Going smart TV shopping

Cathode ray tube TVs, “tubes” for short, used to easily last a decade. When a tube gets older the night scenes may become harder to discern but short of taking a baseball bat to the tube, it continued to work.

I consider smart TVs, just like computers and other electronics, commodities. They have a shelf life where obsolescence is expected due to technology’s rapid evolution cycle.

As explained in the previous article the ability to “stream,” i.e. receive, content from the internet and display it directly on the TV is what makes a smart TV “smart.” This assumes you have, or will get, an internet connection. I also mentioned that you can make a “dumb” TV smarter through the use of a streaming media player. Today we look at what other specifications are important when comparison shopping for a new TV.

I’m pretty sure that everyone wants, or expects, a nice picture. This means you are looking for a TV with Full HD (1080P) or Ultra HD (4k) resolutions; latter is still in its infancy so programming to show off the high resolution is still scarce.

Nice sound goes hand-in-hand with nice picture but that may be a tall order for smart TVs. I think manufacturers have to settle for speakers that fit in the thin form factor instead of sound quality. So you should be able to get a movie theater-like surround sound by buying a “home theater in a box” package that includes multiple speakers and other components. Or you can opt for a “sound bar” instead which is rectangular enclosure with a row of speakers that tries to emulate the enveloping sound quality of a multiple-speaker surround sound system.

Budget is a very important consideration along with these additional decision points:

  • Size: Flat-panel size does matter and it is relative to how far away you will sit from the TV. Prior to Ultra HD the rule of thumb was to sit about 10 feet away from a 55-inch flat-panel TV. Although Ultra HD has much more resolution than Full HD that you can sit closer to an Ultra HD TV, but not too close – let’s just avoid the nauseating effect of sitting in the front row of a movie theater!
  • Inputs: You need to connect devices such as cable/satellite box, Blu-ray player, and streaming media player to feed “content” to the TV to watch. The acronym you’re looking for is “HDMI” (for High-Definition Multimedia Interface) and specifically the number of available HDMI inputs built into the TV. If you end up with more devices than HDMI inputs, you’ll need to spring for a HDMI switch box, which is like an extension cord in that it allows you to plug in more devices than the TV has inputs for.
  • Plasma, LCD or LED: These descriptions refer to the technology of the flat-panel. Plasma flat-panels are harder to find in the entry-level (say about $800 and under) market as LCD flat-panels have overtaken due to manufacturing cost advantages. Terms such as “back-lit LED” and “edge-lit LED” are just supporting technologies that enable the LCD flat-panels to display images. There is a pure LED flat-panel but this technology is still cost-prohibitive for consumers.

Next issue’s topic: Shopping for a digital camera.

Have a question for Tak about computers, software or other technology? Send it to editor@wbvobserver.com.

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 20+ years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 9:48 AM, 04.29.2014