Now Is the Time to Buy a 4K TV—But Which One?

Which Ultra High Definition (UHD) 4K TV should you buy? This is about the easiest “What (fill in device type) should I buy?” question a tech nerd has ever had to answer. Without commercial bias or compensation for the recommendation, there is only one answer: The newest OLED TV from LG—the LG OLED65B6P, available for a price of under $3000 on Amazon. If that price tag seems a bit steep, opt instead for the 2015 LG 65EF9500.

Why is this question so easy to answer? These two LG sets, or even the company’s flagship Signature OLED65G6P, check off all the boxes of a desirable and virtually future-proof 4K TV that you’ll enjoy for years to come. Or until 8K TV is foisted on us.

No Backlighting

So what makes these two LG sets so great? First and foremost is LG’s OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technology, which is vastly superior to standard LED LCD.

“OLED is vastly superior to LED LCD”

Just as a 35 mm film needs a projector, an LCD panel requires a light shown through it from the rear so you can see the image. On most LCD TVs, this backlight is supplied by LEDs arrayed around the edges of the frame. Some LCD sets, such as those from Vizio, offer superior “full array backlighting” (FALD), a grid of LED lights arrayed behind the LCD panel. FALD backlighting enables “local dimming”—specific lights in the LED grid are programmed to adjust to the lighting needs of a section of the image.

But LED backlighting is indiscriminate, including (to a lesser extent) FALD. Even if a scene requires absolute black, such as a scene in space, there is still some backlighting needed or you wouldn’t be able to see the stuff in space—stars, ships, planets, etc. As a result, blacks look more charcoal gray on an LCD screen because that backlighting is always on.

OLED doesn’t need any backlighting. Each of the individual 8 million pixels on an 4K OLED TV is self-illuminating. If a scene calls for absolute black, those pixels just turn themselves off—no light, no nothing. Scenes in space are stygian, and colors jump off the OLED screen as if painted on black velvet. No other TV technology, not even plasma, has ever rendered blacks as perfectly and utterly black as OLED.

But why only LG for OLED? Because LG bought the original OLED patents from the technology’s inventor—Kodak—and it took LG 10 years to perfect it. Most name brand TV makers have tried—and failed—to successfully and, more importantly, cost-effectively, manufacturer OLED TVs. And they all failed. So, for the time being, LG is and will be the only OLED game in town. This solitary supplier situation should not worry you in the least. There are no 4K compatibility issues involved, and LG is as committed to OLED as the Pope is to the Vatican.

Size Matters

Why a 65-inch set? What’s wrong with a smaller, less expensive model? Because buying a 55-inch 4K TV or smaller is a waste of money.

4K TVs pack in 8 million pixels, four times as many as a regular HDTV, also known as 2K. More pixels means smaller pixels, and smaller pixels means you can sit much closer to your 4K TV than your current HDTV and not see the individual pixels that make up the 4K image.

As a result, optimal viewing distance from a 65-inch 4K TV is around 4–8 feet, while you’d need to sit around 9–12 feet from a 65-inch 2K set to get the optimal effect; you can calculate your own screen size/resolution/distance figures using this interactive tool.

To see any benefit from a 55-inch 4K set, you’d have to sit 4–5 feet away from it—fine for intense (maybe too intense) gamers, not so comfy for the rest of us. But from a normal viewing distance—7 or more feet away—it’d take a pair of platinum eyes to detect the difference between a 55-inch 4K and a 55-inch 2K TV.

If a 55-inch TV is as big a TV as you want, opt for a much cheaper 2K model, such as the Vizio D55-D2 or E55-C2, both FALD LED LCD models, both priced at less than a tenth the price of our recommended 65-inch 4K OLED.

Better Than More Pixels

More pixels are nice—you’ll see a lot more detail than on a 2K set as long as you’re close enough to the screen. But what you really would notice between last year’s 4K TVs and this year’s is improved contrast and more colors.

Widely available for the first time in most of this year’s top 4K models, both OLED and LCD, are new HDR (high dynamic range) and WCG (wider color gamut) technologies.

If you’ve got an iPhone or a top Android phone, you’re somewhat familiar with HDR, a feature that dramatically boosts the contrast of still photos you snap. You don’t need the aforementioned platinum eyes to see the difference between side-by-side HDR and non-HDR sets.

WCG raises the numbers of colors a TV set can display from millions to billions, and can display more than 75 percent of the colors the human eye can see, compared to not even half those colors on a standard HDTV.

Check out some vivid before-and-after HDR and WCG differences on this UHD Blu-ray promotional site (and you can now buy the first 4K UHD Blu-ray player, the Samsung UBD-K8500.

Flat Is Phat

You’ll notice that both our recommended LG 4K TVs are flat, not curved. That’s because curved TVs are an awful idea, a scam perpetrated by cynical marketing types.

You see, 4K TV makers knew you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between 2K and 4K sets exhibited under the bright fluorescent lights at your local big box electronics store. So TV makers curved their 4K sets to better differentiate them from plain old 2K HDTVs, then spun a false narrative about how “enveloping” the curvature made what you were watching.

The truth is that curved TVs are actually detrimental to TV viewing. First, the curvature cuts down the side viewing angle. Second, ambient light gets reflected weirdly like on any curved glass or mirror. Third, a curved TV eliminates the advantage of a thin TV—and OLED sets can be as thin as a pencil—especially if you plan to mount it on a wall. So, we insist you buy only a flat 4K TV.

Bottom line: A 65-inch flat 4K LG OLED is your best long-term TV investment, and the best TV you can buy today—unless you’ve got the deep pockets to spring for the company’s drool-worthy soon-to-arrive 77-inch Signature OLED77G6P. How much? If you have to ask … we only know we’re seeking a reverse mortgage or a loan shark—or both—for one.

Stewart Wolpin is a veteran consumer electronics expert who writes about the latest technology for eBay.com, where you can find many of these TVs and other devices to satisfy your home entertainment needs.

 

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