-premium end of the market. It’s easy to increase the cost a lot just by going up a screen size, so make sure you keep an eye on what you’re spending.

Besides the cost of the TV itself, you should also consider the cost of extra equipment like HDMI cables or home audio, as well as satellite or streaming services like Sky, Virgin Media, BT TV, Netflix or Amazon, or gaming subscriptions.

You may also need to buy a TV Licence, which costs £147. You need to be covered to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, or to download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand. This applies to any device and provider you use.

You can pay for a TV Licence online, or check if you need one if you’re still not sure.

Decoding the jargon

TV technology changes all the time and the jargon can be baffling. The two basic, important bits of information that will help you make a decision are picture resolution and screen type.

Picture resolution

This means how sharp the picture will appear on screen. Broadly speaking, the more pixels a TV has, the sharper the picture will be compared to a screen of the same size.

At the cheapest end of the market, HD Ready is the basic standard for broadcast HD. Full HD is higher resolution, offering more defined images. 4K/Ultra HD is the top end, with four times as many pixels as Full HD. A growing number of subscription channels and Blu-ray releases are now available in this format.

If you’re lucky enough to have a bigger budget, you might see HDR too. This is a further boost to 4K/Ultra HD and aims to make the picture even brighter, with better contrast, and closer to real life.

Screen type

This is to do with colour and how smooth movement will be on-screen. OLED or LED refers to the light technology that powers the picture.

LED

LED works by using a backlight to illuminate pixels. One advantage of this is that colours can be brighter. Backlighting can cause blacks and darker colours to look faded, so some LED TVs also have local dimming to artificially darken areas of the screen and improve contrast.

OLED

OLED technology is newer, and tends to be more expensive. Each organic cell sitting behind the screen emits its own light source. Generally, OLED TVs offer better contrast, meaning blacks are deeper. Viewing angles tend to be wider, too, meaning you won’t see colour distortion if you sit at an angle to the TV.

Test for yourself

TV manufacturers are constantly refining both screen and picture resolution technology. The best advice is always to try before you buy.

Is a curved TV right for you?

The curve mirrors the shape of the human eye, and can make you feel like the screen is larger than it really is. It can be an immersive experience, but you need to sit directly in front of the screen. If your seating area is at an angle to the TV, you might not get the best view.

Boosting the audio

It’s usually easy to judge picture quality. Sound can be a different matter. It’s harder in a busy shop and almost impossible online. You may find your TV provides adequate sound for most of your TV viewing. But if you want to improve your sound quality, you could consider adding a sound bar or sound base, surround speakers or full 5.1 home cinema system.

Connectivity

Work out what you might want to physically plug into your TV – media streaming device, games console(s), Blu-ray player, satellite or digital box, LAN cable, SD memory card – and check that there are enough HDMI, USB and multimedia connections. Once you’ve bought the TV, you can’t add any more, so it’s worth thinking ahead about whether you’re likely to add extra equipment during your new TV’s lifespan.

Do you need to go online?

Most new TVs are smart, meaning they can connect to your internet at home. You can use apps, and browse the internet on the TV. You can watch catch-up TV on services like BBC iPlayer, All 4, Sky Go or ITV Hub, stream TV shows and movies through subscription services like Netflix, Amazon or Now TV, and even use social media like YouTube and Vimeo. It’s worth remembering that unlike your mobile or tablet, most smart TVs don’t let you download additional apps. So check the ones that are included are the ones you want.

Give it room to breathe

If your TV is going into an entertainment unit, make sure there’s at least an inch of space between the TV and the edge of the furniture it’s sitting on. This is primarily for ventilation – all that equipment can get hot.

Technology moves fast

If you’ve not bought a new TV for a while, you might wonder where some of the technology has gone. Plasma, rear projection and 3D TVs are no longer widely available. Replacing a plasma TV? You might consider an OLED screen with its deeper blacks and contrast. If you really want the 3D experience, you may want to consider buying a home cinema projector as well as a TV, and make sure your room is large enough to do them justice.

Are you covered?

If you’re already covered by a TV Licence at the same address and you’re buying a new TV, don’t worry. You won’t need a new licence, too.

You must be covered by a licence to watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, or to download or watch any BBC programmes on iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand. This applies to any device and provider you use, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or Blu-ray/DVD/VHS recorder.

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