Legacy brands or a new-age name? QLED or OLED? A complete buying guide to help you with things to keep in mind when looking for a smart TV
Buying TVs used to be much easier. You zeroed in on the size (defined largely by your budget) and selected one from the few brands available. Not so any more.
Apart from the zillion brands you have to choose from, the transformation of television technology over the years has made the purchase complex. Not only do you have to decide on the basis of size or brand, there’s also technical jargon to sift through.
While legacy brands like Sony, LG and Samsung continue to enjoy considerable mindshare and brand recall, new-age brands like Xiaomi, Vu, OnePlus and Kodak now offer a comparable viewing experience without you needing to break the bank. Some, like Xiaomi and Realme, are already popular in several consumer tech categories, including smartphones, but the legacy brands enjoy the perception of being better or reliable or innovative, with demonstrable after-sales service experience.
Of course, there’s a premium on the brand name. So, you may well be able to save a few bucks by making an informed choice and picking up a TV from a new-age brand that offers near-identical features and/or performance—all TV manufacturers more or less assemble a television from the same, or similar, components.
This guide is aimed at helping you decide on the right TV for your needs.
Kodak’s maiden series of QLED TVs – available in 50-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch – is a neat step up from the brand that is known for affordable TVs. Yet, the pricing – the series starts at ₹33,999 only – is a nod to its budget roots.
Each time you need to pick up a PC or a smartphone, you tend to make an operating system choice—Windows or macOS, Android or iOS. Smart TVs have brought this operating system fragmentation to televisions as well.
Globally, the two most popular operating systems are LG’s webOS and Samsung’s Tizen, owing to the brands’ market share. Note that some geeky power users apart, most people choose a television based on its feature set or its brand impression. The operating system, or software in common parlance, does not drive the choice.
Most operating system implementations have matured since the early days of smart TVs, with ample localization for the Indian market, and offer near-identical features and content streaming options. For example, Tizen and webOS didn’t offer Google Assistant voice assistance in the past, while Xiaomi’s Android TV-based PatchWall didn’t have Netflix in its earlier days.
Except for Samsung and LG, Android TV is becoming the standard software layer on most smart TVs in India. Some budget players tried their own implementations based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) but have since moved to Google’s Android TV offering. Android TV, which once offered a mediocre user experience, has been improving progressively. Thankfully, Google is transitioning to the new Google TV UI, which looks more modern and offers better suggestions and content curation.
Tizen and webOS offer a completely different user interface that looks more polished and is definitely more intuitive. However, Android TV comes with Google Assistant and Chromecast built in (for casting your smartphone screen to the TV); this is more seamless than the screen mirroring technology used on webOS and Tizen. The voice assistant bit has been taken care of since both Tizen and webOS now feature Google Assistant and Alexa (depends on the models, of course).
While Tizen and webOS have a limited app library (although all mainstream streaming services are covered), Android TV packs in the Google Play Store, allowing you to install thousands of TV-optimized apps. Potentially, that is. There is little reason for you to install a zillion apps on your TV unless you are a geek.
Overall, no operating system lacks any essential feature that can compromise your viewing experience. Android TV offers more flexibility and almost standardises TV software, while Tizen and webOS offer a more straightforward and minimalist UI that appeals to a broader demographic. Some Android TV implementations, like Xiaomi’s impressive PatchWall, aim to be somewhere between the two.
If you are considering a premium TV, you would be drawn into an OLED vs QLED debate. For the last few years, Samsung has been branding its TVs as “QLED”, while LG has focused on “OLED”.
OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode” and QLED, for “quantum dot LED TV.” A QLED TV is essentially a variation of the “traditional” LCD TV and relies on an LED backlight. An OLED TV uses a fundamentally different technology, with pixels emitting their own light.
Many perceive OLED to be a better technology than QLED, but neither is better than the other in absolute terms. A lot of image quality factors are the same, depending more on individual models than the technology.
Both these technologies, however, are fairly expensive and limited to premium TVs. For most users looking for an affordable TV, a good ol’ LED TV is good enough.
Part of Samsung’s lifestyle series that combines an artwork and television, The Frame is the perfect thing on a living room wall.
Size and resolution
You also need to ensure that the TV you purchase is just the right size for your room. You shouldn’t just go for a larger TV because it fits in your budget.
If the viewing distance is less than 5ft, go for a 32-inch TV, opt for an under 50-inch TV if the distance is 5-7ft, and go for something larger than 50 inches if the viewing distance is greater than 8ft. Broadly, less than 50 inches for smaller rooms and over that for bigger rooms.
There’s no compulsion, mind you. It’s a good idea to get a sense of your room size and where your bed or couch is placed, then walk into a store and check out the TVs on display to figure out what size you are comfortable with.
The second aspect of the dimensions is the screen resolution, which defines the number of pixels on the screen. A higher resolution means more pixels and crisper and sharper picture quality.
An HD Ready TV (1,280×720) today makes sense only in smaller rooms like a shop or office cabin (and, of course, if you are on a budget). Otherwise, a Full HD (1,920×1,080) display offers the best balance between price and picture quality.
Of course, if you can afford it or want to future-proof your purchase, go for the Ultra HD (3,840×2,160), or 4K, panel that shows four times the number of pixels than Full HD for a richer, more detailed picture quality. Several streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Video, even YouTube, now offer 4K content, making an Ultra HD TV worth the investment.
Now there are also 8K televisions—way too expensive (they start at around ₹2 lakh), without any real, demonstrable value. Unless you have money to burn, you can hold off on that purchase for a few years.
There’s also refresh rate—the number of times a display refreshes its content per second—to consider. 60Hz is the standard refresh rate and should work for most use cases. However, if you are looking at console gaming or using the TV as a monitor, you might want to look for a TV that offers higher refresh rates, like 90Hz, 120Hz or 144Hz, for smoother motion and that edge in shooting and racing games.
With that out of the way, here are a few recommendations for televisions at different price points that should serve as entry points to your research.
Redmi Smart TV 32
At ₹12,999, the Redmi Smart TV is the most well-rounded affordable smart TV available in the market. It’s 32-inches and only HD Ready, but it also packs in a neat 20W Dolby Audio setup with premium codecs like DTS Virtual:X and DTS-HD.
Xiaomi Smart TV X Series
Available in three size variants, 43”, 50”, and 55”, this recent series of affordable 4K televisions (starting at ₹28,999) from Xiaomi is brimming with high-end features without breaking the bank. You get a high-resolution Dolby Vision display with excellent picture quality in a good-looking chassis along with an immersive audio experience with 40W speakers with Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD. There’s too much packed into a budget Android TV television, that’s also future-proof because it’s a 4K TV.
Kodak QLED Ultra HD TV
Kodak’s maiden series of QLED TVs – available in 50-inch, 55-inch, and 65-inch – is a neat step up from the brand that is known for affordable TVs. Yet, the pricing – the series starts at ₹33,999 only – is a nod to its budget roots. It goes beyond the fundamentals in terms of features and comes with a well-rounded specifications sheet offering an impressive viewing experience, despite middling performance that isn’t a showstopper for a television in this price category. A good upgrade from an old TV, actually!
The X75K from Sony is a premium series that looks the part, and elevates your TV viewing experience.
Sony BRAVIA X75K
The X75K from Sony is a premium series that looks the part, and elevates your TV viewing experience. The 4K Ultra HD TV comes in four display sizes (43”, 50”, 55”, and 65”) with a starting price of ₹69,900. Powered by Google TV, the BRAVIA X75K is a solid offering with a pretty good display, powerful sound, and solid internals, along with support for both Google Assistant and Alexa.
Samsung The Frame
The Frame is nothing like any other TV on this list or beyond. Part of Samsung’s lifestyle series that combines an artwork and television, The Frame is the perfect thing on a living room wall. The QLED TV offers a well-rounded viewing experience and comes in a wide range of available sizes, but the idea is not to compete on the specifications sheet (starting at ₹ 62,990 for the 43-inch variant, it’s pricier than similar options) in the market. But you put out the money because you can flaunt this piece for art next time you have guests over.
Xiaomi OLED Vision TV
At ₹94,999, the Xiaomi OLED Vision TV is the most affordable 55-inch OLED television in the market. Most of the OLED TVs from legacy brands like LG and Samsung are priced above a lakh. With its first OLED TV, and a pretty good one at that, Xiaomi wants to climb up the value chain and move away from its ‘value-for-money’ positioning. The 4K OLED TV checks all the boxes of a premium television in the market and looks great with extremely thin bezels and a metallic frame. But it’s only available in one size!
Abhishek Baxi is a technology journalist and digital consultant.