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Nathan S.
Nathan S.May 13, 2020

4K TV Buying Guide

Since the first 4K TV was released in 2013, TV technology has quickly made huge strides, giving consumers more choice than ever before. This also creates a minefield for the uninitiated - 4K, OLED, HDR, what does it all mean? In addition to the 5,700+ reviews we host, this buying guide can help clear up the marketing jargon so you can make the best purchasing decision and enjoy 4K movies, Netflix and more.

Two 4K TVs

What is a 4K television?

Resolutions comparison

The term 4K (often used interchangeably with Ultra High Definition, or UHD) refers to the resolution of a screen, measured in the number of pixels.

4K resolution refers to an image resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is the next major step up from 1080p (or Full HD) which is 1920 x 1080 pixels.

4K offers more pixels, which means better detail, since you have smaller pieces with which to build a clearer, higher quality image, as seen in the example on the right.

The quality difference doesn’t really start to shine until you get a panel with a screen size ranging from 50 inches or larger.

Regardless of what a TV is capable of, the image quality is also in part determined by what is being played on the TV.

Is buying a 4K TV worth it?

To make investing in a 4K TV worth it, your main viewing platforms or streaming services should be 4K capable. Only then will you get the promised crisper images, clearer text, along with smaller objects becoming easier to see in detail.

If the main platforms you use to watch TV aren't 4K compatible, you’ll be wasting the 4K or UHD capability as you’ll get the same quality as HD or 1080 resolution.

What do you usually watch on TV?

  • Free-to-air TV: Currently, there are no free-to-air channels in Australia that broadcast in 4K. The HD channels (One, 9HD, etc.) broadcast in 1080p, while all standard channels are in 720p. Some free-to-air channels have begun to experiment with streaming 4K content through their apps.
  • Sports channels: Many now broadcast or stream 4K sports, for example FOX Sports Ultra HD (the 4K option is exclusive to TV and is unavailable on web or mobile). Optus Sport in 4K has been promised for viewing in June, in time for Premier League 4K streaming for the 2020-21 football season.
  • Streaming Services: You can watch TV shows and movies in 4K on Netflix, Stan and Foxtel. This is possible even if you don't have a smart TV by connecting a Chromecast, Apple TV or Android TV box via a 4K HDMI cable. However, you'll need a good internet connection (at least 25 mbps) to watch without constant buffering. If DVDs are more your style, you can opt for a 4K blu ray player.
  • Gaming: The latest Playstation and Xbox gaming consoles offer 4K games, but the Nintendo Switch does not.

How much does a 4K TV cost?

4K TVs range in price. You can acquire a cheap 4K TV from $449 from Kogan, while a high-end model from LG could set you back $20, 000. The prices have certainly become more affordable since 4K TVs initial splash onto the market in 2013, especially with the advent of 8K TVs (although there are, currently, limited platforms for 8K viewing). While there are still plenty of 1080 HD TVs for sale, 4K is quickly becoming the norm, and prices between the two are coming closer to equal.

Screen sizes for 4K TVs range from around 42-85 inches. A 55-inch screen can range from $450-$6000, and is generally considered a good fit for an average-sized family room.

Screen size is just one factor in determining price – for example OLED TVs will cost more than LED LCD TVs - more on this in the ‘Screen Type' section.

It’s also helpful to factor in the added ongoing cost of purchasing a 4K TV, however minor. For example, a Blu Ray player and Blu Ray DVDs (and the player itself) will be slightly pricier than regular DVDs. If you have Netflix or Stan, you'll have to upgrade to a premium plan to access 4K content, if you’re not already on one. Some single-plan services like Apple+ and Disney+ have included 4K content, so you won't have to pay extra.

Extra Features

While some of these extra features are useful, others might simply drive advertising. Consider what's best suited to you and your household.

Screen Type

Displays in modern standard TVs are typically written as LED LCD, which refers to the LED type described below.

  • LCD: Uses technology similar to fluroscent lamps to light up the screen, accompanied by a liquid crystal display (LCD).
  • LED: An LED display is similar to an LCD display. A liquid crystal display combines with the addition of Light Emitting Diodes (LED) in its backlight to produce better quality images on screen.

QLED and NanoCell are brand-specific versions of LED LCD screen tech, both available to view 4K or 8K content.

  • QLED: Some Samsung 4K TVs draw upon Quantum Dot LED technology to offer a more precise light spectrum than a regular LED screen. QLED is still a type of LED screen, but a more advanced type that increases colour intensity and enhances contrast for a richer picture quality.
  • Nano Cell: LG's Nano Cell technology uses colour purifiers to produce more vivid and accurate colours.

What's the difference between an LED LCD and OLED display?

With an OLED display, each pixel is its own light source and is capable of turning off individually, whereas LEDs light up clusters of pixels.

This difference is most noticeable when viewing black colours. An OLED screen displays 'true black' by shutting off pixels and not transmitting any light to dark areas. An LED display will instead dim the screen area that needs to be black. OLED screens are seen as the best available technology, offering better contrast and viewing angles. However, they come with a price tag to match.

It's worth noting that screen technology is separate from other popular features like 4K resolution, HDR, curved screens, 3D, and high refresh rates. If you choose any extra features like these, they are available with any screen type - OLED and LED LCD models.

Smart TVs

Smart TV apps

While 4K TVs are not smart TVs, many smart TV models let you watch 4K content. Any TV that can connect to the internet, run apps, and access streaming media services is considered a Smart TV.

Most TVs sold today are smart TVs. Some offer additional Smart features, so you can choose a model with features that appeal to you.

If you enjoy watching free-to-air and live TV, you’ll want to look out for a unit with Freeview Plus, which lets you catch up on TV that aired in the past 7 days, and record or set reminders for your favourite shows.

Some TV brands have their own operating system offering a limited number of apps and streaming services.

  • Android TV: A version of Android by Google created for TVs, allowing you to access a vast selection of apps from the Google Play Store. Android TV also comes with both Google Assistant and Chromecast built-in.
  • Apple TV: As of November 2019, Apple TV with 4K resolution launched in Australia. This uses a little black box to connect your TV to your iPhone, allowing you to use a variety of apps on your smart TV.
  • WebOS: used by LG, and TizenOS: by Samsung.

Brands may use a mix of operating systems, for example TCL uses Android TV in their high-end units, but a basic proprietary smart OS in their more inexpensive sets. Some operating systems may include Amazon Alexa, and may also support screen casting from your phone or tablet.

HDR (High Dynamic Range)

What is HDR?

HDR TVs have the capability to display up to several thousand nits of brightness, while a standard dynamic range TV will usually produce 300-500 nits of brightness at most.

HDR improves the quality of pixels, and offers a better overall viewing experience with a starker contrast between dark and light colours, offering a rich depth of colour. As movie studios continue to embrace 4K and HDR, you'll find plenty of content on Blu-ray, Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube.

If you plan to use your TV for gaming, HDR can provide a more immersive and realistic gaming experience. The number of HDR-supported games is increasing and HDR is currently supported on the Xbox One S, One X, and all current PlayStation 4 variants. The Nintendo Switch does not currently support HDR or 4K.

Types of HDR formats

HDR isn't the same across the board, and the different types of HDR that you see on advertisements can be confusing.

  • HDR 10: Widely considered the standard benchmark of HDR, as well as its most common format. An open-source format, it's free to use for manufacturers and so any HDR TV should be able to should support it, along with most 4K TVs.
  • HDR10+: Another open format created by Samsung that also adds dynamic metadata and intends to rival Dolby Vision. If you’re purchasing a Samsung 4K TV, it will automatically come with HDR10+, and Dolby Vision isn’t an option.
High Dynamic Range
  • Dolby Vision: HDR 10’s premium competitor, Dolby Vision combines HDR video with Dolby Atmos sound, for a cinema-like experience. It adds dynamic metadata and offering even more nits of brightness and increased colour depth.

    While all Dolby Vision TVs will support HDR10, HDR10 TVs won't support Dolby Vision.

    Image, right: You can see how the colours on the right side of the image, which aren't HDR-enabled, look more washed out compared to those on the left, rendered in Dolby Vision.

  • Other HDR formats: These are less commonly used, usually by specific brands. Examples include HLG, created by NHK and the BBC, and Advanced HDR, made by Philips and Technicolour.

Refresh Rate (Hz)

The refresh rate, measured in hertz (Hz), refers to the number of times per second an image on TV changes or refreshes. It impacts the level of motion blur during intense or fast-moving scenes. A higher refresh rate means less motion blur, keeping the image sharp and clear.

Currently, the only true refresh rate options are 50/100 Hz (the Australian standard) and 60/120Hz (the US standard). The two rates are considered interchangeable. Most TVs refresh at 50Hz or 60Hz, while higher-end models might have a native refresh rate of 100Hz or 120Hz. However, a 60Hz refresh rate doesn’t prevent a TV from being great quality.

Pro Tip #1 - Look for the true refresh rate: Also known as the real or native refresh rate, there are 3 tiers of true refresh rates that a 4K TV can have:

  • A refresh rate of 50/60Hz only
  • A refresh rate of 100/120Hz, but only for 1080p content. The rate will drop to 50/60Hz for 4K content.
  • A refresh rate of 100/120Hz for both 1080 and 4K content.

Pro Tip #2 - Ask questions if you are unsure: While you might think a deep dive into a product’s spec sheet would clear things up, some brands choose not to list true refresh rates in brochures or manuals.

While TVs can be advertised as 200, 400, or even 960Hz, using terms like ‘Motion Rate,’ ‘TruMotion,’ or others, these numbers are a conflation of the true refresh rate, reflecting backlight refresh rate, and additional refreshing by the processor.

Also ask to clarify because different companies use their own marketing math to calculate their advertised refresh rate. While one brand’s ‘400Hz’ may work out at a true rate of 100Hz, another brand’s ‘400Hz’ might be a true rate of 50Hz.

Pro Tip #3: True 100/120Hz TVs are more expensive to manufacture, so be wary if you see higher numbers advertised on budget TVs.

HDMI

The number of HDMI ports a TV has may not seem important when buying a TV, but it’s a feature you’ll want to pay attention to. HDMI (High-Definition Media Interface) has become the most popular connection type because of its ability to carry high quality, uncompressed digital and audio data. Consider how many you’ll need as these are the ports that you’ll use to connect any external sound system, gaming console, DVD player, or set-top box such as an Apple TV.

Pro Tip #1: If you're unsure, go for a TV with at least 3 HDMI ports. This should keep you covered for the future.

Pro Tip #2:On one of your TV's HDMI inputs you might also notice the label ARC, or eARC on the newest models. ARC stands for Audio Return Channel, and this feature allows you to use HDMI as both an input and output port, enabling two-way communication through a single port. This reduces the need for multiple cables and it's the best port to use for connecting your audio system to the TV.

Audio

Advances in screen technology have resulted in sleeker, thinner TV screens, but this has come at the cost of audio quality as TVs simply don't have the space. Some manufacturers have addressed the issue by emitting sound through the TV screen itself, such as with Sony’s A9F series.

Most TV speakers aren't too bad, but they certainly don't do 4K screens justice. So if your budget allows, it's definitely worth investing in an external sound system.

Soundbar

The most common audio setup is to add either a soundbar (pictured) or home theatre.

Delivering on both sound, simplicity and style, soundbars and soundbases are a popular choice as they fit nicely under a TV, can be wall-mounted if need be, and don’t take up much space.

Even cheaper soundbars around the $200 mark can show markedly improved audio over the default built-in speakers.

For the full cinematic experience (and with a permitting budget) you’ll want a home theatre system. Multiple speakers are placed around a room, emitting sound from various directions. If you’re going to invest in a surround sound set-up, we suggest at least a 5.1 channel system.

Pro Tip: The numbers in a speaker system tell you the number of speakers and subwoofers it has. So a 5.1 surround system has 5 speakers and 1 subwoofer, while a 2.0 system has two speakers and no subwoofer.

Which 4K TV is best?

The most reputable TV brands that have consistently delivered over time are the big names in the 4K TV industry: Samsung, Sony, LG and Panasonic. The Samsung Series 7 is the 2020 winner of the ProductReview Awards in the 4k Ultra HD TVs category.

If you're serious about HDR support, it's worth noting that Samsung TVs don't offer Dolby Vision. They support HDR10+ instead, which currently does not have the same amount of content available. If you like Samsung's signature QLED screen technology but could do without the price tag, you may want to consider a TCL or Hisense TV, as Samsung has recently begun selling QLED technology to them.

Budget brands offer great value for money. Picture quality can rival their pricier competition, but the savings come by sacrificing software and processing power, which can mean slow load times, or a laggy interface.

Some of the most popular TVs on ProductReview.com.au are ALDI's Bauhn TVs, and those made by online retailer Kogan. Both these brands tend to release and re-release similar looking TVs in batches. While there may be minor upgrades or facelifts, overall quality can be inconsistent between release versions.

Pro Tip: The last four digits of a Bauhn TV model number tell you the month and year it was released. For example, the ATV65UHD-0917 was part of ALDI's Special Buys for September 2017.

Smart TV apps

Wrapping Up

Thanks for reading this far! We hope this buying guide helps you shop with confidence, whether in-store on online.

Our reviewers offer up some of the best real-world product information available, so narrow down your shortlist and see what other Aussies have to say.

Once you've purchased and become familiar with your new TV, we'd love for you to come back to ProductReview.com.au and let other shoppers know what you think of it. Good luck!