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Shopping for a TV

I’ve been shopping for a new large screen TV to replace a twelve year old Samsung, and it’s been quite an ordeal. Remember the book, Paradox of Choice? It’s about when there are too many choices it’s impossible to reach a decision. That’s what I faced.

I’ve done quite a bit of research in an effort to find a 55-inch set that provides excellent picture quality around my target cost (~$1000) from a brand that has good reliability. Compared to just a few years ago where it was easy to understand the several types of displays, there are now hundreds of sets at all price ranges from more than a dozen brands. And not only are there current year models, but models from 2022 and even 2021 still being sold alongside the 2023 ones.

I poured through the various reviews on line. The best source I found was with extensive reviews for scores of sets. Far better than the myriad of tech reviews sites. Rtings actually has a lab and does extensive tests with ratings on hundreds of sets.

Consumers Report was less helpful, but did rate Sony , Samsung and LG highest for reliability. I also read dozens of reviews on Amazon to get a sense of reliability. Anecdotedly, the cheaper sets from HiSense, TCL, and Vizeo, seemed to have more failures.

All things being equal, I also preferred a set that used the Google TV operating system, matching the operating system on my other two sets. That meant Samsung and LG with their own OSes would be lower on my list. I also didn’t want a set that runs Roku, because of my poor experience using it on my current Samsung set. It’s been slow, often loses its WiFi connection, and has a confusing operating system filled with ads.

I visited Costco, since they offer some of the best consumer-friendly policies of any retailer: a long return window and additional years of warranty at no extra cost. But Costco had few sets that met my criteria. No upper-end Sony or HiSense TVs – the two brands that use Google TVOS.

What I discovered as I did my research is there are about 4 or 5 levels of image quality based on the panel technology and the electronics. There are a range of LED models with names like Crystal UHD, HDR LED, QLED, Mini-LED QLED, NEO QLED, etc. that range in price from a few hundred dollars to over $1000, and then OLEDs that range in price from about $1500 to close to $3000. OLED TV panels use a totally different technology that provides deeper blacks and better contrast. It’s the same technology used in iPhones. Just a few years ago OLED TVs were priced in the $2K-$4K range.

I decided to visit Best Buy that had the most models of any local retailer, at least according to their website showing what was in stock at my local store. But that turned out to be a big disappointment. The TVs were arranged hapharzardly, neither by screen size, price or brand, and the signage was so tiny it was impossible to know the prices of the specific sets. I was particularly interested in viewing one of the highly rated sets, a HiSense U8. But it wasn’t on display. The sales person suggested I could bring it home and if I didn’t like it, just return it.

In terms of picture quality, the lower end sets have pictures that fall off in brightness as you move off axis, have more image smear, and suffer from other screen artifacts, especially with video. They tend to be less contrasty and have somewhat softer images, and they look washed out when viewing from the side.

The mid-range sets are able to do more manipulation of the LCDs and control their backlighting to create a sharper, more contrasty image. OLEDs are in a class of their own in terms of contrast and minimal fall off. But they have their own issue of burning in of images when a set is left on wth a fixed high contrast subject (such as a CNN bar running under the image.).

I never did find that set for $1000. I ended up spending $500 more and bought a Sony entry level OLED, because I do often watch from a seat off to the side. Costco got my order, delivered it 3 days after I ordered it and set the set up at no charge.