How to buy a television without being bamboozled
‘Home entertainment’ offers a dizzying array of choice, depending on budget and, er, taste
Your first pressing decision will be: curved or flat screen? Curved screens look cool but are way more expensive.
The only thing you can be certain of when handing over an unconscionable amount of money for a new TV set is that you won’t understand a single word being said to you by the smiling assistant (LED, OLED, 4K, HDR etc).
You will also be back in the same position in a few years’ time, wondering if the new alien technology they have now for TVs can be bought without the need for taking in washing as supplementary job.
In between Netflix, YouTube, Spotify and others, “home entertainment” has, for many, replaced ye olde going out. The sound and vision devices available reflect this new central importance. You could do a doctoral thesis on the new technologies contained within television sets and sound systems – and still remain as dazed and confused by what’s on offer.
Telly-wise, your first pressing decision will be a curved or flat screen. All you need to know here is that curved screens look cool but are way more expensive than flat ones.
As regards screen size, yes: bigger is better, but you can over-bling it a bit here: some of the show-off screen sizes are so big you have to actually walk to a different part of the room to follow what’s going on. Screen sizes range from 30-110 inches; somewhere in the middle will suffice.
When it comes to LED vs OLED, we’re just talking about picture quality. In almost all aspects of quality, an OLED is better than a LED but – guessed it – they are considerably dearer and only come in certain sizes. So the extra O on your LED should not be a deal-breaker.
The big question is about 4K UHD (ultra high definition) and HDR (high dynamic range): both represent a big jump in resolution. As its name suggests, 4K offers four times the resolution of standard high definition. HDR provides a higher level of contrast between light and dark images. That may not sound like a big deal, but wait until you see it in action. Many who work in the industry will tell you that HDR offers a better leap in picture quality than 4K UHD.
Top of the telly range
Depending on tastes/budget/requirements, television sets cover all bases. At the top of the range, Bang & Olufsen’s beautiful Beovision Horizon 4K TV has a stark but appealing minimalist design. Depending on the size of the screen you want, prices are in and around €5,000 (bang-olufsen.com).
By no means do you have to break the €500 barrier to get an up-to-date, bells and whistles TV. Bush, for example, has a superb 40-inch 4K UHD set for about €330, or even lower if you shop around.
When choosing audio products for the home, you face being blinded by science. As televisions have become “smart” so have audio speakers. The Amazon Echo not just plays music, but responds to your voice commands and controls your “smart” home (lighting, thermostat, etc). If you can imagine your home audio speaker with an iPhone Siri in it, you’ve got it in one.
Google has also just launched its Google Home speaker, which can do most everything the Amazon Echo does but also comes complete with the company’s well-known search engine.
There’s yet to be a full roll-out of either device in Ireland, but when they do arrive (sooner rather than later), you will be looking at about €150 for the Echo and €110 for the Google Home.
Industry insiders speak highly of the Sonos range of audio systems, which provide an immersive sound (deep bass).Their wireless systems let you access music in any room of the house and control it remotely from your phone. See sonos.com or the Harvey Norman website for the full range.
Between full-blown home theatre systems, soundbars, stereo shelf systems and wireless/multiroom audio devices, it can be perplexingly difficult to decode all that is on offer. Again, trying and testing them yourself will make all the difference.
As with smart TVs, audio systems can do a good superlative-strewn, scientific-sounding marketing spiel. But you unless you can see and hear what you’re paying for, it’s all a bit hopeless.
Headphones, whether on-ear or in-ear, are now premium products. If you are already spending a lot on an audio system, you would be looking to spend an equivalent amount on how you hear everything on offer.
Bose headphones have built up a good professional relationship with consumers. They aren’t cheap – the entry-level Soundsport in-ear headphone is €99 and the QC25 Noise Cancelling on-ear headphone is €329. Still, Bose are an established mark and have good after-sale retail support (bose.ie). Sony and Sennheiser always come highly recommended by audio professionals for their headphone range.
Dig that crazy sound
As far as we’ve advanced technologically, we are still in thrall to nostalgia, with retro audio products now accounting for a sizeable market spend.
A recent study by Bush of Irish people’s listening habits found that seven in 10 of us find retro audio devices (record players, cassette players, boom boxes) the most appealing way to consume music”.
The lovingly assembled mixtapes of yesterday have become the lovingly assembled digital playlists of today. And whether it’s an enduring attraction to vinyl (the format they couldn’t quite kill) or a sporadic outbreak of interest in cassette tapes, the music retro market is blooming.
It is all to do with the fact that when you first fell in love with music, you probably also fell in love with the device that you heard that music on. For example, the Bush Classic Turntable (€49) and the Bush Classic Retro DAB Radio (€74.99), both at argos.ie, are both objets d’art for retro music lovers.
Sometimes going back to the future makes made a lot of sound and vision sense.