This year, Santa’s sleigh seems destined to be weighed down with televisions as big as reindeer.
Larger televisions with higher resolution and, fortunately for Santa, falling prices, are on many a 2019 wish list. But is this the right time to upgrade?
If you haven’t shopped for a television recently, you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find, said Tyler Reichle, assistant store manager of Best Buy at Polaris.
“TVs are even cheaper now than a few years ago,” he said. “You can expect to pay the same or less and get better quality.”
Most big-screen televisions sold today have what is known as 4K resolution, which was, until recently, cutting-edge technology — at cutting-edge prices. The televisions feature approximately four times the resolution of what had been the pinnacle of high definition, 1080p.
“4K is the standard now,” said John Holderby, owner of The Theater People, a home-theater design company in Columbus. “The first 4K we sold was $25,000. I think the equivalent for the same size now is about $4,000. And it just keeps getting more and more consumer-friendly. Now is a great time to buy.”
Holderby said he is “a huge fan of 4K. With 4K, you can’t be too close to the TV. If you’ve got a big (1080p) TV and a bunch of people over for the game, the ones who are standing too close will see a blotchy picture.”
But definition is not the only factor responsible for a good picture, Reichle said.
An alphabet soup of abbreviations is used by manufacturers to tout their televisions. Among the most important are the two basic big-screen television types: LCD, or liquid crystal display; and OLED, or organic light-emitting diode.
LCD screens use a back-light to illuminate the individual pixels that together make a television image, Reichle said. Pixels in an OLED television light up individually, allowing, in most cases, for a better picture overall than with LCD, he said.
“Organic LED gives you deep, rich blacks, and, really, the ultimate in contrast,” Reichle said.
Whatever the technological jargon, the only way to really know whether a new television is going to give you a satisfying picture is to look at it before buying, Reichle said.
Companies such as The Theater People and Best Buy offer free in-home services to advise potential customers about what would work best in their available space — and budget.
Also, consider what you would be watching on your new television.
High-definition 4K content is offered by many streaming-video services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, on new Ultra-HD Blu-Ray players and discs, and on many gaming consoles.
Broadcast programs and most cable channels are not yet offered in 4K, and standard Blu-Ray discs play in the older 1080p resolution. But even if the content you are watching isn’t designed for 4K, new 4K televisions and projectors will still play it, and probably with a better picture than on an older 1080p television, Holderby said.
The new televisions upscale lower-definition content to fill in the missing pixels, Holderby said. (1080p televisions do the same kind of upscaling of lower-definition DVD images.)
Of course, there also is brand-new technology that promises to leave 4K video in the proverbial dust: 8K, with four times the number of pixels as 4K.
Televisions and projectors offering 8K resolution are widely available already, said Chris Chinnock, executive director of the 8K Association, a trade organization that helps educate consumers about new 8K video technology.
So if you want the latest and greatest in television technology, you can easily get it — for a price.
Potential buyers should keep in mind that 8K televisions and projectors are priced like 4K units were several years ago. But prices likely will drop as production of the units is ramped up, just like with 4K, Chinnock said from his office in Norwalk, Connecticut.
For comparison, Samsung recently offered a fully-featured, 75-inch 4K model for $3,999 and a similar 8K model for $6,999.
Plenty of consumers already are opting for 8K, Chinnock said.
“If you want to get a television at the top of the range today, it’s going to be an 8K television,” he said. “Why do people buy the best? Maybe bragging rights, maybe future-proofing.”
It took about seven years for 1080p high-definition to supplant standard definition video technology, and about the same for 4K to supplant 1080p, Chinnock said.
“I see no reason why history would change, and I’d say we’re in about year two of that cycle for 8K,” he said.
So by tomorrow afternoon (or soon thereafter), that new 4K television could seem like yesterday’s news. But if you do decide to make the leap to 8K, don’t expect to see any 8K programs in the immediate future.
“There’s going to be limited 8K content for a while,” Chinnock said. “In reality, there’s still limited 4K content, but you really can’t buy a TV that’s not 4K now. Lack of 4K content didn’t stop the 4K market. It won’t stop 8K.”
The content for 8K eventually will arrive, Chinnock said. In the meantime, the technology of current 8K systems allows them to upscale lower-definition content even better than in the past.
Buyers of huge televisions or projector systems with screens of 75 inches or larger should especially consider the newer standard, Chinnock said.
“In a few years, we’re going to have 8K TVs everywhere,” he said.
Although bigger might always seem better, televisions actually can be too big, Holderby cautioned.
“You could potentially have a 200-, 300-inch screen that’s crystal-clear. But we run into what we call the ‘theater effect,’ like when you sit way down in front of the screen of a theater. You can get dizzy because you can’t see the whole screen.”
So buck up, Santa. There’s probably a limit as to how much you will have to carry.