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Reading Retailer Tags

When you’re shopping for a TV, some of the biggest obstacles to overcome are the product specification tags on the shelves.  There are all kinds of confusing jargon on them, from “Smart TV” to “High Dynamic Range” and even something called “Motion Rate.”  So how do you tell whether the TV you’re getting is better or worse than the one sitting two spots down that has a higher price tag?  Well, the good news is that there are only a few things that really matter when it comes to selecting the right TV for you.

Generally, the name of the TV itself is going to be a little incomprehensible, filled with seemingly random numbers and phrases.  Let’s take a fictional tag for example:

Supreme-o-vision’s 60” Class LED 2160p Smart HDR 4K Ultra HD TV

You might think that there’s an awful lot of important information there, but most of it is redundant or useless.  Translated, they are, in order:

  1. The brand of the television (Supreme-o-vision);
  2. The screen size (60” Class, meaning that it’s approximately 60”);
  3. The type of screen (LED);
  4. The TV’s resolution (2160p);
  5. The fact that the TV has an internal computer and WiFi connectivity (Smart);
  6. The range of colors on the TV (HDR);
  7. The resolution again (4K); and
  8. The resolution yet again (Ultra HD).

On that fictional tag, the resolution is mentioned three times in the name alone, no doubt in order to sound flashier than its neighbor (which probably has the exact same resolution mentioned three times in its name, too).  Also like its neighbor, it advertises that it is a Smart TV—and most televisions you can buy these days are.  So, if the name of the TV is not extremely helpful in differentiating between products what other information is on the tag is important?

Beneath the name, a given tag will have most, if not all of this information available on it: resolution, type of tuner, screen size (measured diagonally), display type, whether the TV is HDR or not, the number and type of inputs on the TV, warranty information, dimensions of the TV itself, energy consumption information, what types of audio are supported, and refresh rate.  While it is certainly helpful to know what all of those bits of information mean, they are not always important when deciding what TV is for you.  To that end, there are a few things you need to pay close attention to.

Inputs

The number of inputs is crucial.  It doesn’t matter how good the picture on a given TV has if it only has one HDMI port to work with.  Before you go start deciding which TV to purchase, you should know how many things you intend to plug into it and what kind of connections they have.  If your Blu-Ray player uses component cables, you need to make sure your TV has an input for component cables.  If you have four devices that use HDMI cables, you need four HDMI ports.  If you plan on hooking up a keyboard and mouse to the TV or if you want to plug a flash drive into it, you’re going to want some USB ports as well.  Knowing what kinds of ports you need can help make your decision easier.

Dimensions

There are several important dimensions to be concerned with when you’re selecting your TV: screen size, height, width, and depth.  The screen size is measured diagonally from corner to corner of the screen.  In the title, it might say that it is in the 60” class or whatever, but the exact screen size should be listed below in the specifications.  As for the other measurements, you should know how big the space is where you’re going to be putting your new TV, and you don’t want to buy something that won’t fit.  As a rule of thumb, leave around 2” behind the TV and 4” on each side for ventilation purposes.

Refresh Rate

Sometimes called the Motion Rate of the TV, the refresh rate is going to be measured in Hertz (Hz), and it is an indication of how many frames the TV can display per second.  The more frames per second, the smoother the motion on the screen will look to your eye.  Generally, TVs cap out at 120Hz.  Though there are some manufacturers who claim that their TVs can get up to 240 or even 960 fps, they’re using some clever software tricks to smooth out the viewing experience even more.  Most of the time, you won’t notice a difference between 120Hz and higher, but when you do, it’s almost always because something went wrong.

 

To be safe, when you’re looking at the refresh rate, make sure you find the screen’s native refresh rate rather than its effective refresh rate.  Anything less than 60Hz is bad news, as the picture will look choppy, blurry, or even pixelated when the action picks up onscreen.

Things to Look Out for

  • If the TV doesn’t have 4K, Ultra HD, or 2160p somewhere on the tag, be wary. It might not meet the specifications required to earn the Ultra HD label.  If you’re buying a smaller TV or you’re on a tight budget, make sure that it is at least 1080p (also called Full HD).
  • A lot of TVs nowadays have something called High Dynamic Range (HDR). TVs that have this feature can display brights brighter and darks darker, and they are almost always worth it.
  • There are generally two types of screens currently being manufactured: LED and OLED. While they may sound the same, they are substantially different, and OLED TVs are sharper, brighter, and cost a fair bit more than LED screens.  That being said, LED screens are still going to have a great picture compared to LCD TVs of the past.
  • Ignore the contrast ratio on the tag. Those numbers generally don’t mean anything between brands, since there is no industry standard (though they might be marginally useful when deciding between two TVs of the same brand).

Hopefully this information will help you the next time you’re out and about, researching TVs.  Be prepared, don’t settle for a TV that doesn’t meet your needs, and happy hunting!

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