TV & Home Theatre Buying Guide

With technology moving forward at rapid pace and an ever-increasing range of products being launched on the market, finding the right TV and home cinema system to suit your needs can be a daunting task. Varying screen sizes, technical jargon and new features, such as 3D and HD, are just a few of the things that you have to get your head around when shopping for a new television. Hopefully, this guide will clearly explain what to look for with regards to features and styles and make your television and home cinema shopping experience a much simpler one.

Televisions

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
LCD televisions are brilliant for everyday viewing. They have the widest selection of screen sizes, meaning there's a television to suit any requirement and any room in a house, from tiny 15” kitchen sets to huge 60” entertainment sets for the living room. LCD televisions produce a picture by shining a bright light through a liquid crystal layer. This kind of technology makes LCD televisions ideal for bright environments such as the kitchen or a conservatory as natural light will only serve to enhance the television's picture clarity. Another huge selling point of LCD televisions is their energy efficiency. They use less power than other TVs, such as Plasmas, meaning your electricity bill will be reduced and you'll be helping the environment at the same time.

LED (Light Emitting Diode)
LEDs have a backlight which functions through a series of light emitting diodes, as opposed to using fluorescent tubes like an LCD TV. These light emitting diodes create a brighter screen with a higher contrast, meaning blacks are blacker and whites are whiter than they would be on an LCD TV. LEDs are also incredibly slim, allowing them to be easily wall mounted, therefore saving extra space. The high contrast and vivid colours on LED TVs also makes them great for viewing a wider spectrum of programmes, such as nature documentaries and shows with a lot of moving images. E.g. football matches. LEDs are even more energy efficient that LCDs, making them the number one choice of television for many people.

Plasma
Plasma TVs come in sizes 37” and up, making them the ideal television for larger rooms and completing home cinema systems. Plasma screens are made up of thousands of tiny cells, each containing a gas. When the screen is electrically charged, these gases glow and produce a picture. Unlike LEDs, Plasma screens do not have a backlight, which makes them perfect for dimmer rooms such as a living room or study. Like LEDs, they respond extremely quickly to moving images, making them great for watching fast action movies, gaming and sports. Plasma televisions also offer fantastic contrast and definition making them ideal for HD channels.

3D
3D televisions allow you to experience 3D cinema in the comfort of your own home. They are designed to mimic human sight and provide a three-dimensional display. This effect is created by the television producing 2 separate screens, both of which are sent independently to each eye. This gives real depth to images and tricks the brain into seeing a 3D picture. In order to view a film, game or TV show in 3D, you will need a pair of 3D glasses and one of either a 3D Blu-Ray player, Sky 3D or a PS3 with 3D games. The glasses used with 3D televisions are 'over-sized' so they fit comfortably over regular glasses, without disrupting the viewing experience. 3D is considered to be the future of television and technology is currently being developed that will eradicate the need to wear special glasses to see a 3D image. There are 2 types of 3D technology for televisions:

  • Active - Also known as frame sequential display, this is the most advanced system of 3D technology. Active 3D glasses are battery powered and have a tiny transmitter in them that connects to your television. The television sends two separate images of the same screen simultaneously to your glasses, one for each eye, creating a 3D effect. Active 3D technology is generally used with 3D Blu-Ray players and 3D PS3 gaming, as it supports full HD and offers the truest 3D experience. The advanced technology of active 3D glasses means they can be fairly expensive to replace, so it's important to take good care of them.
  • Passive - Similar to the 3D technology used in cinemas. The TV screen polarises 2 images on screen and then synchronises these with your polarised 3D glasses, meaning you only see the image you're supposed to, creating a deep, 3D effect. The glasses used with passive systems are non-powered and light-weight, meaning they're cheap to replace. This makes passive systems perfect for families with younger children who are likely to lose or damage the glasses.



Smart
Smart TVs allow you to connect your television to the Internet, providing you with many of the features that you might find on a PC or Laptop. Once connected, you can stream a variety of content to your television, such as movies, photos and music. This means you have the option to view media on a large, high quality screen and listen to music via your television's sound system. Being connected to the Internet also allows you to stream from apps such as Netflix, 4oD and iPlayer, giving you access to a wider range of TV shows and movies. You can even access social media apps and twitter, meaning you can update your status or send a tweet about a programme as you're watching it. Many Smart TVs are DLNA compatible, which is great as you can connect your Smart TV with a variety of other media devices such as mobile phones. This means you can take a picture with your phone and send it to your TV to be displayed on the big screen for everybody to see. You even have the option to use a SmartPhone as a remote control to navigate the menus on your Smart TV if you wish to do so. To connect your Smart TV to the Internet, all you need is a broadband connection. The majority of Smart TVs come with built in Wi-Fi meaning you can wirelessly connect to the Internet without a wire trailing across your living room floor.


4K/Ultra HD
4K is the next generation of television picture quality. It offers 4 times the detail of Full 1080p HD, meaning it can display 8 million pixels compared to the current 2 million pixels at a resolution of 4096 x 2160. Images are smoother, more refined and a have a greater contrast of colour, creating a stunning viewing experience that’s so sharp it feels like you’re actually looking through window rather than watching a television screen. The smoothness of the 4K panel also means you can watch a larger screen at the same viewing distance as a regular FULL HD television, without the image being distorted. Currently, there are no channels in the UK that broadcast 4K content, but this is due to change in the next year. For the mean time, 4K content can be viewed on Netflix and YouTube.



Features to Consider

  • Energy Rating - A good energy rating not only makes a difference to your energy bills, but is helpful for the environment too, making it an important feature to take into consideration when buying a television. The average person spends around 4 hours per day watching television, making it one of the primary energy using appliances in the home. An A+ energy rated television could help you save a significant amount of money compared to a B or C energy rated television.
  • Number of HDMI Sockets - A HDMI socket allows you to connect a HD device to your television. Most modern entertainment devices are HD, including Sky boxes, Blu-ray players, games consoles, laptops, digital cameras and more. So, the more HDMI sockets your television has, the more HD devices you'll be able to connect at the same time.
  • Is it Wall Mountable? - If your television is VESA compliant, it can be mounted on a wall instead of being left free-standing. Mounting your television to your wall not only frees up floor space, but lets you experiment with different viewing angles too. Wall mountable televisions are ideal for smaller rooms where space is limited.
  • Contrast Ratio - Many people consider contrast ratio to be as important as screen resolution when determining the overall picture quality of a television. Contrast ratio is the difference in luminosity between the darkest and lightest colours that a screen is capable of displaying. A screen with a higher contrast ratio will therefore display whiter whites, darker blacks and more vivid colours inbetween.
  • USB Connector - A television with a USB connector will allow you to attach a digital camera, digital camcorder and other media devices to it. This allows you to display photos and home movies on a larger, higher quality screen. A USB slot may also permit you to record TV shows and films directly from the television on to a memory stick. You can then choose to view these items onto your computer or laptop, enabling you to watch them in other rooms or on the move.
  • Refresh Rate - This is an important feature to consider as it relates to how many times an on-screen picture can change in a second. The more frequently a picture changes, the smoother the on-screen movements, making televisions with a higher refresh rate better for watching sports and fast action movies. Refresh rate is measured in Hertz, with Plasma screens offering the highest refresh rates at up to 600Hz. For everyday viewing on normal televisions, a refresh rate of around 100Hz is more than acceptable.


Screen Size and Space Saving

There are certain factors, relating to size and space, that you need to take into account when looking for a new television. First of all, you need to work out how much viewing space you have available in the room that you're locating the television in. If it's a small room, such as a study or child's bedroom, then a smaller screen would be adequate. In bigger, family rooms where many people are going to be viewing the television from different angles, a bigger screen would be more suitable. Whilst it's understandable to not want to be seated too far away from the screen, it can also be hazardous to your health to sit too close. Being in close proximity to the screen could strain your eyes and give you headaches. The following table highlights how far away you should be from the screen.

Viewing Distance vs. Screen Size Table

Viewing Distance (metres)Screen Size (inches)
Over 3Over 56
2.5 - 346 - 55
2- 2.540 - 45
1.5 - 232 - 39
Less than 1.5Up to 32


All modern television sets are incredibly sleek and slim, meaning they don't take up excessive space in a room. However, if space is a big issue in your home and you don't want your television taking up floor space or the corner of a room, then you can choose to have your television wall-mounted. This allows you to attach your television wall, leaving you with extra floor and room space for other things. Wall mounts come in a variety of styles, from fixed wall mounts that allow your TV to be placed as close to the wall as possible, to fully articulating mounts which let you adjust the screen to whatever position you want.

What is High Definition (HD)?

HD picture quality has revolutionised the way we watch television. Through its sharper images, clearer contrast and more dynamic colours, it has created a more enjoyable and immersing viewing experience. HD television is over 4 times better than its analogue predecessor. Everything on a television screen can be viewed in striking detail, which is particularly apparent when watching nature programmes and movies.

Screen resolution is the best indicator of how strong a television's HD capabilities are. There are currently 3 HD formats used: 720p, 1080i and 1080p. If you want the very best level of HD viewing, then go for a television with 1080p. This is often referred to as 'Full HD' and offers the smoothest and sharpest images possible. You should always look for a 1080p television if you're planning on using it in conjunction with a Blu-Ray player, games console or digital camera. You'll get the very best images from these devices by using a Full HD television. To link these devices to your television you must use a HDMI cable, otherwise you won't achieve a true HD display.

Digital TV

All new televisions come equipped with built-in digital receivers, meaning you can access standard Freeview by simply connecting your television to your aerial. The digital switchover, which began in 2008, sought to replace the old analogue TV system with digital TV, giving everybody an improved picture, more basic channels, radio stations and interactive services. You don't need to replace your old TV to get access digital channels; you just need a digital box. E.g. a Freeview box or Sky box.

Freeview
The name given to terrestrial television broadcasting. Freeview replaced analogue TV and offers a wide range of free services. For instance, with Freeview, you have access to over 50 television channels, over 20 radio stations and the option to use interactive services, without paying a monthly subscription. All you need to access Freeview is either a television with built-in Freeview or a stand-alone Freeview box and an aerial. The lack of a monthly subscription makes Freeview the ideal channel viewing platform for people on a budget.

Freeview HD
All the benefits of standard Freeview, but with extra HD channels included. Many televisions come with Freeview HD built-in, meaning you don't have to pay for an extra box. As with standard Freeview, there is no monthly subscription to pay for. Freeview HD includes the following channels: BBC HD, BBC One HD, ITV 1 HD and Channel 4 HD.

Freesat
The satellite equivalent of Freeview, developed by the BBC and ITV. Freesat, like Freeview, has no monthly subscription. You do, however, have to pay for a satellite dish and installation, meaning you'll pay a bit more up-front than you would do with Freeview. There are a number of benefits of purchasing Freesat ahead of Freeview, for instance, it has greater coverage, meaning that more people can access Freesat than Freeview. There are also more channels with Freesat, all of which are regarded to have superior picture quality. Freesat is available as a HD package, giving you access to high definition channels. It also comes as Freesat+ which allows you to record television programmes and pause live TV.

YouView
YouView offers a service that combines free viewing of digital channels with a wide range of catch-up services. Unlike, Freeview and Freesat, YouView connects to your broadband connection, meaning you regularly receive updates regarding new content from the Internet. This connectivity also means you can access BBC iPlayer, ITV player, 4oD and many more catch up services. You can also pause, rewind and record TV so you don't miss a thing. Like, Freeview and Freesat, there is no monthly subscription, just a one-off payment for the YouView box.

Home Cinema Systems

Home cinema systems enhance your movie and television viewing experience by immersing you in a wall of sound. The increased sound quality that is achieved with a home cinema system gives you a better feel for films and TV shows and a greater appreciation of how much thought and effort may have gone in to the audio aspect of a movie.

The most common form of home cinema system is the 5.1 system. This incorporates 5 speakers and one subwoofer. The 5 speakers can be located at various points around the room to give the effect of surround sound. The subwoofer provides the bass and can be placed anywhere without its sound quality being affected as the human ear cannot detect the location of low frequency sounds. Most 5.1 surround sound systems use thin wires to connect the speakers and can be placed along skirting boards to keep them out of sight. However, many modern surround systems integrate wireless technology so you don't have to worry about connecting the speakers together or having unsightly wires scattered around your living room.

Other forms of home cinema system include the 2.1 system, which uses 2 speakers and a subwoofer. These are great for small rooms where it may not be practical to locate 5 separate speakers. You can also purchase all-in-one systems, which incorporate all the power of a 5.1 system and use accurately positioned drives to shoot sound around and make you feel as though you're in the middle of the action. There are no wires with this kind of system. The latest home cinema system to be launched on the market is the 7.1 surround system, which uses 7 speakers and provides an even more immersing audio experience.



Blu-Ray vs. DVD

Listed below are a number of the benefits of owning a Blu-Ray player over a DVD player:

  • HD Technology - Without a Blu-Ray player, your HDTV is just a TV. If you want optimum visuals and sound quality then a Blu-Ray player is a must. DVDs cannot offer HD quality as there isn't enough space on the disc to hold the advanced data. Blu-Ray discs can hold up to 5 times more information than a DVD. For watching digital television, many providers offer HD channels. For example, SKY HD, Virgin HD and Freeview HD. These allow you to get the most out of your HD television.
  • Backwards Compatibility - You can play DVDs on a Blu-Ray player meaning your old film collection doesn't have to become obsolete.
  • Upscaling - You can upscale the quality of a DVD by playing it on a Blu-Ray player. This means that the Blu-Ray player enhance the visuals of the DVD and display it on your television screen in almost HD quality.
  • HD Camcorder Compatibility - You have the option to transfer footage from a HD camcorder on to a Blu-Ray disc, meaning you can create your own library of HD quality home videos.
  • BD Live - A system that connects your Blu-Ray player to the Internet and allows you to download content such as games, special features, quizzes, wallpapers and movie extras. You can also connect to IMDB and interact with other people that are watching the same film. To use BD Live, you will need a compatible Blu-Ray player, as well as a broadband connection with a high bandwidth.
  • 3D Compatibility - If you've purchased a 3D television, it is worthwhile spending a little bit of extra cash and getting yourself a 3D Blu-Ray player. This will give you a platform to watch 3D movies in stunning high definition. Some 3D Blu-Ray players even allow you to convert 2D films into faux 3D, giving them extra depth and quality.
  • Blu-Ray Recording - Blu-Ray players with built-in recording capability allow you to directly record movies and programmes straight from your television onto the player's hard drive. This provides you with one, convenient place to build up an archive of films and TV shows, which could potentially save you a lot of space in your home. You can even choose to burn your films and shows onto a Blu Ray disc, freeing up space on your hard drive. However, some broadcasters do not permit you to burn their productions for copyright reasons.
  • 7.1 Surround Sound - Many Blu-Ray players support 7.1 surround sound, meaning you can add 2 extra speakers to the popular 5.1 system and create an even more immersing audio experience. Blu-Ray surround sound systems are generally wireless, so you don't have to worry about wires cluttering up your room.


Accessories

HDMI Cable
High Definition Multimedia Interface cables are essential for connecting two HD devices together. Without a HDMI cable, a full HD quality picture cannot be achieved. Most HD devices such as Blu-Ray players and HD Freeview boxes will come equipped with a HDMI cable, meaning you don't have to go out and buy one.

Surge Protector
Surge protectors have 2 primary functions: Firstly, they provide multiple plug sockets, meaning there's a power source for every device in your home entertainment system and you don't run the risk of over-loading one plug socket. Secondly, they protect your electrical devices from voltage spikes and surges, significantly above the designated level. When these occur, they can cause electrical wires to burst and put strain on your electrical devices, causing them to lose power and efficiency over time.

Mounts/Brackets
Wall mounts allow you to attach your television to a wall or ceiling, saving you space and keeping them out of harm's way. They are particularly useful for rooms where space is limited, such as a study or small bedroom. There are 3 main types of television mounts/brackets:

  • Fixed - The most basic type of wall mount. They allow you to fix a television as close to a wall as possible, in one stationary position. With a fixed wall mount, the television will be displayed at one fixed angle, meaning you will not be able to adjust its position.
  • Tilting - Like the fixed mount, tilting mounts allow you to place your television close to a wall. However, with a tilting mount, you have the freedom to adjust the angle of the screen, which is a particularly useful feature when you're forced to locate your television higher than you'd like. E.g. in a bedroom above a cabinet, or in the living room above the fireplace. You can also tilt the screen to reduce the glare from natural light, which is great in bright rooms such as conservatories and kitchens.
  • Articulating - With an articulating mount, you have complete freedom to position your television in whatever manner you wish. You can position it up against the wall to save space, or have it extended outwards to give you a better view. Articulating mounts are perfect for bigger, family rooms as you can adjust the television to suit different sitting positions.
Apple TV
The first thing to understand about Apple TV is that it is not a television. It is a small device that connects to your television and allows you to stream media via your Internet connection. With Apple TV, you can stream movies and TV shows from iTunes, YouTube and Netflix and enjoy them on your home entertainment system. You can purchase Apple TV for just £99.99.

Glossary

  • Bandwidth - The amount of information that can be transmitted over a certain connection. It is measured in bits per second (bps). You can download more from the Internet with higher bandwidths.
  • Diode - A one way valve which allows an electrical current to flow in one direction but not the other.
  • DLNA - Digital Living Network Alliance. A non-profit organisation, which sets standards that allow the easy sharing of data between devices. E.g. music, video, photos.
  • EPG - Electronic Programme Guide. An electronic guide used by most televisions that informs you of current and upcoming programmes.
  • Freeview - A free digital TV service used in the UK.
  • HDTV - High-Definition Television. Provides a far superior picture to older televisions.
  • Hertz - The measurement of frequency, current and electricity. Used with televisions to measure refresh rate.
  • IMDB - Internet Movie Database. The world's most popular source for television and movie content.
  • Interlaced Scan - A method for displaying an image on a television screen. More traditional TV screens use this method. Half the screen appears first and then the other half appears an instant later.
  • PAP - Picture and Picture. Allows two signals to be displayed on the same TV screen at the same time.
  • PAL - Phase Alternative Line. The television system used in most European countries.
  • PIP - Picture in Picture. Allows one channel to be displayed in a small window in the corner of a screen.
  • Progressive Scan - A method for displaying an image on a television screen. The entire picture is 'painted' at once, which reduces screen flickering.
  • Scart - A type of connection used to connect audio and video devices. Suitable for non-HD devices.
  • Screen Resolution - The best indicator of screen quality. It is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the better the quality of screen.
  • Sky 3D - The UK and Ireland's only dedicated 3D television channel. With Sky 3D, you can watch 3D movies, sports and other programmes from the comfort of your own home with no extra cost for Sky World HD customers.
  • Wi-Fi - A high-speed Internet and Network connection that doesn't require any wires. Many public places such as pubs and restaurants offer Wi-Fi zones, allowing you to connect to the Internet via a portable media device.