The 10 Best Televisions
10. Sceptre X509BV-FSR
9. Samsung UNMU7000
8. TCL 55C807
7. Vizio Smartcast 70M
6. LG Electronics 60UJ7700
5. Sony Bravia XBR65A1E
4. Samsung UN65MU6500
3. Sony XBR55X930E
2. TCL 32S305
1. LG Electronics OLED65E7P
LEDing The Way
Even as resolution increases from 1080p to 4K and beyond (8K, anyone?), the fundamentals behind the actual illumination of pixels seem, for now, to be fixed in place.
This method of pixel illumination is what's commonly referred to as LED backlighting. It gets its name from the panel of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) at the back of the screen. LEDs are preferred over other technologies for their longevity, low energy demand, and small size, allowing for the paper thin TVs we've all grown to love.
Essentially, the information that becomes your screen image starts at the LED panel, where certain patterns of light resemble the most basic, binary analogue of your picture. Depending on whose technology you're using, this light gets filtered in slightly different ways, eventually making it through what I like to call the impressionist art phase and on to the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) that refines your final image.
As I mentioned a moment ago, our vision for the future of television production is as much to do with the size of the television as it is with its picture quality.
Most of the thinnest LED TVs hover around 2", but OLED TVs, whose pixels illuminate themselves individually, eliminate the need for a back panel of diodes. That makes them, at least for now, the thinnest TVs around, and their superior picture quality is likely to have them replace today's LED technology once the market catches up.
And to be clear, OLED and 4K aren't mutually exclusive, but pairing up the technologies is currently very expensive.
How Big Is Big Enough?
Have you ever been late to a screening at an IMAX theater? I have. When Batman Begins first came out I went into New York City with some friends to see it at the IMAX at Lincoln Square. Our bus into the city moved at a crawl, the tunnel form New Jersey was packed, and we got into the theater just as the previews were ending.
Seating was limited, and I ended up in the front row, all the way on the right. Now, an IMAX screen is enormous, and here I was just 10, maybe 15 feet away from its bottom corner. My neck hurt for a week after that, and I still didn't even feel like I'd seen the movie.
The problem in this story is one of viewing distance. It's also one of real estate space in Manhattan and ticket greed among theater companies, but that's a different article.
Viewing distance is very simply the amount of space between you and your screen. If you've already got your space in place, and you know roughly where and how you'd like to sit in it, you can easily surmise what size television will give you the best experience.
In this case, as I hope the story above illustrates, bigger isn't always better. A TV too big for its room can leave you straining to take in the whole image.
A very crude rule of thumb for measuring your perfect TV by viewing distance is this: For every foot of space between your seat and your screen, you'll want about 10 inches of diagonal screen length. So, if your seat is 4 feet from your screen, you want a 40" TV. If you sit 10 feet away, you might go as high as 106".
As you may already know, screens aren't measured on exact diagonals, but rather fall into a class based on their relative diagonal length. Couple that fact with the average American's state of vision health, and you can safely take that measurement and round up to the nearest class without feeling overwhelmed.
It's Not As Old As It Feels
It's hard to image it, but only 70 years ago there were less than 40,000 television sets in homes across the entire United States. There are single households in America today that have more than 40,000 Beanie Babies in them.
It's a technology that is, in its domestic form, less than 100 years old, and compared to other media for the transmission of art and ideas, its evolution hasn't even begun.
We can look back on those early TV designs, and on early FCC standards for resolution that gave way to NTSC broadcast standards, and it all seems so primitive.
I guess it helps to remember, when buying any piece of high technology, that we exist on a single point in its trajectory. There's a lot of pressure to get it right, to buy the perfect TV set. But you'd scoff just as easily at a black and white set from 1972 today as you will at today's sets in 40 years, if the concept of the "set" even exists then.
What I'm saying is, you can relax. All the TVs here have been vetted for you. They're all beasts, and you're going to love which ever one you choose.