Is the picture quality in cheap new TVs better?
May 26, 2019 8:38 AM   Subscribe

We have a ~10 year old LCD TV that was pretty decent when we bought it (one of the nicer Samsung models). Now I see all of these dirt cheap TVs for sale (like <$500)...ignoring the advances in technology (HDR, Smart TV, etc.), will the actual image quality on these cheapo TVs be better than on my old, expensive TV? In other words, has flat panel technology improved to the point where the cheap TVs of today look better than the decent TVs of 10 years ago?
posted by griseus to Technology (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A ten year old TV will probably have a fluorescent backlight rather than a LED one so its brightness might be down a bit by now. Samsung was putting quite nice IPS panels in its TVs a decade ago IIRC, so aside from backlight brightness I doubt you'd find that today's cheap LCD panels look any better, assuming we're talking the same pixel count.
posted by flabdablet at 9:03 AM on May 26, 2019

Without accounting for 4K or HDR the one obvious thing you might gain is a better contrast ratio. Newer TVs will have not just LCD backlights, but possibly some flavor of "local dimming" that adjusts the amount of backlight for individual regions of the screen and not just the whole screen at once. The benefits would show up in some combination of darker blacks, less "crushing" of dark-but-not-black things into black, and maybe higher peak brightness that still allows for better control of dark regions. The risk would be in losing some color accuracy or viewing angle because of a cheaper panel.

How much this affects you would depend on the ambient brightness in the room where you watch TV and how well you calibrated the picture on your existing set. Did you follow the general advice of "if you do nothing else, set the picture mode to 'cinema' and turn off motion smoothing" or did you do more? Or less, for that matter: did you leave it on default everything? If you cared enough to calibrate your picture in detail, you'll probably want to do a more detailed comparison of newer, cheaper sets, to figure out if the gains in contrast ratio aren't accompanied by losses in other qualities (lower color accuracy or default picture "enhancements" you can't turn off). I bought a new TV only when my old TV started to black out randomly, but up until then I was happy just turning the overall brightness level up a notch or two when things got muddy due to an aging backlight.
posted by fedward at 10:14 AM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Typo: “LCD backlights” should be “LED backlights.”
posted by fedward at 2:16 PM on May 26, 2019

We just bought a 4K 42" for under $300 (it's a TCL + Roku, from Best Buy), which looks a bit better than our 2-4-year-old $100-200 Costco Vizios, all of which are still a bit nicer than our 8 year old 55" we paid like $700 for. My husband is a video editor and the 4K was his wish-list item, and then we realized almost no streaming services do 4K yet so honestly the TV is better than the picture we can get most of the time, but it'll catch up.

The parts and manufacture are just much much cheaper now.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:56 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

In a word, yes, the cheap TVs will look much better. Even my 4K TV that was $2400 in 2015 is now like $600, and the picture quality is stellar. Even if you don’t get 4K streaming, though, you can get 4K movies, and your Blu-Ray collection will look much crisper.

Of course, the nicer of a TV you get today will increase the difference in quality even more, but $500 will get you quite a nice screen these days.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:14 AM on May 27, 2019

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