TV buying guide: Plasma vs. OLED vs. 4KPlasma, LCD, OLED, or 4K? CNET's Brian Cooley breaks down the various screen technologies and offers advice on which TV you might want to buy.
Buying TVs are often a lot like buying a car sometimes. You've got to learn all these different tech terms that you then don't need to care about for another five or seven years until you're buying another one. I'm Brian Cooley here at Best Buy trying to make it simple. Here's how to figure out types of TVs. Okay, first of all, LED, LCD TVs are the new mainstream. These are extremely popular. It's like the LCD TV you probably have today. But with LEDs as the light source behind the picture instead of fluorescent tubes as were used in the past. The benefits here are a very thin TV that can have better performance in terms of illumination of the picture and also lower energy consumption. That said the fact that these have taken over makes us a little sad because they're pushing out our favorite, which is plasma. Plasma TVs have been around since the dawn of this HD flat panel era. In fact, CNET's favorite TV over and over again tends to be a plasma even right now. The downsides to the monitor they aren't terribly thin. They don't like to be used at really high altitudes or an extremely bright rooms and you're not gonna wow your friends with some new technology when you bring one of these home, but get over it. It's what our editors spent their own money on almost every time and you get an outstanding picture for a great value. By the way, plain old LCD TVs are pretty much nonexistent right now. They've all become LED, LCD. You may find a few models still being sold. They're not bad televisions. They're just not the latest television. Now let's get to the latest, the avant garde televisions beginning with 4K or Ultra HD TV. This is a television that has twice the number of lines of resolution counted from top to bottom and, therefore, four times the number of pixels as today's best high-def TVs. It's an amazing amount of detail. What they do is bring you so much more fineness of each pixel that's almost impossible to see them. But we're finding it's not that impressive in actual use because 4K pushes too and actually being on the limit of what your eye can discern. Also 4K TVs to do what they really do well need native 4K content of which there's almost none right now. And lastly, 4K is best, a really big TV, above 65 inches. At that point, you're pushing up against a difference spec, he SAF or Spouse Approval Factor. If you can't get past that and get a really huge one, you might see the benefit. Now OLED technology is what we're really excited about. It stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode or only lawyers, executives and doctors 'cause nobody else can afford them right now. These TVs will come down in price in a few years. When they do, they will bring with them the Holy Grail which says that they can show black perfectly. When you get black on the screen right, all the colors around it really popped. They're more saturated and more natural. Additionally, all LED TVs are incredibly thin down to a third of an inch and can use very little power. It's the very TV you may buy from the side as opposed to the front. You'll gasp when you see one. 3D TV is still out there, but it's a feature in high-end televisions. Not so much a different kind of television. Bare that in mind. It's not really going anywhere because there are right now about 800 3D Blu-ray discs on all of Amazon. Compared that to 25,000 streaming titles on Netflix and yet we complained that that's nothing to watch. So, a lack of contents and issue so are the glasses and recently even ESPN decided to cancel their 3D Sports Channel. Roll that all together and 3D is something that would be nice to have, but think of it is just an augmentation of a high-end 2D HD TV. Finally, HDMI cables. I have three words about this. Buy basic ones. You can spend 10 bucks on an HDMI cable or a 300 and I will tell you this. The picture will be the same. We're in the digital era now where the digits that make up video either arrive at the TV or they don't. This isn't like the old analog days where a better cable or fussing with your antenna would give you a little better picture. It's either there or it's not. So, don't go nuts buying HDMI cables. Get a good basic brand and be good with it. Now notice, I didn't clobber with a lot of specs like refresh rate, contrast ratio and subfield pixel drive. That's because we find you can read every spec on the box and still not know if a TV is good or not. That's where we come in at our CNET labs. We used expensive instruments and very experienced eyes to tell you which ones have a great picture regardless of specs and which ones maybe don't so much. Find all those reviews at CNET.com.