Can You Recommend a Future-Proof TV? Ask the Editors

future-proof tv

Q: I’m planning to buy a future-proof TV that must hold up for the next 5-8 years. I need good picture quality as well as sound quality. My viewing is in a room with 20-35% lighting from the outside (no lighting in the room). Aside from being future-proof with a long lifespan, my priorities are picture quality (color reproduction, dynamic range, contrast, brightness, blacks, and good 4K upscaling), viewing angle, and size (65″ or above). My maximum budget is $8000. What do you recommend?

– M. Sathishkumar (sathish007ece)

A: In the world of consumer electronics, nothing is truly future-proof; technology advances at what seems like an ever-increasing rate. This is especially true for TVs today as we transition to high dynamic range (HDR) and ATSC 3.0 broadcasting. In fact, there are no currently available TVs with an ATSC 3.0 tuner built in; that will come sometime in the next year or two. Therefore, no TV you buy today will be fully future-proof in 1-2 years, much less 5-8 years. On the other hand, if you don’t care about broadcast content, not having an ATSC 3.0 tuner doesn’t matter.

Regarding HDR, there are currently two major HDR formats in the market (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), and two more waiting in the wings (HLG and Technicolor HDR). Plus, Samsung just announced support for HDR10+, a variation of HDR10 that uses dynamic metadata instead of static metadata. At the moment, however, HDR10+ can be used only with the TV’s internal streaming apps, and Amazon is the only streaming provider that has announced plans to deliver content in that format. For more on this news, click here.

To convey HDR10+ content from an external device to the TV requires HDMI 2.1, and there are no TVs or set-top boxes that implement HDMI 2.1 yet. That will happen in the next year or two when the spec is finished and chip makers release HDMI 2.1 chipsets. (There is some question about whether or not current TVs will be firmware upgradable to HDMI 2.1, but I doubt it.) So once again, no TV you buy today will be fully future-proof in 1-2 years, much less 5-8 years.

If you can’t wait a year or two for the dust to settle around HDR and ATSC 3.0, I recommend getting a TV that can decode as many HDR formats as possible. LG is the only company that supports all four major HDR formats (HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, Technicolor) in its OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs; HLG and Technicolor HDR will be added in a firmware update. Many Sony TVs support HDR10, and some will add Dolby Vision and HLG in a firmware update, but Sony has not announced support for Technicolor HDR. Many Vizio TVs support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, but not HLG or Technicolor.

Samsung is the only manufacturer that has announced support for HDR10+, but only with its internal streaming apps. In addition, Samsung TVs do not support Dolby Vision, HLG, or Technicolor HDR. Therefore, I recommend getting an LG or Sony.

The next question is, OLED or LCD TV? In general, I prefer OLED because of its inherently deeper blacks and wider viewing angle. It doesn’t get as bright as LCD, but I don’t think that’s a problem for your viewing environment. Also, I generally don’t recommend edgelit LCD TVs because of potential uniformity issues, so that cuts out all LG and Samsung LCD TVs (except last year’s Samsung KS9800, which uses a FALD [full-array local-dimming] backlight).

LG offers five different model lines of OLED TVs for 2017: W7, G7, E7, C7, and B7. The 65″ W7 flagship carries an MSRP of $8000, which is at the top of your budget, and it comes with a big soundbar that provides better sound than most TVs. But it must be mounted on a wall—it has no tabletop stand—and you can’t operate the TV without the soundbar, which also includes all the connections and processing electronics. For more on the W7, see my mini review here. The other models cost less, they can be mounted on a tabletop stand, and they have no separate soundbar.

I definitely recommend getting a 2017 LG OLED over a 2016 model, because LG made some significant improvements in the new sets. On the other hand, the 2017s do not have 3D capabilities, while the 2016s do. If 3D is important to you, a 2016 model is your only option from LG—and most other brands as well—and you’ll have to accept its other shortcomings, such as dicey low-APL performance and some color shifting.

Another good choice is the Sony A1E OLED TV, which is just starting to become available. I’m starting my review of this TV now, and so far, I’m very impressed. It supports HDR10 and will add Dolby Vision and HLG in a firmware update, but Sony has not announced that it will support Technicolor HDR or HDR10+.

In terms of sound, the A1E implements a unique audio system called Acoustic Surface—the screen acts as the TV’s speakers, with a woofer in the stand. From the little I’ve heard so far, it sounds quite good. However, the stand cannot be removed, and it causes the TV to tilt back slightly when placed on a tabletop. It can be mounted on the wall, in which case the stand is folded into the back of the TV, but that puts the screen about 3.5 inches from the wall.

The 65″ A1E lists for $6500, well below your budget. (There will be a 77″ version, but it will be well above your budget. The same goes for the 77″ versions of LG’s OLEDs.)

If you prefer to get an LCD TV for its brightness, I recommend the Sony Z9D, which is the best FALD-LCD TV on the market at this time. The 65″ version lists for $5500, while the 75-incher is $9000. It supports HDR10 and will add Dolby Vision and HLG in a firmware update. Also a good choice with the same HDR support is the Sony X940E, which comes in one size: 75″ for $6000.

For a complete list of HDR-capable TVs and which formats they support, click here.

If you’ve got an AV question, please send it to [email protected]

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