How to buy a TV: everything you need to know to get a set that's right for you

Don't buy a TV without reading this first

LG Electronics

If ever a company could be described as a game of two halves, it’s LG. On the one hand its OLED TV technology – which LG has championed and made pretty much single-handedly for the past three or four years – has caused many an AV fan to swoon at its stunning picture quality. On the other hand, its LCD screens have consistently failed to impress, and seem to be finding life increasingly difficult now we’re into the era of high dynamic range pictures.

Starting with the good stuff, LG has delivered big leaps forward with the picture quality of its OLED TVs for the past three years running, culminating in the remarkable images and incredible ‘wallpaper’ design of the recently reviewed OLED65W7

There have been concerns over the ability of OLED screens to get bright enough to handle HDR properly, and LG has had to overcome considerable manufacturing and lifespan challenges in trying to make big-screen OLED TVs a consumer proposition. These issues seem to have been largely overcome, however, resulting in OLED screens now only costing a fraction of what they did five years ago.

That said, LG hasn’t quite managed to reduce the prices of its OLED TVs enough for them to be considered truly mid-range, meaning they’re still a premium proposition; but they’re a premium proposition that reviewers and AV enthusiasts alike seem increasingly eager to embrace.

The problem for LG’s LCD division is painfully simple: namely that every set is built using LG Display’s IPS panel technology. Which means they all suffer with that technology’s shortcomings when it comes to delivering a good black level/contrast performance. Especially with high dynamic range content.

To be fair, the new Nano Cell technology that LG is introducing with some of its IPS TVs in 2017 looks like it may improve contrast and color performance considerably, and rumors are circulating that suggest that we may only be a year or two away from a really quite revolutionary advance for IPS technology. 

As things stand, though, the gulf between LG’s OLED and LCD technologies really is pretty extreme.

Panasonic

The rise of LG and Samsung has made life hard for the once mighty Japanese brands. As a result, Panasonic no longer sells TVs in the United States. It is, though, still a force to be reckoned with elsewhere in the world, and still seems generally dedicated to giving consumers a premium experience built on ‘as the director intended’ picture quality and straightforward but effective interfaces.

The biggest cloud over Panasonic’s recent history has been the slow death of plasma TV technology, and the struggles the brand has had trying to move from that to LCD screen tech. 

It’s now starting to get to grips with the switch, though, thanks to a willingness to innovate – as with the ‘honeycomb’ LCD panel design it introduced last year – and being able to draw on the expertise and R&D of both its successful professional monitor division and its renowned Hollywood Laboratory. A number of semi-professional processing and color technologies have filtered down to the upper echelons of Panasonic’s consumer TVs to pretty strong effect.

Perhaps the most exciting development for Panasonic, though, is its decision to start selling OLED TVs. OLED’s self-emissive nature has much more in common with Panasonic’s beloved plasma technology than LCD, enabling Panasonic to port over its peerless plasma know-how to a new generation of TV technology. Panasonic’s ultra-high OLED debut in 2015 was that year’s finest TV, and its recently announced 2017 series of four OLED models is looking hugely promising too. 

Embracing OLED does perhaps mean that Panasonic is focussing less on LCD than it has before. Certainly its 2017 range to date doesn’t seem as focused on pushing LCD as a premium HDR solution as it has been before. Experience suggests, though, that so long as you pick your mid-range Panasonic LCD TV carefully, they can deliver some of the best results. 

Why do you have to pick carefully? Because Panasonic has, like other brands, used a few IPS panels for certain screen sizes and certain series in recent years, invariably with less than stellar results. 

So long as you avoid these, though, Panasonic is probably the best challenger for Samsung in terms of delivering good quality at a wide range of price points.

Philips (Europe only)

Before we go any further, note that in this section we're talking about the European Philips TV brand now owned by TP Vision; we're not talking about the US brand currently controlled by Funai.

Under the stewardship of TP Vision, Philips has generally become much more valuefocused than it used to be. Over the past six months in particular it’s really started to shift significant numbers of affordable models through mass-market retailers such as Argos, doing a particularly good job of making 4K TVs an entry-level proposition.

Despite its value push, TP Vision has sensibly continued to use Philips’ eye-catching and unique Ambilight technology on all but its most basic TVs, giving the brand an immediate and eye-catching point of difference. You generally get more high-quality picture processing on affordable Philips TVs than you do with other budget models, too.

The only problem with the value end of Philips’ recent ranges has been those sets' heavy reliance on low-contrast IPS panels – a policy that Philips doesn’t seem set to reverse any time soon.

The good news for video enthusiasts is that while TP Vision has generally pushed the bottom and mid-lower parts of the Philips TV brand downwards, it hasn’t seemingly sought to prevent Philips’ engineers from innovating, and maintaining an uncompromising pursuit of quality with its high-end models. 

Recent hits such as the 65PUS7601 LCD TV and 55POS901F/12 OLED TV have been up there with the very best any brand has to offer, and recent announcements of another OLED TV (the Philips 55POS9002) and new high-level picture processing engine suggest that Philips is still very much a brand to watch.