TV Buyers Guide: Brighter Images on Display

Exceptional Values in Jumbo, Ultralarge, Large & Small LED TVs and Front-Projection TVs

Ultrahigh-definition (UHD) TVs now cost as little as $380, and it’s difficult to find a non-UHDTV that’s 60 inches or larger. Meanwhile, manufacturers introduced two technologies that produce a wider range of brightness and color than ever before.

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You still can’t find a lot of 4K ultrahigh-definition (UHD) content to watch, but UHDTVs now dominate the market among models that are 60 inches or larger.

In the past 2 years, UHDTVs that deliver four times the pixel resolution (3840 x 2160) of a high-definition (HD) TV surged into the market. In 2017, manufacturers expect to ship 15.6 million UHDTVs in the United States, which is up 390 percent from the 4 million UHDTVs that were shipped in 2015, according to Consumer Technology Association.

We found that UHDTVs make up all of the models that are 80 inches and larger and 92.7 percent (113 of 122) of the models that are 60 inches and larger, compared with 69 percent of models that were 60 inches and larger in 2015. The good news is that the higher resolution comes at a lower price than it did before. We found that 60-inch UHDTVs now start at $750, compared with $1,500 before. The smallest UHDTV that we found is 40 inches ($380), compared with 43 inches ($600) before.

Unfortunately, more than 95 percent of all TV content still is in HD resolution, according to Ray Soneira of DisplayMate Technologies, which is an independent laboratory. Your best sources to get 4K content are Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs and specific streaming services.

4K content is increasing slowly. As of press time, we found 329 Ultra HD Blu-ray titles, compared with about 100 1 year ago. Most major movies now are released in Ultra HD Blu-ray format and typically cost $10–$30.

As of press time, Netflix had 122 series, shows and movies that are available in 4K, and it shoots all of its original content in 4K. Amazon has shot all of its original content in 4K since 2014 and had 100 4K titles as of press time. Hulu introduced 4K content, including almost all of the “007” movies, in late 2016. What’s good news is that almost all UHDTVs that were introduced in the past 2 years support 4K content from Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.

FandangoNow, Sony Playstation Video, Sony Ultra, UltraFlix, Vudu and YouTube stream 4K content. However, we found that the 4K-streaming apps work only on select TVs that come from a few manufacturers. In other words, your TV probably supports YouTube’s video-streaming app, but it might not support YouTube’s 4K video-streaming app. If you want to watch 4K content, you should check compatibility before you buy a UHDTV.

Satellite-TV services Dish and DirectTV deliver 4K content live and on demand. We found that their selections were limited as of press time, but the two companies say they’ll continue to expand their 4K libraries.

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In 2015, Comcast talked about introducing a cable set-top box that would support 4K broadcasts, but it tells us now that it has no immediate plans to do so. The company wouldn’t say whether it plans to release a 4K set-top box in the next 2 years.

One source of 4K content still is missing: broadcast TV. Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) sets the broadcast standards for all of the over-the-air TV stations, and all U.S. stations use the ATSC 2.0 standard, which supports resolutions that are up to 1080p. At press time, ATSC was finalizing its ATSC 3.0 standard, which would allow U.S. TV stations to broadcast their signals in 4K.

However, at press time, it wasn’t clear when ATSC 3.0 implementation would begin in the United States. Experts say that will take place in 2018 at the earliest. Unfortunately, existing UHDTVs aren’t compatible with ATSC 3.0, so you’d have to buy a compatible UHDTV or get a separate external adapter or tuner to see any benefit from the new standard. You still would be able to watch TV, but it would be at a lower image quality than what 4K provides. Experts say that eventually—at least 4 years from now—only 4K signals will be used, so you’ll have to have an ATSC 3.0 tuner or a UHDTV that has built-in ATSC 3.0 capability, so you can watch TV. It’s the same sort of transformation that happened when broadcasters stopped using analog TV signals.

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