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TVs

This Black Friday, is it finally time to upgrade your old TV?

The best TV prices of the year are upon us, so you might be wondering whether it's time to replace that screen with something new.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Now that you're seeing Black Friday ads for dirt-cheap televisions and hearing about the best prices yet on the best TVs, you might finally be tempted to upgrade that old set. 

After all, TVs have gotten really, really good. Performance we could have only dreamed about just a few years ago is now commonplace. Cheap TVs look good; high-end TVs look amazing. They're also easier to use, with fast loading and navigation of smart TV apps. Oh yeah, and they're all smart TVs now, with built-in access to 4K and HDR content light years beyond what we could have had a decade ago.

And yeah, let's talk about 4K and HDR. Though the added resolution of 4K isn't crucial to overall image quality, the added color and dynamic range of HDR and wide color gamut can create an image significantly more realistic than what was once possible.

So the question becomes, is it time to upgrade?

The case against

If you like your TV, and it still works, don't upgrade. Despite all the excitement over 4K, 8K, HDR and so on, there's nothing happening in the near future that will prevent your TV from working exactly as it does now. Well, I mean I suppose it could break, but barring that. Even though there are current and coming formats that won't work on an older TV, the "standard" is still 1080p.

So although a new TV will offer all the potential upgrades we'll discuss in a moment, you don't need to upgrade unless you want to.

And if you're tempted to upgrade just because the smart TV system in your current television is slow and outdated, you could update that for a lot less than buying a new TV. Just add a decent media streamer -- they're as cheap as $20.

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The case for

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LG's C8 and B8 OLED.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For many years, plasma TVs offered the best picture quality available. They looked fantastic: deep blacks, bright highlights, sharp motion. OLEDs are better. They're able to create darker blacks, while simultaneously creating much brighter highlights. Their contrast ratio is significantly better than even the best plasma TV. I say that as a longtime fan of plasma TVs.

Adding to that is wide color gamut. Modern OLEDs can reproduce a far wider range of colors, making their image far more vibrant and realistic.

Even LCDs, long lamented for their lackluster picture quality, have advanced significantly. Thanks to technologies like quantum dots, LCDs can produce significantly brighter images, with a far wider range of colors. This, in conjunction with local dimming, can create a far more realistic image than what was once possible.

2018-qled-tv-ambient-mode
Samsung

Local dimming itself is far more common now. This is where the TV is able to dim the brightness of specific areas of the screen to a far greater extent than what's possible with a nonlocal dimming LCD. The result is a greater contrast ratio, and overall a better image. Without local dimming, good HDR isn't possible.

One area where picture quality has taken a slight step back is with motion resolution. When something on screen moves quickly, a running athlete for example, or when the entire image movies, like a fast camera pan, the image can blur. Plasma TVs used to handle this quite well, maintaining lots of detail despite any motion. LCDs did not handle this well, and largely still don't. Neither do the current versions of OLED.

There are two main ways to combat this, and most TVs will have one or both. The first is the oft-loved, oft-hated soap opera effect. This is when the TV adds additional frames to the video, making the motion appear super smooth. Less like a movie, and more like a soap opera. In nearly every TV, this feature can be turned off. The other is called black frame insertion, where a black or dimmed frame is inserted between the original video frames. Generally, modern TVs are bright enough, and the processing for this feature advanced enough, that the result doesn't flicker like it did in older televisions with this feature.

Lastly, the overall usability of TVs has evolved significantly. TVs generally turn on faster, apps load faster and there's less waiting around for the TV to do what you'd asked. 

So… should you?

Again, if you like your TV, don't worry about upgrading until it breaks. If you've got one of the last few years of plasma TVs (2011 to 2014, say), then you'll likely notice an improvement in picture quality, though perhaps not as huge a jump as others might. And by others I mean those with nonlocal dimming HD LCDs or older plasmas. If you have one of those TVs, you'll notice the biggest improvement in picture quality. Much better colors, contrast and brightness, especially if you go with OLED.  


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the sameTV resolutions explainedLED LCD vs. OLED and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel