2018-2019 4K TV Buying Guide
Everything you ever wanted to know and more!
Since the first 4K unit 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?
What is 4K?
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 present. It’s the next major step up from 1080p, also known as Full HD. More pixels mean better detail, since you have smaller pieces with which to build a higher quality image, as seen in the example below.
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. The quality difference doesn’t really start to shine until you get a panel of 50” or greater, and regardless of what a TV is capable of, the quality of image is also in part determined by what is being played on the TV.
What can I watch in 4K?
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 720. Some free-to-air channels have begun to experiment with streaming 4K content through their apps, and it's possible that major sports may be broadcast in 4K in the future.
Streaming apps such as Netflix and Stan, paid services like Foxtel, and free sites like YouTube all offer 4K content, but you’ll need a good internet connection (at least 25 mbps) to watch them without buffering. The latest Playstation and Xbox gaming consoles offer 4K games, and if you prefer to own hard copies of movies, you can buy UHD Blu-ray discs to watch your favourite shows and movies in incredible detail.
Even if you've just begun researching a TV to purchase, you've already been inundated with the terms OLED, LED, LCD, and QLED, and there doesn't always appear to be a clear link between display technology, screen resolution, price, and overall quality.
Displays in modern standard TVs are typically written as “LED LCD”, which means that the unit has a liquid crystal display with LED backlighting. Screens marketed as 'LED LCD', 'QUHD', ‘ULED’ and 'QLED' all share this same technological basis. OLED however, is unique.
The important difference between a normal LED display, and an OLED display is that in an OLED display each pixel is its own light source and is capable of turning off individually, as opposed to LEDs which light up clusters of pixels. This difference is most noticeable when viewing black colours, as the OLED display will display a 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, offering better contrast and viewing angles, but come with a price tag to match.
While screen technology is important, it’s worth noting that it is separate from other popular features like 4K resolution, HDR, curved screens, 3D, and high refresh rates, which are all available in both OLED and LED LCD models
These extras usually drive a lot of the advertising you'll see in-store when shopping for a new TV. You should assess how important each of them is to you before buying, because while some are very useful, others may not live up to expectations.
Feature #1: A Smart TV
Any TV that can connect to the internet, run apps, and access streaming media services is considered a Smart TV. As most new TVs will have this basic feature, the term is used loosely and frequently. However, some TVs will offer additional Smart features, some of which may appeal to you more.
If you enjoy watching free-to-air and live TV, you’ll want to look out for a unit with Freeview Plus, which allows you to catch-up on TV that aired in the past 7 days, as well as 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 is 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. Other major operating systems include WebOS used by LG, or TizenOS by Samsung. Brands may use a mix of operating systems, for example TCL, who 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.
Feature #2: HDR (High Dynamic Range)
If you’ve seen HDR, or High Dynamic Range, being touted as a big selling point you might be wondering what it actually does. If a 4K TV already has 4 times the amount of pixels of an HD TV, what does HDR add to it?
In short, HDR improves the quality of said pixels. A standard dynamic range TV will usually produce 300-500 nits of brightness at most, whilst HDR TVs have the capability to display up to several thousand nits of brightness. HDR offers a better overall viewing experience with increased brightness and 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.
HDR isn't the same across the board, however, and the different types of HDR that you see on advertisements can be confusing. To keep it simple, the most common format is HDR10, which is widely considered the standard of HDR. An open-source format, it's free to use for manufacturers and so any HDR TV should support it. Its competitor is Dolby Vision, the premium format of HDR, adding dynamic metadata and offering even more nits of brightness and increased colour depth. Whilst all Dolby Vision TVs will support HDR10, HDR10 TVs won't support Dolby Vision. You might also see HDR10+, another open format created by Samsung that also adds dynamic metadata and intends to rival Dolby Vision. In the simulated example below using Dolby Vision, you can see how the colours on the right without HDR enabled look more washed out than those on the left with Dolby Vision.
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.
Feature #3: Refresh Rate (Hz)
The refresh rate, measured in hertz (Hz), impacts how much motion blur you'll experience when watching intense or fast-moving scenes. A higher refresh rate means less motion blur, but a standard rate does not prohibit a TV from being great quality.
Currently, the only true refresh rate options are 50/60Hz and 100/120Hz. 50Hz or 100Hz is the standard in Australia, and 60Hz or 120Hz is standard in North America, although the two respective figures are considered to be interchangeable.
TVs will be advertised as 200, 400, or even 960Hz, with this number being attached to terms like "Motion Rate", "TruMotion", or others, depending on the brand. These numbers are a conflation of the true refresh rate, the backlight refresh rate, and additional refreshing by the processor. On ProductReview, we will only ever list a TVs true refresh rate in our item specs.
To complicate things further, a TV with a high true refresh rate may not be able to hit that number at maximum resolution. For example, a 4K TV may be advertised as having a "400Hz MagicMotion" rate, which may equate to a real refresh rate of 100/120Hz, but it is only able to display this rate when viewing 1080p content. If you want to view 4K content, the rate will automatically drop down to 50/60Hz. On top of this, while one brands "400Hz" may work out at a true rate of 100Hz, another brands "400Hz" might be a true rate of 50Hz. It all depends on the marketing math they use to calculate their advertised refresh rate. You might think that a deep dive into a products spec sheet would clear things up, but some brands choose not to list true refresh rates in brochures or manuals.
Pro Tip: True 100/120Hz TVs are more expensive to manufacture, so be wary if you see higher numbers advertised on budget TVs.
Feature #4: 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: If you're unsure, go for a TV with at least 3 HDMI ports. This should keep you covered for the future.
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.
The most reputable brands that have consistently delivered quality TVs over time are the big names in the industry: Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Two of LG's OLED units, the and are the winners of the 2019 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.
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 of TVs. Most TV speakers aren't too terrible, but they certainly don't do their 4K screens justice. So if your budget allows, it's definitely worth investing in an external sound system. The most common setup is to add either a soundbar or surround system.
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.
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 information available, . 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!