What to look for in a TV

Plus: Windows search shenanigans, a private Google Docs alternative, and a fast-charging follow-up

  Jared Newman  |  November 16, 2021  | Read online

This is the time of the year when a lot of us have TVs on the brain.

Chip shortages notwithstanding, TV deals tend to be in great abundance, so it's a great time to upgrade if you know what to look for. At the same time, one's eyes can easily glaze over at the vast array of brands, screen sizes, features, and tech specs on offer.

While I'm not what you would call a videophile, I've seen enough TVs and been to enough trade shows to have a sense of what actually matters when you're buying a new TV. Here's a rundown of everything you ought to consider:

Screen size

At the risk of stating the obvious, screen size should be your starting point when you're figuring out which TV to buy, as it's the one factor you'll notice more than anything else. My advice is to buy the biggest TV you're comfortable putting in your living area, then figuring out what other features fit your budget.

Panel type

Once you've settled on a screen size, panel type is the next most important factor given its impact on picture quality and price. A quick overview:

  • LED: The most basic panel type, available in the widest range of sizes and at the lowest prices. Of these, "full-array" LEDs tend to have the best contrast, followed by direct-lit and edge-lit displays.
  • QLED: Also known as "quantum dot" displays, they provide better contrast and colors than standard LED, typically with a higher maximum brightness.
  • Mini-LED: An improvement over QLED that allows for deeper black levels. Known as "Neo QLED" on Samsung TVs and "QNED" in LG TVs.
  • OLED: Excellent contrast and colors with unparalleled black levels, but not as bright as other panel types, making it less ideal for sunlit rooms. (LG's new G1 OLEDs are brighter, though.)


This is more of an afterthought than it used to be, as pretty much every TV larger than 40 inches now comes in 4K whether you want it or not.

But if you're shopping for a smaller TV, you may still have to choose between resolutions of 720p and 1080p. Opt for the latter if your TV will be within reaching distance while you watch. Otherwise, the lower resolution should be fine. (If you're curious, RTings has a handy chart on optimal TV resolutions based on size and viewing distance.)

HDR support

HDR, or high dynamic range, is a mode on modern TVs that allows for higher contrast between light and dark elements on the screen, giving the appearance of more vibrant colors and more detailed shadows in supported HDR content.

Virtually all HDR TVs support the HDR10 standard, while a subset support Dolby Vision or HDR10+. The latter two formats can adjust color levels on a frame-by-frame basis, allowing for more precise colors. While the difference isn't easily noticeable, I've found that Dolby Vision support is often a signifier of better HDR performance overall, so it's worth seeking out on brands that offer it. (Samsung, notably, does not do Dolby Vision due the licensing costs involved.)

Some TVs also support another format called HLG, though this is hardly ever a requirement for HDR content, and will mainly come into play if 4K ATSC 3.0 broadcasting becomes a reality someday.

Peak brightness

Measured in either nits or cd/m², peak brightness is especially important for HDR performance on LED displays, as it'll determine the overall range between light and dark elements on the screen. A brightness of 400 nits is pretty much the bare minimum for decent HDR performance—beware HDR-compatible TVs that can't reach that level—while 1,000 nits is where to aim if your budget allows.

Input options

Before you buy a TV, consider what you'll be hooking up to it and make sure you've got enough inputs to match. Gamers should also consider TVs with HDMI 2.1, which offers several features that make gaming smoother and more responsive on the latest Xbox and PlayStation consoles.

On the audio side, HDMI-ARC support is a must-have if you're planning to buy a soundbar, as this will allow you to control everything with one remote and is necessary for Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound. Support for the newer eARC—which is standard on TVs with HDMI 2.1—is even better, as it brings improvements to lip syncing and supports uncompressed audio for surround sound.

Smart TV software

Since you can always use an external streaming player in place of your TV's built-in software, this doesn't need to be the highest consideration on your list. Still, a smart TV system you actually enjoy using can be a nice to have feature.

My personal smart TV software preferences, in order, are Roku, Google TV (or Android TV), Fire TV, Vizio, Samsung, LG. That's based on both my enjoyment of the software and how long you can expect software support to last.

Note that Vizio TVs can also work as Chromecast receivers, and many Sony, Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Roku-powered TVs have AirPlay 2 support as well. Those features come in handy for sending video or music to the TV from your phone.

Things to ignore

With all of the buying criteria I just discussed, you've already got enough to think about. Thankfully, there are a few factors you can safely overlook:

  • 8K: Unless your TV covers your entire wall and you plan to sit less than six feet away from it, the difference between 4K and 8K will be impossible to discern, and practically no 8K content exists anyway.
  • Fake refresh rates: Pretty much every TV maker advertises a "motion" refresh rate well beyond the 60 Hz at which most panels operate. These motion-smoothing features, also known as the soap opera effect, should be ignored while purchasing the TV and disabled immediately after buying it.
  • How it looks in the store: TV makers notoriously employ the most vivid color settings possible on store shelves, disregarding color accuracy and instead stoking our base desire for bright, shiny things. I'm all for trying before you buy when possible, but this is one case where seeing can be deceiving.

Need more TV help? Send me an email, and I'd be happy to discuss further!

Need to know

Microsoft's Windows search shenanigans: Microsoft has decided to make Windows 11 even less appealing by blocking EdgeDeflector and similar apps. EdgeDeflector makes the Windows key and taskbar search button more useful by redirecting web searches from Microsoft Edge to your default browser. A forthcoming Windows 11 update will prevent those types of redirects from working.

While EdgeDeflector only had about 500,000 users, Brave and Mozilla were both working on similar ways to redirect the Windows search button to their respective browser. Blocking them is a user-hostile and anti-competitive move on Microsoft's part, one that will have little practical upside for the company and will most likely cause people to use the Windows search button less often.

Anyway, it sounds like the changes will only affect Windows 11. If you're clinging to Windows 10, as I am on my desktop PC, you can read more about using EdgeDeflector in this previous issue of the newsletter.

Apple's iPhone 13 screen fix fix: Apple says it will release a software update that makes independent screen repairs easier on the iPhone 13 after taking criticism from right-to-repair advocates. As iFixit reported last week, Apple currently disables Face ID for unauthorized repairs unless the technician performs a difficult and time-consuming swap of the screen's microcontroller. Apple charges $279 for iPhone 13 screen repairs—or $329 for the Pro Max—and independent shops can be a cheaper alternative.

Apple hasn't said exactly when it'll issue the fix; hopefully it'll happen before you inadvertently bobble your phone onto cold cement.

Twitter's subscription push: Twitter has brought a $3 per month subscription service, called Twitter Blue, to the United States and New Zealand after launching in Australia and Canada in June. The service is a hodgepodge of extra features, including a Gmail-like "Undo Send" function, a reader mode for lengthy threads, and folder support for bookmarks.

The most compelling of these extras is a "Top Articles" section, which puts the links your Twitter pals are discussing into a single list so you don't have to read all of Twitter's other assorted detritus. It's a feature I appreciate as someone who uses Twitter largely to catch up on news, but I agree with The Verge's Chaim Gartenberg that these kinds of basic product improvements shouldn't sit behind a paywall. After all, you still can't pay Twitter to hide timeline ads or get access to paywalled stories like you can with Apple News+. The whole offering just doesn't feel fleshed out at all, which may explain why it launched with practically no fanfare.

Tip of the moment

A fast-charging follow-up: In response to last week's newsletter on chargers and power banks, reader Saurabh D. sent an excellent follow-up question: How can you actually tell at what speed your phone is charging?

Here, for the benefit of all, are several ways to do that:

  • Some Android devices, including Samsung and Google Pixel phones, will indicate on their lock screens whether fast charging is enabled, though they won't list an exact charging speed.
  • To measure charging speed on an Android phone, download the free Ampere app, then plug in your phone when the battery is mostly depleted and wait a few minutes for an mA reading to pop up. Divide that mA reading by 1,000, then multiply by the listed voltage to get a charge time in watts.
  • On an iPhone, give Mister Battery Lite a try. You can run a test when the battery is mostly depleted, and it'll give you an estimated charging speed in watts.
  • Finally, you can always just fully deplete your phone's battery, plug it into a charger, and check on the battery level after 30 minutes. Per Apple's definition of fast charging, it should be back to about 50% by then.

Now try this

A new take on web search: While most privacy-centric search engines take the same general shape as Google, You.com is the first one I've tried that seems genuinely different. Instead of giving you a vertical list of links, the site presents its search results as a series of horizontal panels, grouped by source.

Search for "best burrito in San Diego," for instance, and you'll see individual panels from Yelp, TripAdvisor, Reddit, and Medium. Search for "iPhone 13 review," and you'll see panels from several tech sites, with links to reviews for each model. You can even upvote or downvote individual sources, so they'll appear higher or lower in future searches.

It's a clever concept, but as I wrote over at Fast Company, it works better for some kinds of searches than others, and its panel for standard web results—powered by Bing—are the weak link in the chain. I still think it's worth checking out either way, if only to see how entrenched the Google paradigm has become.

A private Google Docs alternative: Skiff is an online document editor with an extreme emphasis on privacy, and now it's out of beta for anyone to use. While it resembles Google Docs on the surface, its documents are end-to-end encrypted, meaning no one beyond you or your collaborators can can possibly access those documents' contents. It also lets you protect documents with a password, and it supports Notion-style sub-pages to help organize your thoughts.

Skiff is free to use, with an optional $10 per month "Pro" plan if you're storing a lot of images or other large files. (The free version limits uploads to 30 MB, and total file storage to 1 GB.) Over at Fast Company, I wrote a bit more about the launch, along with Skiff's support for an entirely new way of storing files online.

Around the web

Spend wisely

Apple's extended trial subscriptions are back at Target, letting you get four months of Apple TV+, four months of Apple Music, four months of iCloud+, and six months of Apple Arcade at no charge. You just need to be a member of Target's Circle membership program—which is also free—to sign up. If you've redeemed a trial before, you may still be able to tack on an extra month or more, so try hitting the sign-up links from an iPhone or iPad and see what happens.

Other notable deals this morning:

Thanks for reading!

With Black Friday deals starting to trickle in, I'm here to help vet whatever might be catching your eye—TV-related or otherwise. Send me an email to get in touch, or hop into the Advisorator chat room on Slack to discuss with me and other friendly folks. And as always, if you have any feedback on this issue or ideas on what to cover next.

Until next week,


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