Which television should you buy?
Televisions today continue to increase in size and resolution and, ahead of the Euro 2016 kick-off, we look at the move to ultra-high definition and offer 11 Choice Buys, writes Clodagh O'Donoghue
The TV market has developed rapidly over the last few years. Not so long ago, high-definition or HD was the buzzword in the sector, with our tests noting the benefits of newer TVs that were HD-ready or that offered full HD - a huge step up from the resolution and detail delivered by standard-definition TV sets.
Last year, when we examined the TV category, we saw the emergence in the market of a small number of ultra-HD TVs capable of showing 4K content - up to four times the resolution of mere HD. This year, more than half the TVs in our very sizeable batch - and all of our Choice Buys - offer ultra-HD resolution, demonstrating the speed at which this market evolves.
In addition, whereas a few years back a 32-inch TV was standard for a family-sized room, now screen sizes have grown to such an extent that 32 inches looks fairly puny, and consumers are favouring models that measure 40 inches or more. Although our current batch is focused on TVs that measure up to 55 inches, there are many examples of larger models on the market, stretching to 65, 75 and even 85 inches. And with the newer screens and higher resolution, you do not need to sit so far back from the TV for the optimum viewing experience. This means that you can afford to opt for a size or two bigger than you might have in the past - and consumers are doing so in their droves.
And, of course, TVs are now smart devices, with almost all models on test boasting built-in wi-fi, enabling you to download apps to your TV as you would to a smartphone, stream media and on-demand television from sources such as Netflix and browse the internet. The different manufacturers offer different operating systems similar to those found in computers or smartphones for running the smart features on their TVs and they are including powerful processors in their models to keep everything zipping along at a speedy pace.
Over half the TVs in our current batch offer ultra-HD - also known as 4K, UHD and 4K UHD - and provide impressive 3840 x 2160 resolution or four times the pixels of HD TVs. Ultra-HD sets tend to have screen sizes of 40 inches or more, as the extra detail in the picture can only really be appreciated on a larger display.
You can purchase a 4K set from upwards of €700 and, at its best, this higher resolution will deliver extraordinary detail and superb clarity so that images seem almost three dimensional. There is still a problem accessing content to fully show off this capability, though those with 4K camcorders might be keen to play their footage in all its glory and there may be 4K content available to be streamed through Netflix or via You Tube for those who have sufficient broadband speeds.
In addition, blu-ray and DVD players with the ability to upscale normal discs to near-4K quality are emerging on the market and 4K TV channels are slowly coming on stream. Thus, although the amount of 4K content may be limited currently, this is likely to grow rapidly in the next few years and you may consider it worthwhile to future proof your TV for when this higher resolution becomes the norm by opting for an ultra-HD model now.
Beyond ultra-HD, manufacturers are pushing picture quality in other ways. Samsung is touting its new 4K SUHD series of TVs that use 'nano crystal' technology - a version of quantum dot technology - that the manufacturer claims boosts colour vibrancy and differentiation for a "brighter, more true-to-life" picture. Meanwhile, LG is focusing on OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology for its more high-end offerings.
Whereas LED TVs incorporate a large number of tiny lights that backlight the screen, OLED TVs do not need a backlight, so they can be even slimmer than LED TVs and each organic cell creates its own light source, helping to produce a more vibrant picture with deeper blacks, greater contrasts, reduced blurring during fast-action scenes and much improved viewing angles.
Embracing the curves?
Another innovation that seemed almost futuristic a couple of years ago and that made a tentative appearance in our tests last year, curved screens are now becoming more common, with around a quarter of our current batch sporting concave displays.
The idea behind the gentle curve is that it will provide a more immersive cinematic experience for users but testers have not always found the viewing experience to be greatly enhanced over flat-screen devices with otherwise identical specifications. There can be also downsides to the curvature, with viewing angles likely to suffer significantly.
With a lot of these TVs, you will need to sit directly in front of them to obtain the best view whereas for anyone positioned off to the side slightly, there will be some fading. As a result, curved screens may not currently be the ideal choice for a family sitting room where there might be several people watching the TV at once - as some members of the group may be getting a significantly better view than others. Reflections can also be a problem with these screens, with users noting some unusual stretching and distorting of bright objects reflected in a curved screen compared with a flat screen.
These product tests are extracted from 'Consumer Choice', the online magazine of the Consumers' Association of Ireland (CAI), and are carried out for the CAI by independent consumer research organisation International Consumer Research and Testing. For more information see thecai.ie
1. Samsung UE55JS9000, €2,999
The Choice Buy Samsung UE55JS900 has a huge price to match its very sizeable 55-inch screen, but it offers exceptional quality and an extensive range of high-end features. With resolution of 3840 x 2160, this TV is one of the manufacturer's 4K SUHD devices and provides outstandingly detailed pictures on its curved screen, which is more than matched by the superb sound quality on offer - though testers noted that viewing angles are a little narrow. Those interested in viewing 3D content will be impressed with the television's capabilities and the built-in Wi-Fi allows for access to the internet and an array of excellent smart TV features running on Samsung's Tizen operating system. A second remote control is provided for navigating the smart TV service - though both the remote and the overall service might take a bit of getting used to. A slightly smaller though still very substantial 48-inch version - the Samsung UE48JS9000 - is also available and scored equally highly in tests.
2. LG 55UF950V, €3,300
The Choice Buy LG 55UF950V is another pricey, big-screen device that delivers stunning picture quality and plenty of features for your money. The 3840 x 2160 resolution makes for impressively sharp and detailed images and sound quality is superb to further enhance the experience. An added bonus is the wide viewing angle that means that large groups can watch the 55-inch screen without those at the edges being short-changed in terms of what they can see. Also excellent is the 3D performance of this TV and PVR functionality is available if you add USB storage, letting you record and pause live TV programmes. The integrated Wi-Fi lets you access the Internet and LG's webOS-based smart TV system that may be navigated using the manufacturer's 'Magic Remote' control, which testers found fairly straightforward and intuitive to use and which includes a handy pointer for clicking on apps and icons on the screen.
3. Samsung UE48JU7500, €1,699
The Choice Buy Samsung UE48JU7500 offers 3840 x 2160 resolution on its 48-inch curved screen, providing superbly sharp and bright images both with 4K ultra-HD content and the more ubiquitous HD content. Audio quality is also great, with a full and rich sound, and this device's active 3D technology does a great job of showing 3D content. Testers were not impressed by the viewing angle, however, which they found to be fairly narrow, with pictures fading when viewed from the side. This TV is straightforward to use, with menus that are intuitive to navigate via the standard remote control. A second 'Smart Touch' remote facilitates navigation around the TV's smart features, run on Samsung's Tizen operating system, with everything zipping along speedily thanks to the device's quad-core processor. By connecting USB storage, you can access this TV's PVR functionality that enables you to pause and rewind live programmes and even lets you record one programme while watching another.
4. LG 55UG870V, €1,799
The Choice Buy LG 55UG870V is again a very large device for those who have the space in their homes and it will deliver an excellent viewing experience on its 55-inch curved screen. This ultra-HD TV offers 3840 x 2160 resolution and provides stunningly sharp images both when displaying 4K and HD content. Audio quality is equally good, with a pleasantly balanced, rich sound - and, for those who have a 3D blu-ray player, this device is superb at showing 3D content using passive technology. Through the built-in Wi-Fi, you can access the internet and LG's webOS smart TV, which is well designed though it may take a bit of getting used to initially. The manufacturer's 'Magic Remote' can be used for navigating everyday features as well as the smart TV features and is intuitive to use, though testers found that the menus could be more clearly structured and were a little slow to load.
5. Samsung UE55JU6500, €1,400
The lowest-priced of our current 55-inch TV sets, the Choice Buy Samsung UE55JU6500 gives you a sizeable device with lots of high-end and handy features. The curved screen particularly impresses when displaying 4K content, which may be accessed through Netflix streaming or other sources, though the more familiar HD and standard-definition content will also look well. The sound delivered is also pretty good to further enhance the viewing experience - though the viewing angle on this device is a little narrow. Samsung's excellent range of smart TV features may be accessed via the integrated wi-fi and are run on the manufacturer's Tizen operating system. Navigation of smart TV features is aided by the 'Smart Touch' remote, which comes supplied along with the easy-to-use standard remote for more everyday tasks. If you like the sound of this TV but simply do not have the space, a much smaller 40-inch version similarly impressed our testers and is available for €899.
6. LG 55EG920V, €3,363
The most expensive TV in our current batch, the Choice Buy LG 55EG920V offers a full range of high-end features for your money. Not only does this ultra-HD device have the ability to show 4K content but this is an OLED TV that differs from backlit LED TVs by providing pixels that each creates its own light source, with the effect of producing more vibrant images with deeper blacks, greater contrasts and smooth and steady motion. OLED TVs can be ultra thin but the audio quality on the LG 55EG920V does not suffer, delivering rich pleasing sound to match the superb image quality, with equally impressive performance whether it is showing 4K, HD, standard-definition or even 3D content. Testers found some ease-of-use issues with onscreen menus slow to load and not always intuitive to navigate but this TV provides a good choice of connectors and built-in Wi-Fi enables access to LG's webOS smart TV features, web browser and app store.
7. Samsung UE48JS8500, €1,999
With the Choice Buy Samsung UE48JS8500, the manufacturer seems to have thrown all the high-end features it can think of into one device. From Samsung's SUHD range, this TV not only offers the ability to display 4K content, but it also boasts 'nano crystal' technology that is claimed to increase the vibrancy and contrast of colours on the screen and indeed, image quality was found to be excellent in tests, though the viewing angle could be wider. Sound quality is very decent; 3D performance is great; and Samsung's first-rate range of smart TV features can be accessed through the built-in Wi-Fi. Those who like to multitask can use one half of the screen as a web browser and the other to watch TV and adding USB storage enables PVR functionality, allowing you to pause and rewind live programming as well as watch one show while recording another. If 48 inches is simply too teeny for your needs, the 55-inch version is similarly excellent and is priced at €2,300.
8. Samsung UE40JU6400, €840
Coming down considerably in size and price, the Choice Buy Samsung UE40JU6400 offers 3840 x 2160 resolution for incredibly sharp images on its 40-inch flat screen. Sound quality is also very good to enhance the overall viewing experience and, with quite a wide viewing angle, all members of the family can watch at once. In general, this is an easy-to-use TV and, with four HDMI and three USB sockets, you will be able to attach a range of accessories and devices, including USB storage to enable PVR functionality. Samsung's excellent smart TV features run on the Tizen operating system and the quad-core processor means that everything moves along swiftly. However, with no second remote control supplied, the smart TV features must be navigated via the TV's standard remote, which can be awkward and tedious. For those looking for a significantly larger device, this model may be found in shops in 48-inch, 50-inch, 55-inch and even 60-inch versions, with prices ranging from €930 to €1,999.
9. Samsung UE40JU7000, €1,299
The Choice Buy Samsung UE40JU7000 comes from the manufacturer's 7 Series and is an excellent all-rounder. Image quality is wonderfully sharp when displaying 4K content on the 40-inch flat screen, but HD pictures are also impressively detailed and are matched by high-quality audio. Fans of 3D content will be very pleased with the performance of this TV and overall, this device is intuitive to use with a handy separate connections box - present on many of our Choice Buy Samsung TVs - that houses four HDMI and three USB ports for more convenient access and a more streamlined look. Adding USB storage allows you to use the PVR features that include the ability to record one programme while watching another, and a second smart remote control facilitates navigation of the smart TV features, though these do take a bit of getting used to. Those in need of a bigger screen can opt for the 48-inch or 55-inch versions, priced at €1,830 and €1,999, respectively.
10. Samsung UE40JU6510, €1,399
Again sporting ultra-HD, the Choice Buy Samsung UE40JU6510 does a great job of showing 4K content but HD programming also looks very well on the 40-inch curved screen. Unlike some other Samsung Choice Buys, testers found that this TV has a decent viewing angle, so groups will be able to watch together with equal enjoyment for those positioned in the centre and those sitting to the side slightly. Although you will not be able to watch 3D programming, this TV offers the manufacturer's excellent range of smart TV features, run on Samsung's new Tizen system and powered by a powerful quad-core processor for speedy operation. A second remote control helps with the navigation of the smart features with a pointer similar to a computer mouse cursor that lets you click on apps and icons on the screen. Towards the other end of the size scale, this Samsung model also comes with a 55-inch screen and is priced at €1,799.
11. Samsung UE40JU6740, €1,299
Another TV from Samsung's mid-range 6 Series, the Choice Buy Samsung UE40JU6740 sports 3840 x 2160 resolution for ultra-HD viewing of 4K content and the super-sharp detail translates well into HD and standard-definition for great image quality across the board. The viewing angle could be better on the 40-inch curved screen, but sound quality is very good indeed, adding to the viewing experience. Overall, this is an easy-to-use TV with a fairly intuitive and simple standard remote control, and the option to enable PVR functionality by adding USB storage allows for pausing and rewinding of live TV. As with the other Samsung TVs currently on test, the smart TV features could be better explained initially but they work very well once you get used to them and the second 'Smart Touch' remote that comes supplied facilitates navigation. Almost identical to the UE40JU6740, the Samsung UE40JU6670 is priced at €1,099 - and those looking to size up can get the JU6740 model in 48-inch and 55-inch versions.