(BPT) - The technology in our TV sets has changed a lot in the past decade. When it comes time to buy one, it's easy to lose track of which features matter for a good TV-watching experience.
You might find a TV at a tempting price, but you don't want to end up wasting money on a picture that blurs at the height of the action, looks distorted from side angles or doesn't support the latest technology.
At the same time, does the expensive model and its alphabet soup of features really give you a better picture for the price?
'With all the new TVs hitting the market in the next few months, it can be tough to know what to buy and what the numbers mean,' says Katie Linendoll, tech expert, TODAY Show contributor and Emmy Award winner.
Since your TV set is a major source of entertainment for you and your family, it's important to know what to look for before you start shopping. With Linendoll's guidance on the latest TV features and technology, you'll be sure to choose a TV set with the brightness, sharp images and vibrant colors you're looking for. Because the last thing you want is to get stuck with a TV you'll regret.
Screen type: OLED or LCD?
For starters, there are only two kinds of TV panel technologies available right now: OLED (pronounced 'oh-led') and LCD.
'OLED technology creates its own light, which means each pixel can be individually controlled and turned on or completely off,' says Linendoll. Plus, OLED delivers over one billion different shades of color - about 64 times the amount of a conventional TV.
Many experts who have performed detailed technical reviews have deemed OLED the best TV tech ever made. Combined with rave reviews and its super-slim design, this tech is worth paying a bit more in price.
Currently, OLED is available in various screen sizes from LG, who led the introduction of the category a few years ago, and Sony announced they will also release several OLED sets later this year.
Unlike OLED, LCD (liquid crystal display) requires a backlight to make the picture. Most of today's LCD sets use LED lighting. LCD can create a bright, colorful picture but black levels will not be as dark as OLED, and some details can be lost in the shadows.
'This category of TV can still deliver very impressive picture quality, and it's often very attractively priced,' says Linendoll.
While shopping for an LCD set, it's important to know major manufacturers have different names for their premium LCD models. You might hear of Q-LED (an LCD TV that uses quantum dot technology) - not to be confused with OLED - as well as Super UHD or XBR.
Brighter, more colorful picture
One big improvement in recent years has been the expansion of color capabilities in TVs. Nano cell and quantum dot technology, for example, are designed primarily to deliver a bigger spectrum of color than conventional LCD sets, creating more realistic-looking pictures.
How does it work? Nano cell, which is only found in LG's Super UHD TVs, uses extremely small particles (one nanometer in size), which provide more refined and accurate shades of color.
Viewing angles are important
Research shows that only about 10 percent of TV viewers sit directly in front of the TV, so viewing angle is extremely important. Moving even by as little as 10-15 degrees can make colors look washed out and black levels will start to degrade.
OLED TVs have the best performance at wide viewing angles; however, some LCDs, such as LG's Super UHD sets, use a special LCD type for a wider viewing angle.
The more pixels you have, the better the image quality. If you picked up on the buzz about 4K 'Ultra HD,' you know these TVs have more than 8 million pixels and display sharper, more lifelike images.
'Most new bigger-screen TVs you'd be considering, including OLED and LCD TVs, are 4K,' says Linendoll. A newer enhancement to 4K is called HDR or high dynamic range, giving you more shadow detail and natural bright highlights.
Be sure the set you're looking at has 4K resolution and supports HDR; otherwise you will be missing out on what's quickly becoming the gold standard in TV features.