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

The sound quality of flat TVs can vary immensely. So if you’re not intending to use some sort of external sound system, this is something you should pay attention to.

Most brands quote a number of watts of power for their TV speaker systems, but this is seldom helpful in deciding how a TV is likely to sound. 

Look instead, for instance, at how many speakers a TV has, and the configuration of those speakers. For instance, a ‘2.1’ configuration would indicate stereo main speakers with the ‘.1’ bit pointing to a dedicated bass speaker. Or a 3.1 configuration would point to a dedicated centre or dialogue channel alongside stereo and bass speakers.

Subwoofer speakers for bass are always welcome given how much TV speakers generally struggle with the lower end of the sound spectrum.

Another audio issue is that the lack of room available to speakers in thin TVs means they usually have to fire their sound downwards, which can lead to an indirect, muffled, weedy sound. TVs that manage to provide forward-firing speakers tend to sound much cleaner and more powerful.

Some TVs of late have even gone so far as to ship with soundbars that either hang off their bottom edge or sit separately below the main screen frame.

One final word of warning here is that you should treat the claims of TVs to offer DTS or Dolby Digital surround decoding with scepticism. No TV can deliver anything close to a proper surround sound experience from its own speakers without using actual rear speakers, and many sound pretty horrible if they try. Experience shows that a good stereo sound – especially with a subwoofer to add bass – routinely trumps a half-baked pseudo-surround sound system or mode.

  • If you're not satisfied with your TVs built-in speakers, here's a guide to the best soundbars around