THIS YEAR marks the 50th anniversary of the first colour transmissions in Britain and next year, the 20th anniversary of digital TV. That is the point at which they finished inventing television.
All things being equal, then, there was no reason for any of us to ever buy another set, except, perhaps after knocking the old one over with the Hoover. That was no help to TV manufacturers, however, who have spent the intervening years foisting new features upon us, from stereo to widescreen.
The latest of these is called HDR, and if you believe what they tell you, it makes even last year’s ultra high definition models obsolete.
HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and like its namesake on the camera in your phone, it makes the screen display a wider range of colours, brighter whites and deeper, blacks, altogether giving the picture a punchier look. But it does this only on programmes or movies that have been shot in HDR in the first place.
Your options for accessing HDR content are roughly the same as those for ultra-HD (also known as 4K) - namely Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar streaming services. Sky also offers a premium subscription in 4K. Most content shot in UHD is also in HDR - it’s just that last year’s models, with only one of the features built in, gave you only half the effect.
The relative scarcity of UHD programming - there are no plans for any of the main channels to offer it in the foreseeable future - means that if you already have a 4K TV without HDR, there is absolutely no reason to upgrade again. But if you’re thinking of upgrading this year or next, the new format is worth your consideration, especially now that prices are no longer in the exotic bracket.
Excluding no-name supermarket models, the cheapest HDR sets on the high street are from LG and Samsung; they have 40 or 43-inch screens, smart apps and can be had for less than £500.
However, a screen that size in the corner of a large room is never going to give you the full 4K experience. Unless you’re sitting very close to it, you may never notice whether the programme you’re watching is even in regular high definition, let alone HDR. For the full benefit in an average size lounge, 50-inches or above is where you want to aim, and that extra three-quarters of a foot will add at least £100 to your bill.
Features you need on a new TV are as many HDMI and USB sockets as possible - if you don’t use them all now, you may well in the future - and the widest possible viewing angle, to accommodate armchair positions around your room. You’ll find this figure buried in the manufacturer’s small print.
A curved screen is among the features you don’t need. It’s easy to be seduced by such models in the showroom, but looking attractive is their only virtue - there is no science behind the curvature, and in fact they are hard to see if you’re sitting too far to one side.
3D is another “enhancement” you can live without - it was a feature dreamed up by the TV industry to shift more sets, despite the unwillingness of broadcasters to provide any 3D content. There is a theme here, and the golden rule is to distinguish between what you want from your new TV, and what its makers want you to have.