Tip o’ the Week 355 – How to buy a FBTV


Tip 355, eh? This week’s tip is quite timely so we’ll skip over 354 and come back to that later.

clip_image002As the retail calendar year gets ready for the madness that is Black Friday, some “early majority” adopters will deem the time is right to invest in a new TV. 80s kids who knew their boombox as a BFR might have other monikers to give to their new big TV.

[Warning: these next 2 links are a bit racy – don’t click on them unless you’re familiar with Danny Boyle’s controversial film of 20 years ago…]

Trainspotting is coming back, after all.

Like every technology which moves on, buying flipping big televisions can be a minefield. Time was, you got the biggest you could afford and accommodate, and that was it. But now, a blizzard of new logos and features means you need to know what you’re doing otherwise a savvy sales person might tuck you up with a set that’s obsolete immediately.

Does anyone still watch 3D TV?

The Dawn of 4K

At the beginning of the HD wave, TV manufacturers were selling “HD Ready” sets, which had no means to receive High Definition broadcasts and only natively supported 720p (ie a resolution of 1280x720) from external sources like Blu-Ray, so a step up compared to standard definition (which had a resolution of up to 720x576), but not quite as much as Full HD 1080p (of 1920x1080).

The 4K revolution – otherwise known as Ultra-HD or UHD – promises resolution a of 3840x2160, meaning a Full HD picture would fill only one quarter of a 4K screen, even if 3840 isn’t exactly 4K (as that would be 4096)...

4K content is available in some areas, now – via cable or satellite (like Sky Q for UK users), but mostly through on-demand services such as Netflix or Amazon, or even streaming from YouTube. Since most 4K TVs are “Smart”, the various apps for those services are likely to be built-into or at least downloadable for the TV in question. Do check the apps you need are available for the screen you’re thinking of, and don’t be disappointed if existing apps don’t feature 4K content, yet – Planet Earth II’s cutesy animals & stunning visuals don’t show up on 4K, sadly.

HDR

If you’re going to buy a 4K set, make sure you get one that supports High Dynamic Range, or HDR. Photographers may know about HDR already – essentially, it’s a process of taking several photos with different exposure settings and combining them together to make one image that’s detailed and bright. Here’s an illustrative example:

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HDR on moving images means you can combine the detail and contrast of a low-exposure shot with the brightness and definition of a high-exposure one. Here’s a discussion about HDR TVs and why, basically, you shouldn’t buy a 4K TV without it. Arguably, HDR will have a more positive impact that the extra resolution of 4K.

There are 2 different HDR standards, and that introduces some confusion – there’s proprietary Dolby Vision, and open standard HDR10. Dolby Vision isn’t part of the Blu-Ray specification per-se, and if you buy a 4K Blu-Ray player then it most probably won’t have Dolby Vision support. It’s arguable about whether 4K Blu-Ray is even viable – paying a premium for a higher-definition version of a format (Blu-Ray) that may still be growing, but not as fast as its predecessor (DVD) is shrinking: good luck with that. The future’s all about streaming, really.

clip_image005The Xbox One S supports both 4K and HDR10, and will upscale non-4K content to the full resolution – so if you want to buy a 4K Blu-Ray player anyway, you might as well just get an Xbox One S and bring Cortana, Groove Music and the growing number of Xbox-targeted UWP apps into your living room, as well as whatever apps you might get from your Smart TV. Just make sure it’s the One S you’re buying, as the old (black) Xbox One doesn’t do 4K.

OLED vs LED/LCD

Another decision matrix when choosing the screen, is whether to go for the newest OLED display (which still attracts a pretty premium in the price), or to get a more established – and perhaps, more refined – technology such as LCD with LED backlighting? See an in-depth discussion about the two technologies here.

Ultimately, if you buy OLED now you may get a better screen but in a year’s time, you could probably get an even better one at the same price as an LCD screen costs today. Entry level 55” OLED screens will skin you the best part of two large, whereas you can get a similarly-featured 55” LCD 4K with HDR, for little more than a monkey.

Right, now that’s that done. Off to watch that new Top Gear in 4K.

And on that bombshell

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