Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: Our TV is at the end of its life. We've had it for 12 years, it's a 32-inch model. There seems to be a big difference in price in the shops between new sets. We always found the 32-inch to be big enough, but most of them now are much bigger. Is there any advantage to getting a bigger one? Also, do we need to get '4K' as most of the more expensive models now have?
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Answer: The starting point for most TVs is now between 40 and 43 inches. But a 40-inch model today is probably about the same overall dimensions as a 32-inch model from 12 years ago, because today's models have very thin 'bezels' (the metal or plastic frame around the screen). So in relation to the layout of your living room, a 40-inch model shouldn't look any bigger as a piece of furniture. Obviously, the screen itself is bigger. But unless your room is absolutely tiny, a 40-inch display is unlikely to feel overwhelming.
That said, you can still get 32-inch TVs. But they're very much at the ultra-budget range. That's great for your wallet, but could mean a compromise in one or two other ways: I'll get to that a little further down.
If you look around, you'll see that a 40-inch TV now ranges in price from around €350 to €800. The main differences between the cheaper sets and the more expensive ones are the quality of the picture, the sound, the physical design and the connections. All of these are worth considering.
The first main issue you need to decide is: do I need a '4K' television? As you probably know, 4K (also called 'ultra high definition or UHD), is a higher resolution picture, meaning that you're supposed to be able to see a bit more detail if you look closely. Services such as Netflix are starting to offer TV series and movies in this higher resolution for TVs that can support it, although it's always available in the lower 'full HD' or 'HD' formats, too. But before you think this is a basic requirement for your TV, know that the vast majority of TV programmes and movies broadcast are still not in the 4K resolution format. Even for those that are, it's hard to see any real difference unless your TV set is closer to 60 inches (twice the size of a 40-inch set). So if you're buying a 40-inch or 43-inch model, you won't miss out on much at all if it's merely 'full HD' rather than '4K'. You'll also save a further 10pc to 20pc on the cost.
That said, if you plan on keeping your television for another 12 years, it's very possible that 4K will become a broadcast standard in a few years, especially if you watch lots of sport.
For a 40-inch set, a bigger consideration is high dynamic range (HDR). In essence, this technology separates shades and colours better, meaning that you see much more detail in a night-time scene (think of certain parts of Christopher Nolan's Batman films or the epic final battle against the Night King in Game of Thrones). There are different levels of HDR, but you really should have some element of it in a new set.
There are also differences in the way the screen is physically illuminated from within the set. I won't get into the technicalities in a column like this, but it's safe to say that for each €50 to €100 you go up in price, you'll get better picture quality. A good example is the difference between, say, Panasonic's TX43GX550b (€370) and Samsung's Q60R (€779). The cheaper set does most of what the dearer one does, but the image quality is unquestionably brighter and more vivid on the Samsung. You'll see this if you walk into any of the big electronics superstores (Harvey Norman, Currys, DID, PowerCity, Expert).
The other important feature that is often overlooked when shopping for a new TV is the sound quality. Ever since televisions all moved to a flat screen format, the audio has suffered a lot due to thinner speakers. The result is often tinny sound, leaving you wanting an additional sound bar (which is a pain to set up and usually costs over €100).
Lots of TVs now have their speakers on the rear of the set, which means that the audio might suffer if you want to wall-mount it. In my experience, the best result is if the TV is placed with a few inches of space away from a rear wall. This usually results in a pleasing amplification.
As for which set offers the best audio, any of the ones I've seen priced over €400 do a reasonable job. If you want to go ultra-budget at €300 or under (there are a few 40-inch models out there at that price), you should definitely ask to hear the sound first.
Beware of a TV that replaces its 3.5mm headphone port with Bluetooth: the latter often has a delay that will leave you frustrated. (I find a headphone port very handy for when someone wants to watch late at night and doesn't want to disturb others.)
Also, most new TVs now have Wi-Fi and direct links to Netflix, Amazon Prime movies or YouTube built in - but there are still one or two that don't. These built-in smart apps are very handy.
Recommendation: Samsung 43RU7100 (€419 from Harvey Norman)
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