• Choosing the Right TV

    Here's what to look for when choosing your display.

    TV Basics 

    TV technologies are multiplying rapidly, and the terms to describe them can be both overlapping and confusing. Here's a brief guide to the basics. 

    Where to Start 

    Essentially, your choices start with a flat-panel set or a front projector. Flat-panel displays completely dominate the stand-alone TV market now, yet that has not simplified your choices. Look at a TV ad now and you'll see terms like LED, Full HD, Ultra HD 4K, smart TV, curved screen, OLED, and more. And that doesn't include each manufacturer's proprietary names for features (often very similar features but different terminology). 

    We'll go through what's available and what's coming, and explain these terms and their relevance to a great home theater. 

    Display Type 

    Flat-panel displays come in four basic types: LCD, plasma, OLED, and quantum dot. LCDs dominate, although there are still some great plasma choices. OLED and quantum-dot TVs are very new and only available in a few models—at the moment. All of these technologies will give you great picture quality. 

    Curved-screen TVs are simply flat-panel displays designed to provide a wraparound cinematic effect. 

    LCD (liquid crystal diode) displays are: 

    • Generally thinner, lighter, and more energy-efficient (greener) 
    • Available in a greater range of sizes 
    • Brighter, an advantage for daytime watching 

    LED TVs are more-correctly called LCD-LED. They're LCD displays that use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) for the backlight. Some of the least-expensive TVs still use CCFL (fluorescent) backlights, but LED backlights allow thinner designs and have meaningful advantages in energy efficiency and potential picture quality. 

    Quantum-dot TVs are also LCD TVs. Used as a backlight component, quantum dots enable richer colors and better contrast, among other benefits. Several major manufacturers use this technology now in a few higher-end TV models. 

    Quantum-dot technology has significant potential in designing displays that will far outperform today's TV sets. Look for a rapidly growing number of these displays. 

    Plasma displays offer, in comparison to LCDs: 

    • Smoother motion, particularly good for sports 
    • Wider viewing angle with a bigger "sweet spot" 
    • Darker blacks, usually 

    OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs are new to market and the first models have received some rave reviews for picture quality. They're very thin, as OLEDs produce their own light and thus require no backlight. At the moment, there's a very limited selection of models and sizes and the sets are expensive. 

    Curved-screen TVs are meant to provide a wraparound effect. They don't use different technologies 

    Resolution 

    Until recently, the "gold standard" for resolution has been 1080p, generally called Full HD. Now, however, there is increasing emphasis on Ultra HD 4K sets (UHD, UHD 4K, or 4K in shorthand), which offer four times the resolution. 

    A 1080p display has a resolution of 1920 × 1080 pixels. An Ultra HD 4K display has a resolution of 3840 × 2160 pixels (and would be called a 2160p display using that nomenclature). The minimum resolution considered HD (high definition) is 720p, corresponding to 1280 × 720 pixels. 

    What to get? The bigger the TV, the more important the resolution. On a 40-inch set from 10 feet away, you may not be able to see the difference between a 1080p and a UHD screen. Take the screen size up to 65 inches in the same space, however, and you will appreciate the higher resolution. 

    Keep in mind that as of this moment, UHD standards have not been finalized, and not all UHD sets can play all UHD content. Essentially, for true UHD, you're tied to streaming services, and only to the services your specific TV supports. (Some manufacturers provide a limited amount of UHD content on hard drives when you buy the TV.) 

    This will change, and soon. Once the standards are finalized, UHD TV sets should be as universally compatible as 1080p sets are now. In addition, upcoming Blu-ray standards will include UHD capability. 

    UHD TVs upsample 1080p programs—that is, they convert them to the higher UHD resolution—with generally very good results, but not as good as native UHD (and somewhat unpredictable). 

    Dolby Vision 

    Dolby Vision complements today's TVs with high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color-gamut technologies that provide a dramatically different viewing experience on both 1080p and UHD TVs. You'll see much brighter highlights, darker blacks with great detail, and millions of colors that current sets cannot display. The stunningly vivid images on a Dolby Vision™ enabled TV deliver the full impact of entertainment. Dolby Vision uses specially mastered content for display on TVs that incorporate the technology. For complete information, visit our Dolby Vision pages. 

    Display Size 

    Take your room dimensions into account, then get the biggest set you're comfortable watching. Popular home theater flat-panel sizes go from 37 inches to as large as 85 inches or so. For larger, you'll need a front projector. • Many experts recommend an ideal viewing distance of about 2-1/2 times the screen measurement. For example, for a 60-inch screen, you should sit about 12-1/2 feet away. • Don't sit too close. If you can see the individual pixels, you're too close. 

    Front Projection: An Alternative to Flat-Panel 

    The only real alternative to a flat-panel display is a front projector. 

    • Provides the biggest picture 
    • Is best suited for a larger room that you can make nearly totally dark 
    • Absolutely requires a separate screen; don't project onto a wall 

    A projector, screen, and professional installation can make front projection costly. 

    Smart TVs 

    Nearly all of the higher-end TVs are now "smart" TVs. These TVs can connect directly to the Internet via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (often both). They offer portals for direct access to many streaming services and often general Internet access as well. Smart TVs can serve as complete home entertainment hubs. Capabilities seem to increase daily—voice recognition, program recommendations. You'll need to look at the manufacturers' websites and literature to get details. 

    However, there is one important caveat for a home theater. If you want advanced audio, such as Dolby Atmos, you'll need another component—a Blu-ray player or streaming player—as your primary audio source. (This limitation may begin to disappear soon.) Beyond that, a smart TV can greatly add to your home theater's capabilities.

    Home Theater Connections

    Almost every display has a variety of connection options. Here are the most common.

    HDMI

    HDMI® provides the best and simplest way to connect your TV to your home theater:

    • One-cable connection between components
    • Ability to carry video and multichannel audio
    • Intelligent: Allows TV and components to "talk" to each other

    The more HDMI connections you have, the better for flexibility and future expansion. We recommend at least three for a TV display.

    The current standard is HDMI 1.4, which is necessary for Dolby Atmos, and other advanced display and audio features.

    Component Video

    • Three-cable alternative to HDMI for high-definition video
    • For connections to older components (some set-top boxes, for example)
    • Uses RCA® connectors

    Composite Video

    • Single-cable connection for standard-definition (SD) video
    • Needed for many legacy components, such as VCRs
    • Uses RCA connectors

    Digital Audio

    • Also called S/PDIF, carries Dolby® Digital signal
    • For components without HDMI
    • Uses optical (Toslink™) or coaxial (RCA) connector; coaxial preferred

    Analog Audio

    • Conventional stereo connection
    • For connecting to older stereo-only audio components
    • • Uses either dual RCA or a 3.5 mm stereo plug (the standard headphone connector)

    F-Type

    • Threaded connector
    • For connecting to external antenna or analog cable service (with no set-top box)

    USB

    • For computer input

    Ethernet

    • For Internet-enabled TVs

    3D Television

    3D was a hot topic a couple of years ago. But it never caught on, although 3D TVs continue to be available. 3D is no longer considered a selling point, and it's essentially a free feature now on many mid- and upper-end TV sets. There are no broadcast standards for 3D at present. 

    Most 3D TVs today use special active-shutter glasses and create separate left- and right full-resolution versions of each image. The glasses sync to these images. If 3D is important to you, here are some tips:

    • Pay close attention to a display's 2D picture quality—most of your viewing will be in 2D.
    • Watch out for "ghosting" and other artifacts in 3D mode.
    • Consider the comfort and fit of the 3D glasses.

    All 3D requires HDMI 1.4 or later. Any equipment labeled "3D-ready" will have it, but if the signal is going through an AVR, the receiver will also need HDMI 1.4. 

    Display Calibration

    Most displays are set up at the factory to look their best on a wall in a retail store. They're too bright and too blue. The display will often look a lot better in your home if it's calibrated after setup. Some retailers will do this for you, either for free or for a relatively small fee.

    Otherwise, you have three choices for calibration:  

    • Most basic: Use one of the TV's built-in viewing "modes." (Often labeled with categories like "Sports" and "Cinema. " See your owner's manual.)
    • Better: Use a calibration disc (cost: about $25, plus an hour or so of your time).
    • Best, but expensive: Hire a calibration specialist.

     

    TV Size

    Look at your room, at where you'll be sitting, where you plan to put the display, and go from there. Our chart gives you a starting point, with minimum and maximum viewing distances for standard TV sizes. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, not absolute rules.

    TV Size

    Min Viewing Distance

    Max Viewing Distance

    26 in

    3.3 ft

    6.5 ft

    30 in

    3.8 ft

    7.6 ft

    34 in

    4.3 ft

    8.5 ft

    42 in

    5.3 ft

    10.5 ft

    47 in

    5.9 ft

    11.8 ft

    50 in

    6.3 ft

    12.5 ft

    55 in

    6.9 ft

    12.8 ft

    60 in

    7.5 ft

    15 ft

    65 in

    8.1 ft

    16.2 ft

    TV Tips: LED, LCD, and Internet TVs 

    Lots of jargon and claims accompany the available information on HDTV displays. Here are some clear explanations of various features and considerations you will encounter. 

    LED or LED-LCD TV 

    This refers to the type of backlight used for LCD TVs. For years, LCD screens used fluorescent (CCFL) backlights. Now LED backlights are gaining popularity. 

    Compared to CCFLs, LEDs:  

    • Are more energy-efficient 
    • Can deliver brighter and more consistent light 
    • Allow local dimming 

    Local dimming creates a backlight image in sync with the LCD screen. This allows purer blacks, better detail resolution, and a wider dynamic range—which add up to a better image. 

    Display Calibration 

    Most displays are set up at the factory to look their best on a wall in a retail store. They're too bright and too blue. The display will often look a lot better in your home if it's calibrated after setup. Sometimes the store will do this for you, either for free or for a relatively small fee. 

    Otherwise, you have three choices for calibration:  

    •  Most basic: Use one of the TV's built-in "modes." (See your owner's manual.) 
    •  Better: Use a calibration disc (cost: about $25, plus an hour of your time). 
    •  Best, but expensive: Hire a calibration specialist. 

     Internet TV 

    The vast majority of HDTV sets now include an Ethernet connection and portals to popular streaming services. For a home theater, however, you may get better results connecting to the Internet through a different component. See Streaming, Online, and Broadcast Programs.