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How to tell which TV has the Best Picture Quality-Exactly what to look for in a TV

Submitted by on October 6, 2010 – 2:08 pm2 Comments

Grainy images will detract from the sharpness of the picture

Recognizing the Best Picture Quality – What to Look For

You’ve finally decided to make the investment in a TV and you want the best quality picture you can afford. With video technology getting better and better, how can you tell which TV is the best for your money? It’s easy to let a salesperson move you through the process quickly. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the wall of pictures coming at you.

Taking just a couple of minutes to look at the picture on each TV you are considering will give you the assurance that you chosen the right TV for you.

Spoiler alert—once your eye is trained how to identify picture flaws, you may never be able to look at an average TV again.  The good news is that picture quality is getting better on all TVs, even those that are not top-of-the-line models. When shopping for a TV, you probably have been told to compare the picture on the different  models.  At first glance, you may like all the pictures, After all, they may all be high definition TVs. But, after hours of staring at the TV, you may notice that it’s not quite as clear as you thought it was.

Knowing what to look for in picture quality allows you to know if the economy or sale-priced TV really is a great deal.

Notice the blacks are grey which makes the colors appear dull

With true black, all colors are richer, saturated.

Look Beyond the Contrast Ratio Numbers

Manufacturers set their TVs to have extremely bright, vivid images. They are looking to catch your eye as you walk by. And while “pick me” explosive colors and high contrast ratio numbers [link to article discussing contrast ratio] are what many people notice first, there are other things to look for when evaluating a TV.

Actually, how black are the blacks and how white the whites are, while still seeing details, textures etc., is a better indicator of how well the TV can reproduce deep and lifelike colors.

What’s in the Shadows? The Importance of Black in TV Picture Quality

In reality, what determines how deep and rich the colors are, begins with how black the blacks are. If you start out with a TV that can only reproduce a grayish-black, you will never be able to get the truest colors, because the color range is limited.

Unlike painting or print where black is a mixture of all colors, TVs, as in the light we see around us, black is the absence of color. A TV that could absolutely turn off the light source will give you the truest black, and therefore the truest colors without light leaking through.

It’s not enough to have pure black. TVs also need to be capable of displaying the shadow details, whether it is something lingering in the shadows, or a texture on a black velvet jacket.  The picture may need to be adjusted (“calibrated”) in order to get the best shadow detail performance.

Notice the clear edges below the line vs. jagged edges on the catcher's shirt

Smooth Edges

Look at the areas where light objects meet dark objects.  If the edges of the objects appear to be shimmering or shaking, the object will not appear clearly defined.

Look at diagonal lines or object edges. Some TVs cannot display diagonals well and you will see a stair-stepped jagged line instead.  The better a TV can reproduce the edges of objects, the better it can create a detailed, clear picture.

This is an extreme example of boxy artifacts

Look beyond the individual objects onscreen and take in the overall clarity of the picture.  Take a moment to see if there is any interference –“artifacts” or other video noise — that is not supposed to be part of the picture.

Little boxes dancing about the screen, usually in clusters, are called “artifacts.”  They will often take on the color of the nearby objects in the picture.  Artifacts may be caused by the TVs inability to process picture information fast enough, or it can be the result of video compression from cable, satellite or the internet.

Faint curley lines around edges make the picture appear blurry

Artifacts are the most obvious type of interference but “video noise” can take on other forms. Other video noise can look like spotty pixels, sparkles, curly cues (“mosquitoes”), or any other patterns that shouldn’t be part of the picture.  Pay attention to any wavy moiré patterns created by objects like checkered ties or stadium seating.

Whatever the cause, a TV with a good video processor can improve or eliminate picture interference.

Finding Motion Artifacts on LCD/LED TVs

Historically, LCDs and LEDs have not handled movement onscreen as well as Plasma. Fast action –whether it’s a hockey game or a car chase in a movie—can leave a ghostly trail, feathering of the image or vibrating edges called “jutter. :

The foot on the left is blurry during movement

Manufacturers have found a solution that will smooth out the picture and reduce or eliminate ghosting, feathering and jutter.  Higher “refresh rates”–listed as 120 Hz, 240 Hz or above–has all but eliminated these “motion artifacts.”

You may still find ghosting and other motion artifacts on entry level budget TVs with higher refresh rates.  Take a little more time watching bargain TVs.  You may not notice the blurry outlines at first, but after hours of watching your TV at home, it may become quite bothersome.

Why the Picture Quality May be Worse than Expected

Now that you’ve learned what to look for in determining picture quality, there are times when you can’t judge a TV by the picture it is displaying in the store.  Sometimes the picture on a single TV may be terrible and it’s not the TV’s fault.

If you have gone to the store with a recommendation for a specific model TV only to find that the TV has an awful picture, don’t jump to fast conclusions that your friend or the reviewer was crazy.

Big stores have dozens of cables behind walls that connect all those TVs to their demo source. A defective or loose cable can make the picture on the connected TV look absolutely atrocious.

When you find a TV has a terrible picture, still try to look for rich black, deep colors and picture clarity.  If it’s still too hard to tell, either ask the salesperson to connect another source, like a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player (the latter will better show off if there are problems)[link to article about upconversion], or if you trust the source, go with the recommendation.

Making your Final TV Buying Decision

Ultimately, buy the model you like, the one you believe will give you the best picture for your money. Then forget about it and enjoy your beautiful new big HDTV.

After all, most HDTVs have an awesome picture compared to old analog standard definition models in the past. And remember that you will need to adjust the picture (“video calibration”) once you get the TV home to be sure you get all the picture quality you paid for .

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