BIG SCREEN BELIEVER
WE’RE COMING TO THE END OF 2018 AND THE YEAR’S “NEW” TVS HAVE PLUMMETED IN PRICE.
THIS GIVES US a different view of the market and some different, enticing bargains. TechLife is here to help navigate through what can be a confusing sea of technology and explain what deserves your hard-earned cash. This time round, we’ve focused on major brands’ top ranges and their key models, plus we’ve made recommendations for every price point. We’ve also made some suggestions for people who want smaller and cheaper TVs and are prepared to go off brand – there are things in this space that buyers need to know!
But if, like many Aussie TV buyers, you’re spending over $1,000, what should you look for in a new TV? Firstly, with Netflix, Amazon and now Foxtel Satellite TV offering top- quality, Ultra High Definition content, it should certainly be 4K.
It’s also worth looking for Dolby Vision and HDR10+ certifications. These are no longer pointless, pie-in-the-sky slogans, the quality enhancements to Netflix and Amazon content (respectively) really have become jaw- dropping when viewed with the best TVs. Unfortunately, no one manufacturer supports both standards (yet) but having one is certainly better than none at this point.
Catch-up TV channel apps have become increasingly important. We’ve provided a compatibility list for each range and talked about the highly-variable TV operating systems that provide access to them.
Whatever your requirements, whether you’re spending $200 or $20,000, TechLife can point you towards a great buy this month.
BUDGET BRAND TVS
A QUICK WALK AROUND ANY OF AUSTRALIA’S LARGE TV SHOWROOMS WILL QUICKLY DEMONSTRATE THAT ONCE YOU START LOOKING AT SUB-AO-INCH TVS, THINGS CHANGE CONSIDERABLY AND BRAND NAMES GET WEIRD.
You’ll see stalwart brands like Sony and Samsung intermingling with the likes of Palsonic, S0NIQ, and Linden (and Kogan online) along with major international players (with limited Australian footprints) like Philips and Hitachi.
Quality differences are laid bare in showrooms where vast differences in quality become obvious: poor performers with dim, washed-out screens (sometimes with horrendous ghosting issues) will be sat next to bright, vibrant models at sometimes-similar prices. It’s also worth checking audio in store as cheap TVs (whose sound can’t easily be improved) have speakers that range from impressive through acceptable to appalling.
Over the years we’ve found TV salespeople refreshingly honest and well-informed when it comes to advice about TV-buying realities so it’s always worth asking. One JB HiFi employee told us to avoid the company’s own SONIQ brand if we wanted our TV to work out of the box (ouch!) while a Good Guys salesperson (and he wasn’t the first) lamented the reliability of recent Hisense TVs, which are costing him a fortune through returns (double ouch!).
Meanwhile, at 32-inches (for example) you’ll frequently find prices ranging from under $200 to $700-plus. In these instances you’re not just paying for brand but HD versus Full HD. Full HD is less of an issue on this screen size and plumping for a quality brand makes more sense. After all, many cheap brands switch factories when cheaper components become available to construct models with the same name. As such componentry, quality, performance and reliability vary considerably and it’s common to find people raving about the value of one model while the next person swears about its reliability or niggles. Be sure to check the warranty when buying as returns for these brands are common. Unlike top-end TVs you’re not paying extra for the brand but paying less for not having one.back to menu ↑
Hisense 2018 Series 7, 8 and 9 TVs
HAVING REDEFINED TV VALUE IN RECENT YEARS, HISENSE IS NOW STUCK IN A MID-RANGE MIRE.
A FEW YEARS ago, Hisense changed the TV market by offering one of the very best TVs you could buy at a fraction of the price of rivals. However, things have changed a little in the interim. Hisense now considers itself a premium brand and its prices aren’t quite as impressive as before. Furthermore, thanks to better performance and value from rivals, its models don’t stand out from the crowd so much anymore.
The 2018 TVs have all been designated the “P” suffix – last years’ models were “N.” At the top end is the Series 9, with colour provided by QLED technology and contrast provided by its ‘Prime Array Backlit’ system, which offers over seven hundred local dimming zones (65-inch version – there are over 1,000 dimming zones on the 75-inch model) to help produce images with true black and subtle detail in very dark scenes. At the same time, the powerful lighting system is capable of ramping up brightness to a whopping 2,500 nits, which makes it one of the brightest screens on the market. These technologies mean it’s the only member of the range that supports 10-bit colour depth (meaning silky smooth colour gradients with no ugly banding) and is subsequently Ultra HD Premium Certified. However, at this end, we’d like to see either Dolby Vision or HDR10+ certification as Netflix and Amazon (respectively) both offer content to support it (and it makes a noticeable difference). The good news is that both the 65-inch and 75-inch P9 models have dropped respectively. If your primary demands are for an ‘affordable’ big, bright TV, then the P9s are worth a look.
Below the P9s are the P8s which also come in 65-inch and 75-inch variants. Both are now over cheaper than when they launched. They’re similar to the P9s in most ways, but having standard LCD lighting instead of the rear-lit technology means that contrast and brightness aren’t as good and it misses out on Ultra HD Premium certification.
Below this is the P7 range which stretches from 50-inch to 75-inches. These eschew QLED for Hisense’s own ULED which has always impressed us: colours are still punchy and vibrant.
All of the TVs make use of Hisense’s own VIDAA U 2.5 operating system, which is fast but doesn’t support all of the catch-up and streaming services that we’d hope for.
However, you can connect your phone to control channels and cast direct to the TV.
There’s definitely some good value in Hisense’s range, but it collides with some of the industry’s top models at the higher price points. The relatively-cheap, large, bright screens are now the most attractive features, but you’ll be paying more for those than slightly-smaller, top-notch OLED models now. At the lower end of the market, TCL has muscled in, offering arguably better performance on cheaper TVs that support the superior Android operating system. As such, we can’t give Hisense an award for value anymore.
ALL OF THE TVS MAKE USE OF HISENSE’S OWN VIDAA U 2.5 OPERATING SYSTEM, WHICH IS FAST BUT DOESN’T SUPPORT ALL OF THE CATCH-UP AND STREAMING SERVICES THAT WE’D HOPE FOR.
Hisense 65P9, Rating: 3.5/5back to menu ↑
Kogan SmarterTV Review
CHEAP, BUT NOT THE MOST CHEERFUL OPTION.
KOGAN’S 58-INCH SMARTERTV was relatively-cheap. For this, you get a 4K screen with HDR10 support plus Android TV functionality. Android TVs wide support of video apps has become increasingly important in recent years, but it’s still sometimes a dog to use with annoying lag.
Virtually everything is catered for on the platform and that’s a big deal when your TV, say, doesn’t support Amazon Prime and you have to buy another device to watch one of your favourite shows. Another boon is the built-in Chromecast; this will potentially be very convenient for beaming content from your phone, although with Android already built into the TV, streamers won’t actually need to use their phones as much.
Setting it up resembles the process of a phone and indeed, the device is powered by smartphone-like components and operates in a similar way. It will even offer to sync with your phone while performing this process. After that, while it takes a while to boot up the first time (and any time it loses power) it turns on instantly thereafter and puts you right back where you left off.
The remote is responsive but don’t expect much from the voice-control system, which uses a microphone that’s built into it; few people have found that it works in an acceptable way despite Mr Kogan’s claims that the age of pressing buttons on a remote are over.
It’s not the prettiest device, as you’d expect at this price point, but the ugly chunkiness is relegated to the rear while the thin bezel makes the TV look almost-attractive from the front.
As for performance, it doesn’t offer the best picture due to its older LCD technology. Colours are washed out compared to rivals and the screen does not get very bright (it has a rating of just 200 nits) which could be an issue for watching during the day in many Aussie homes. We also frequently saw banding in colour gradients, which is a bit distracting and something we’d got used to not seeing on premium TVs. Despite claims of HDR10 compliance, when the primary image is so mediocre, it’s hard to notice the high-end flourishes that the feature provides.
Nonetheless, courtesy of Android, all of the catch-up TV applications are present, along with popular streaming apps, media servers etc.
However, Kogan’s 4K Smarter TVs are really only a decent choice if your budget is severely limited and you absolutely must have 4K. Elsewhere, while Hisense offers significantly better performance with its P7 series, they aren’t the cheap go-to option that they once were and you’ll be looking to pay almost 50 per cent more for a smaller rival that doesn’t support Android. However, if you can find an extra $130 we recommend plumping for the TCL P6. It’s picture performance rivals the best LCD TVs and the range is all based upon Android TV too.
KOGAN’S 4K SMARTER TVS ARE REALLY ONLY A DECENT CHOICE IF YOUR BUDGET IS SEVERELY LIMITED AND YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE 4K.
KOGAN 58” SMARTER TV, Rating 3/5back to menu ↑
LG 2018 OLED TVs
STILL SUPERB. BUT LG FINALLY HAS SOME COMPELLING COMPETITORS.
ONCE UPON A time they were an unaffordable niche TV with many annoying issues, but now LG’s OLEDs are the gold standard for the industry to follow – so much so that rivals like Sony and Panasonic are now using LG’s OLED panels to make their own TVs.
However, in recent years, LG has had a problem: where do you go when you’re so far in the lead? The result has been annual, incremental changes in model numbers, bolted-on features and some superficial design flourishes (that aren’t always better) while picture quality and performance have remained top-notch. This means if you see a slightly-older model LG OLED TV at a giveaway price, it’s certainly going to be worth checking out.
LG’s 2018 range consists of three models: the affordable C8 series, which comes in 55-inch and 65-inch variants; the chunkier, mid-range E8, which is essentially the same but with a tough (and heavy) glass back and slightly- better speakers; plus the drop-dead-gorgeous, W8 “Signature Wallpaper” series, which is almost-unfathomably thin to the point where you literally stick it to your wall!
The latter comes with a high-quality, Dolby Atmos-compatible Sound Bar that connects via a near-invisible ribbon. It’s available in 65-inch and a hard-to-find 77-inch variant. If you have that much money, you’ll likely not want the soundbar but then if you do, you might not mind having a spare. The W8 certainly impresses the pants off everybody with its thinness and, when wall mounted, you can make use of LG’s attractive fine-art settings, which transform your TV into famous pieces of art. It looks amazing!
We’re a bit less impressed with the E8 series, however. The glass backing makes it incredibly heavy – it’s 37KG with stand compared to the Wallpaper’s sub-7KG. We much prefer the C8 range, which is relatively light at 19KG (55-inch) and 25KG (66-inch). It might look and feel a bit cheap, but the image quality is essentially the same as the top-end models so do you really need to pay more?
All of the screens offer stunning colours and true-blacks thanks to the OLED technology and despite the thinness, they all offer impressive, rounded sound with some punchy bass. The partnership with Dolby means that when displaying compatible content (of which there’s an increasing amount on Netflix nowadays) Dolby Vision means every scene looks as good as it possibly can. When a model has Dolby Atmos compatible speakers, the complex, 3D sound enhances audio even further.
On top of all this, LG’s TVs are the most fun to interact with thanks to brilliant motion- controlled remotes, accurate voice control, and the very well designed WebOS operating system. The C8-series is still our pick and it’s dropped in price. There’s even a 77-inch version! But it’s not quite our winner! With better design elements, it’s Panasonic which nips ahead this month. But only by a whisker!
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LG’S TVS ARE THE MOST FUN TO INTERACT WITH THANKS TO BRILLIANT MOTION-CONTROLLED REMOTES, ACCURATE VOICE CONTROL, AND THE VERY WELL DESIGNED WEBOS OPERATING SYSTEM.
Panasonic 2018 OLED TVs
PANASONIC IS BACK LEADING THE PACK WITH IT’S OLED IMPLEMENTATION
PANASONIC RULED THE roost back in the days of plasma TV, but when the market moved towards light-and-thin, LED-based LCD televisions, plasma died – and Panasonic spent some years in the wilderness. But now Panasonic is back! Its new, 2018 range of OLED TVs haven’t just caught up with the pack, they’re leading it.
The primary new ranges are the FZ950 and FZ1000, which both come in 55-inch and 65-inch variants. The screens and features are the same but the FZ1000-series comes with an attractive, thin-but-powerful, 80W soundbar called a ‘Blade Speaker’ that has been tuned by the audio gurus at Technics. The FZ950 models already come with four 10W speakers, but if you want to boost that with the FZ1000 it’ll cost you a several hundred dollar premium. The TVs are the same otherwise.
Despite being relatively new, Panasonic’s TVs have already crashed in price. The 65-inch model has dropped. So are they any good?
Quite simply, yes! They all use LG’s all-conquering OLED technology, but Panasonic adds its own electronics and features. Panasonic has partnered with Hollywood colour experts to help create the best picture possible – movie producers are now literally using Panasonic’s colour technology while creating major blockbusters in order to ensure that colour is not just as good as it can be on set or in the cinema, but at home on TV too.
We don’t just get the stunning colour reproduction and true-black performance that comes with the OLED screen, either; a special Absolute Black filter is used in order to minimise reflections and ensure that even the darkest shapes are visible on screen in bright, Aussie homes. Contrast is enhanced further with HDR10+ technology (which Panasonic created in partnership with Samsung). This technology rivals Dolby Vision but doesn’t come with Dolby’s expensive licensing fee and means that compatible content on Amazon Prime and 4K Blu-rays has colour-scales adjusted every single scene using the same “Dynamic Look-Up-Tables” that studio post-production departments used at the time of content creation. Just to add to the plaudits, all of the screens are also THX and Ultra HD Premium certified. But ultimately, just looking at the screen when it displays the best content tells you at a glance, that it doesn’t really get much better than this.
Other features include voice control that’s compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Panasonic uses its My Home Screen 3 operating system, which contains the most important catch-up TV channels plus Bigpond Movies, Amazon, and Netflix and they’re all easily accessed via the large, practical (if not flamboyant) remote. The thin bezel looks very sophisticated and it’s ideal for wall mounting.
At two-and-a-half grand, the TH-55FZ950U is our pick overall: it’s one thing to find a big OLED TV at this price, but to find a new, latest-generation model with all of the latest features and picture enhancements – that’s extraordinary value.
THEY ALL USE LG’S ALL-CONQUERING OLED TECHNOLOGY BUT PANASONIC ADDS ITS OWN ELECTRONICS AND FEATURES.back to menu ↑
Samsung 2018 QLED TVs
THE BEST LCD TVS EVER MADE.
SAMSUNG PLAYED A big part in killing Plasma TV technology when its first batch of super-thin, LCD LED TVs appeared. Its been leading the LCD TV charge ever since but, in recent years, it’s been getting its bottom kicked by OLED technology.
While OLED TVs rely on illuminating organic compounds to produce an image, Samsung’s top TVs are more contrived. Firstly, there’s the usual LCD technology, where an image is displayed by shining light through a layer of liquid crystal. Usually this makes a bright image with poor contrast: there are no true blacks, plus dark areas (like letterbox bars in movies) are washed out and distracting. But Samsung’s Q9F Series uses hundreds of different rear-lighting zones which enable true-blacks to appear. Samsung has also added new anti-reflective layers to ensure that bright Aussie homes don’t blight the midday footie with reflections while other layers and technologies strive to prevent light leakage and distracting halo effects. There are also prismatic layers to ensure that colours look as good from wide viewing angles as they do from the front. These features, combined with Samsung’s typical bright screens and vibrant QLED colours, mean that its top QLED TVs are the best LCD TVs we’ve ever seen and the difference between them and OLED rivals is often barely perceptible. The HDR10+ certification means that content from Amazon looks even better. Enthusiasts will tinker with the many “Expert” settings, but casual watchers will likely be impressed with it out of the box.
Samsung offers a great deal more too. The company now has a massive 10-year anti bum-in guarantee. This means you’re protected from ghost images that can appear from channel logos and such like. It’s an issue that has been reported on some OLED TVs and this guarantee might tip you away from them.
There’s also the “One Clear Cable” which provides both power and signal settings through one, almost-invisible Teflon-wrapped fibre optic cord. It’s extremely impressive and will especially suit wall mounting. And if you ever wanted a TV to be wall mounted, it’s this. The Ambient Mode feature is stunning: by uploading a picture of your mounting wall, Samsung overlays various effects which contrive to make your TV look translucent. Effects include shimmering water ripples plus a high-concept quicksilver clock. It runs in low-power mode so it won’t destroy your power bills. Other features include a fancy smart remote and a full array of catch-up apps on its proprietary Tizen operating system. Sound is decent and comes courtesy of 60W speakers (on the 65-inch model).
Behind Samsung’s top-end Q9F TVs (65-, 75-inch) are its Q8F (55-, 65-inch) which has the same image but not the same connectivity or design. The cheaper Q7F (55-, 65- and 75-inch) has the Q9F’s design flourishes but inferior side-lighting while the Q6F (55-, 65-, 75-inch) strips away the best backlighting and design features.
With the 65-inch Q9F now available, Samsung’s QLED has finally become an enticing buy for any TV enthusiast.
THERE’S ALSO THE “ONE CLEAR CABLE” WHICH PROVIDES BOTH POWER AND SIGNAL SETTINGS THROUGH ONE, ALMOST-INVISIBLE TEFLON-WRAPPED FIBRE OPTIC CORD. IT’S EXTREMELY IMPRESSIVE AND WILL ESPECIALLY SUIT WALL MOUNTING.
Sony OLED TVs
SONY IS AGAIN ITS OWN WORST ENEMY: MAKING ITS NEW TV FEEL OLD WITH AN EVEN-NEWER, UNAFFORDABLE MODEL.
SONY’S BRAND CACHET isn’t what it used to be. Many Millennial will likely wonder what all the fuss was about, having been too young to remember the company’s 1980s market-crushing electronics. In recent years Sony’s settled down as something of a high- performance-but-overpriced brand, and the A8F unfortunately fits this narrative.
Like Panasonic, Sony makes use of LG’s OLED panel but adds its own electronics and design flourishes. The A8F is a minor update to last year’s A1 TV – both of which use image processing technology from a generation before that. The main change is the removal of the highly-criticised ‘A-Frame’ stand, which took up a great deal of room at the back. Now the screen still tilts back (slightly) but the base is significantly smaller. The screen is still very low due to the low stand, however, and this will be an issue if you have a soundbar in front of your screen.
Despite using the powerful Android TV operating system – which comes with a multitude of useful apps and supports all of the major streaming and catch-up channels – navigation around the interface is slow and laggy.
Foibles aside, there’s still much to like. As with all OLED screens, picture performance is excellent thanks to vibrant colours and near-infinite contrast. It’s not quite as bright as the other OLEDs but motion smoothing and detail in dark areas is exceptional.
It’s worth mentioning sound as Sony cleverly uses the entire screen as a speaker. This gives the AF9 some of the best native audio on the market. The sub-woofer has moved from the Al’s chunky stand into the back of the screen. It might not offer as much punch, but it helps generate impressive all-round audio fidelity. At launch the A8F did not support Dolby Vision but it does now thanks to a firmware update. Consequently, some Netflix content will look that much better.
A common occurrence with Sony TVs has been that new, minor updates herald price crashes for older, nearly-identical models. As such, if you can find a cheap A1 and don’t mind the stand, you could have a bargain. You’d need to seriously like the Sony’s design and Android TV functionality to want to pay more.
It’s worth noting that Sony has technically launched the successor to this model, the A9F, in Australia. The A-Frame stand is back but it’s packed with audio-enhancing goodies. The Android OS has finally been sped-up with an update, while the image is much brighter and punchier. We suspect Sony isn’t pushing it to avoid killing A8F and A1 sales, but at this price, few will buy it anyway.
AS WITH ALL OLED SCREENS. PICTURE PERFORMANCE IS EXCELLENT THANKS TO VIBRANT COLOURS AND NEAR-INFINITE CONTRAST. IT’S NOT QUITE AS BRIGHT AS THE OTHER OLEDS BUT MOTION SMOOTHING AND DETAIL IN DARK AREAS IS EXCEPTIONAL.