To get a television or not? That is the question.
Just two months ago, I wrote about the next television revolution which combines two upcoming technologies OLED and 4K. OLED is a huge improvement for everyone with typical 1080P televisions (yes even those with plasmas). We’ll get to it in a bit, but 4K isn’t likely to make as big of a difference.
So if you are looking to buy a television this season, you’ll want to keep the following in mind: You probably shouldn’t, unless you should, and it doesn’t matter, unless it does and it doesn’t matter, except for when it does.
Confused? You should be. This is the most confusing time to buy a television I’ve seen in decades.
Is 4K (Ultra HD) Worth It?
I’ve been seeing some 4K televisions in the Black Friday ads this year. Since everyone remembers the huge improvement in going from SD to HD, the expection is that it will happen again with the switch to 4K televisions.
Unfortunately, 4K is mostly marketing. Most people (those with 20/20 vision) can’t tell the difference at a certain distance. It depends on your eye sight, where you sit and the size of the television. The bigger the television, the better your vision, and the closer you sit, the more it matters. There’s no point in getting a 30″ 4K television and sitting 15 feet away from it. However, if you are 7 feet away, you can probably tell the difference on a 70″ 4K television.
Fortunately there’s a great 4K television calculator here.
You want to start by figuring out your viewing distance. Most likely that’s going to stay constant unless you are planning to move or do room redesign. Let’s assume you aren’t going to do that. Most people sit around 9 feet away from their television… or at least that’s the popular Lecher distance median number.
The next question is how big of a television should you buy. CNET answers this question directly. THX recommends a 90″ television for that 9 foot distance. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) recommends a 68″ television for 9 feet. CNET’s recommendation was for a 72″ television. Since you can’t buy 68″ or 72″ televisions, let’s just say that most people would be best suited with a 70″ television.
I’m going to send to my wife the above paragraph.
Now that we know where most people sit and we have an idea of what size television they should (optimally) buy, we can plug these numbers into the handy aforementioned calculator to decide if 4K is worth it. Plugging in a 70″ television with a 9′ foot viewing distance and 20/20 vision, there is only a 29% improvement for 4K.
As if there weren’t enough factors to consider, there is this. There isn’t a lot of 4K content out there. In fact, there is almost none. So any kind of benefit you might see, may be masked by the source you are watching.
So in the typical case, even if you are spending a lot of money for a large 4K television, you aren’t getting much benefit. If you drop the television size down to 55″ (the most common 4K television size marketed on Black Friday) there is zero benefit.
However, if you have a nice little man (or woman) cave where your viewing distance is close and/or you have better vision than the norm, a 55″ 4K television can make sense.
What About OLED?
As I wrote in the beginning of the article, OLED is where the best picture is. The problem is that only one company, LG, has been able to figure out how to make them efficiently enough to bring them to the audience. That’s why a search for OLED televisions on Amazon gives you only choices by LG.
It’s fun to read the reviews on the LG 55″ Curved OLED TV… everyone is screaming about how incredible it is. You simply don’t get that with all the 4K televisions. Of course, those 4K televisions don’t cost $3,500 either.
If you are looking for something in the 55″ range and want the best picture, you are better off skipping the 4K exercise above and going with this television. Of course it’s going to cost you twice as much, but another way to look at it is that it would have cost you $15,000 last year.
And if you want the best of both worlds, you can get a LG Electronics 65-Inch 4k Curved OLED TV for only $9,999. I’d say that’s my dream television, but there’s a 77 inch version coming that’s only $24,999. If you are wondering that’s a better fit for my room size and seating distance (obviously not so much for my wallet).
What Do You Do?
It’s impossible to give blanket advice on televisions. I can’t say what’s right for everyone.
However, the impossible hasn’t stopped me before, so here’s my two cents (which you get for free!).
The price of 4K televisions that are going to be big upgrades for most people is still too high – especially given the lack of content. OLED is really exciting, but again, the price is very high. I’m not sure Lazy Man and Money readers are the type to spend that kind of money. If you are, hopefully it’s because you’ve been reading my site for years and made ridiculous amounts of money (if so, please share it with me).
If you have an older and/or smaller television and you can get a good deal on an upgrade that will keep you happy for the next 4-5 years (or longer) it might be worth taking that plunge. (As a preview for my next post, I am thinking of doing such a crazy thing!)
Otherwise, my best advice is to sit on the sidelines and wait for technology to do what technology does… get cheaper.
Mr. Frugalwoods says
I really think the progress on TVs has stagnated. My 8 year old 37″ 720p LCD TV works just fine. Our main room is on the small side, so something bigger wouldn’t make much difference (or fit in the same place).
1080p would be a logical upgrade, but the viewing distance and screen size wouldn’t make a tremendous difference.
On top of it all, new TVs are coming with tons of built it “apps” which make them harder to use and more prone to breaking. My office has several samsung TVs that are gorgeous, but you have to wade through a UI that looks like it was designed in 2001 in order to watch TV. A UI that occasionally locks up and requires a reboot. Of the TV.
/me waves my cane and tells the young TVs to get off my lawn…
Lazy Man says
This may be a spoiler for today’s article, but my biggest reason for upgrading would be for football. Even on a 55″ inch television, I have to sit really close to see individual players. If it’s not a game I care too much about, I can watch the play as a whole. If it’s episodes of The Middle, then I’m good with almost any television.
LG’s integrated webOS (my much-loved old phone operating system) as their app navigation. It’s gotten some good reviews. Still, I run everything through a computer and Windows Media Center which gives me access to everything. I’ve had to reboot that about 5 times in 3 years, so it may be more reliable than modern televisions.
Money Beagle says
I don’t know, the fancy elements that supposedly make the TVs of today better than the TVs of last year just aren’t worth it to me. I think they’re selling the hype, and where HD and bigger screens and flat panels made it worth it a few years ago, I’m just not seeing the value of continuing to upgrade.
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says
I saw a huge 4K tv and needles to say I was super impressed. It’s far to rich for our blood though still. I can see our 46″ LCD sticking around our house for a while.
I’ve yet to see an OLED tv, but I’ve pulling for the tech to catch on for years. So cool!
This post will be fun to look at when 4k and OLED is the common place and the tv you mentioned for $25K is $600 bucks lol
Lazy Man says
That’s why on my next post (the one published after this one), I went back back to 2010 to look at the price of the $2500 Samsung that I almost bought. An equivalent one spec-wise is around $797 on Amazon… actually even this Samsung 55″ TV for $598 looks to be pretty close.