Note: It’s been difficult to write a column about such a relativity unimportant topic compared to what’s been going on this week. The one observation, however, that makes me smile, is how fortunate and ironic it was that these domestic terrorists believed in Donald Trump so much, that they didn’t wear protective face masks, making it so much easier to be identified and arrested. Darwin’s Law at work.

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When we get depressed and want an escape, a normal human response is to go buy something. So this week let’s discuss buying a new large screen high definition television (HDTV). It seems the perfect time for a new HDTV –  being confined at home and with all the new entertainment available thru streaming. Now is a good time to shop if you’re still watching on an older set. You can find decent HDTVs for as little as $110 for a 32-inch size and $300 for 55″ and 65″ HDTVs.  But there are also HDTVs for close to $2000 that look much the same. So how do you make an intelligent selection?

Brands

There are many brands to choose from, including some you’ve never heard of. TSL and HiSense are giant Chinese manufacturers, while others are unknown names, house brands, or products licensing their brand. There are so many good choices from true manufacturers, I’d avoid licensed and store brand sets such as Westinghouse, Polaroid, and Best Buy’s Insignia brand.

The top tier companies that design and build their own sets are Samsung, LG, and Sony. They offer a full range of models in all sizes from 43-inches upwards. Each of these brands offer multiple models in each size that fall into three price ranges for three levels of performance: good, better and best. Invariably, the best sets are those using OLED flat panels, the same display technology used in the top of the line cellphones. The others use LCD technology, much like our computer displays. OLED displays offer higher contrast, better sharpness and blacker blacks. LCD technology used in the other models vary in their technology and account for the large majority of models sold. The product lines typically fall into these categories:

OLED: $1500

LCD (Better): $550 – $800

LCD (Good): $250 – $400

The better quality LCD displays are superb, sometimes coming close to OLED in quality.  The lower cost LCD sets tend to have a narrower viewing angle, less resolution and perceived sharpness, less dynamic range, and more motion blur.

In the lower end sets, the processors are less powerful and the sound may not be quite as good.  Yet, in spite of these compromises, these models offer very good performance, similar to sets that cost $2000 just a few years ago.

Other brands to consider include Vizio, TCL, and HiSense, that tend to be a little less expensive and offer good value. TCL and HiSense are huge Chinese manufacturers that are top sellers in their domestic market. But they’ve become very popular here for their lower prices and bonus features such as having Roku built in.

Among all of the companies, only Vizio is a US company. They contract their manufacturing to China, much as Apple contracts out their products. LG and Samsung are Korean and Sony is Japanese, but all of them build sets outside of their home countries.

Operating Systems

All HDTVs now  are smart TVs, which means, just like a phone, there’s an operating system to control the TV and add apps for different streaming services. Samsung and LG use their own versions, Tizen and WebOS. Sony uses the Android TV OS. Some, such as TCL use Roku. Roku can also be used with any set by buying their plug in stick.

Most reviewers prefer Android and Roku. Some, such as Samsung’s Tizen generate ads that can’t be turned off. In fact, in examining hundreds of Samsung reviews, it’s rarely the image that is criticized and more likely random annoyances such as pop-up ads and their policy of data collection (Samsung), audio, and poor remote controls.

I’ve tried most of these systems and checked the reviews of others and rank them as follows: Android, Roku, Samsung’s Tizen, and LG’s WebOS

Reviews

I’ve read hundreds of reviews, including those from experts on tech sites and customers on Amazon and other retailers, and there is often little consensus. Professional recommendations typically follow features – the more the better. Many of them are tied to affiliate programs that provide a compensation should you click to a retail site. And many times their reviews tend to nitpick on features only a tech geek could appreciate, let alone understand. I find the Amazon and Best Buy customer reviews much more useful. That where you learn about real issues, such as Samsung injecting ads, mounting issues, difficult to use remotes and poor customer support.

The consensus is that the best OLED comes from LG, and the most advanced LCD technology comes from Samsung. None of them seem to offer great customer support.  That’s why you might try to find a suitable choice at Costco, who has the best reputation for service, often offering a free extended warrantee and an easy return policy.

Prices

Costco seems to offer prices that are often $50 less than Best Buy and Amazon when they have a sale, and sometimes a free extended warranty. For those that want the lowest cost/largest size screen, TCL, Vizio, and Hi-Sense are good options. For those looking for a step up in quality choosing the “Better” LCD models from LG, Samsung or Sony is a safe bet. You’re getting most of the features of the OLED at one-third to half the cost.