If you’re in the market for a new HDTV in time for the Super Bowl, now’s the time to shop.
This year, expect to get the best prices ever on Ultra 4K HDTVs as prices continue to drop. Even thinner Ultra 4K sets with more cool features were being showcased recently at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Expect to pay under $800 for a 50-inch 4K HDTV; lower-resolution sets can be had for as little as $100.
Just a few years ago, costs on these cutting-edge sets were prohibitively expensive for most shoppers. Now, bag one of these big-screen babies for about $500.
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Even with great prices, shopping for televisions can be overwhelming because there are so many options and technical specifications.
Before sales start, do your research.
Top brands such as Sony, LG, Samsung and Panasonic cost the most. Mid-tier brands are Vizio, Insignia, RCA and Phillips. Third-tier brands Element, Haier, Hisense, Etec, Sylvania and TLC are cheapest.
First, decide how much you’re willing to spend. That will dictate what type of display and resolution you can afford. Last, focus on size.
Without getting too technical, here’s a geek’s guide to decode the buzzwords, alphabet soup and pricing of HDTVs.
LCD: Liquid Crystal Display ushered in the current era of thin, flat-screen TVs and are the cheapest and most common.
LED: Light Emitting Diodes are used in very large displays in conjunction with LCD and offer sharper picture on bigger screens and cost a bit more.
HDR: High Dynamic Range is a premium upgrade to Ultra 4K. It offers more contrast and colors and, of course, costs more.
OLED: Organic Light Emitting Diodes is a cutting-edge technology that uses a thin film of carbon (hence the organic matter) that sits in front of the glass panel to emit light. OLED, soon coming to smartphones, can be printed on glass or even plastic and, incredibly, may be rolled up like a newspaper. Sets are super thin with rich, clear displays. Currently, LG, and soon Panasonic, manufactures OLED sets. Prices run $2,000 to $10,000.
720p: Resolution determines sharpness, and the higher the number, the better the picture. This signal format displays at 1280x720 pixels, or 720 horizontal lines on the screen. Pass on these sets for regular viewing. They’re good for a guest room and are super cheap.
1080p: Also known as Full High Definition, this resolution is at least 1920x1080 pixels, or 1080 horizontal lines. Opt for this, as 1080p offers good picture quality at a relatively inexpensive price.
4K: Also known as UHD (Ultra High Definition), displays at 3840x2160 pixels, or 2160 horizontal lines. 4K is four times that of 1080p. Pictures on these sets are mindblowingly crisp, with little distortion at close range at any viewing angle. That means you can use a larger set in a smaller room. There is not a ton of 4K content being broadcast to take advantage of the amazing display, but, thanks to Amazon, Netflix and 4K Blu-ray players, there is more than ever. Prices start around $500 and up.
It matters, at least when it comes to 1080p. Consumer Reports helpfully suggests measuring the distance from the couch to your TV in feet, dividing it by 1.6 and then multiplying the result by 12 to get a screen measurement appropriate for the room. Do the math. It will help restrain your husband in the store as he tries to get you to agree to that 110-inch set for the family room.
Smart TV: These sets have built-in platforms, or capabilities, to connect to the internet and use proprietary apps to stream on-demand content from Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other services. Not all apps can be used on all brands of TVs.
Media streaming players: It’s not essential to buy a TV with smart capabilities. Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast and Roku boxes and sticks, among other brands, plug into HDMI ports and stream content using an internet connection. Prices start at $35.