by Bill Snyder

6 key questions to ask before you buy a new TV

Jan 28, 2016
Computers and PeripheralsConsumer Electronics

These six TV buying tips can save you time, energy and money, and help ensure that when Super Bowl Sunday arrives, you have the best set for the big game.

samsung uhd tv ces
Credit: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

If you’re planning to upgrade your TV, but just haven’t had the right motivation, the upcoming Super Bowl could be just what you need to inspire a purchase. A big, bright, and crisp picture with a wide viewing angle, and sound so clear you hear all the hits and the grunts can make the big afternoon even better.

Television aren’t the most expensive electronics, nor are they the most complicated. However, selecting the right TV is an art, and you want to make sure to choose a set that delivers the most enjoyment for your money and that lasts for years to come.

After a fair amount of research, I recently upgraded my old dinosaur of a TV. These area the most important questions you should ask before taking out the credit card, along with some answers.

What’s the right TV size?

Bigger isn’t always better. Football looks great on large screens, but if your display is too big for the room it lives in, the viewing experience can be uncomfortable. “[T]he viewing distance (in inches) divided by 3 = recommended TV size. For example, if you usually sit 10 feet from the TV, that’s 120 inches (10 feet x 12 inches). Divide 120 by 3 and the recommended screen size for you is 40 inches (remember, that’s the diagonal measurement of the screen),” according to Samsung.

What about TV viewing angles?

Viewing angles should be an important consideration before buying a new TV. The best way to test these angles is to visit a store to see the set. Move around a bit in front of a few different TVs to compare and contrast angles. If a bunch of friends come over to watch the Super Bowl, you want to be sure the people sitting off to the side can see the screen, and it’s not distorted.

What’s the right display refresh rate?

A TV refresh rate is simply how quickly it “redraws” the image on the screen and effectively portrays movement. The base refresh rate is now 60Hz, and that’s adequate for most programming. However, football and other fast moving sports look better on TVs with higher refresh rates, say, 120Hz. Depending on the set, a lower refresh rate can lead to a blurry picture when the action is very fast. Of course, TVs with higher refresh rates are more expensive. Some sets have refresh rates that are higher than 120Hz, but they’re overkill for the average consumer.

Does it make sense to spring for a 4K TV?

Probably not. The latest 4K, or ultra HD (UHD), sets have roughly four times the number of pixels as standard HD TVs. However, there isn’t a whole lot of 4K-compatible programming available today, so you won’t always be able to take advantage of those pixels — and you’ll pay a lot more for both the TV and the content. Super Bowl 50 also won’t be broadcast in 4K, so that shouldn’t be a consideration when choosing a new TV for the big game. Of course, 4K will likely become much more common, so there’s some value in future-proofing your home technology.

Is it a good idea to buy a TV online?

You can often find better prices for TVs online, especially if you spend some time shopping around. However, it’s wise to visit an actual store or two to look at and experiment with sets of interest before you buy. You need to see the picture on the screen, check out the ports and controls, and decide whether or not the set will go well with the décor of your living room. Some features and functionality that sound great online may seem very different in person.

What about TV sound?

It can be difficult, if not impossible, to accurately judge TV audio quality in the middle of a busy electronics store. Online reviews can be invaluable in this department, but make sure they’re consistent across a number of trusted sites. If you have a home theater system, check that any new TVs you consider are compatible with all of the audio equipment.