How to pick out the best high-end TVs for the buck this Black Friday

Here's what you need to know to make your best buying decision.

A few months ago, I bought a new home with something I'd always wanted: a room big enough for a home theater. So, I went looking for the best HDTV I could find and afford. Here's what I found on my journey.



Now, I grew up with a soldiering iron in my hand in my dad's TV repair shop. I make my living from knowing how computers work, but I started in electronics with television. When it comes to TVs, I know what I'm looking for.


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Here are the factors I use in determining what TV to buy.

First, it has to support 4K video. There's not that much 4K video out there yet on either the streaming services or on Blu-Ray DVD. That will be changing. I expect to own any TV I buy this year to last at least 10 years. Well before then, I expect most of the movies I watch to be in 4K

That said, the difference between 4K resolution (3,840 pixels wide and 2,160 high) sounds a lot better than top-of-the-line 1080p than it really is. You can only really see the difference with 4K videos and if you have excellent eyes.

Still, the best TVs today all support 4K. One positive side effect of that is you can now get excellent HDTVs for around a grand. The best of these affordable televisions are the 2016 Vizio M series. If your cash is tight, look for Black Friday deals on these models.

What was more important to me than 4K support was support for high dynamic range (HDR) color. Again, there aren't that many shows that support HDR yet, but the ability to show more colors with deeper blacks make a bigger difference to overall picture quality.

I also wanted a big television. For me, 65-inch was the smallest screen I considered. There are two standards for how big a screen you should get: THX and Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). In my experience, SMPTE works best.

To find SMPTE's recommended minimum screen size for your room, measure the distance between your seat and where your TV will be going in inches. Multiply that by 0.6 and you'll get the diagonal screen size. So, for example, if you sit 5 feet from your TV (60 inches), you'd want a 36-inch TV. In my case, 10 feet (120 inches), I wanted a 72-inch TV.

For a quick answer for viewing pleasure, you can use the My Home Theater viewing distance calculator. That said, generally speaking, the bigger the screen, the better.

Moving on, you can ignore a lot of TV specification jargon. Most of it is just meant to up-sell you on a more expensive model. These include: contrast ratio, viewing angles, and refresh rate.

There is something to be said for higher refresh rates if you watch a lot of sports and action movies. But, no matter what the TV vendor calls it, once you're at a real 120 Mhz, which is true of all modern high-end TVs, you won't see any real difference.

One concept that doesn't get a lot of press is "local dimming". With this, the darker areas of a scene are literally dimmed while the brighter areas are kept at full power. This is useful because it increases the contrast and gives you a better picture. This doesn't matter with the now-obsolete plasma and the expensive top-of-the-line organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs. On all the others TVs, which use LED-LCD, it can make a real difference.

Unfortunately, you'll seldom find local dimming factors listed at the store or online. Instead, you'll need to look for reviews for the particular TVs you're considering. As a rule of thumb, the more areas of local dimming, the better.

A related issue is how LED-LCD TVs use their LEDs to illuminate the screen. Cheaper models tend to use edge LEDs. There are almost as many ways to implement this as there are TV brands. To tell which one works best for you, look for scenes that display a bright object -- a starship or the moon -- against a black background. If the darkness is grayer above and below, from side-to-side, or there's a halo effect around the image, you're looking at poor edge back-lighting.

What you really want is a TV that is backlit, rather than from the edge, with local dimming. This gives you the excellent picture you're going to get from a LED-LCD TV. The very best LED-LCD TVs use full-array backlighting. In this, hundreds or thousands of LEDs are arrayed directly behind the 4K TV LCD. You'll find this in the very highest-end TVs.

If you really, really want the best screen, prepare for sticker shock and get an OLED TV. OLED can deliver absolute blacks and almost pure bright whites on a pixel by pixel basis. Combine that with HDR color, and you get the best displays I've ever seen. Only LG is currently making OLED TVs.

This year "curved" TVs are the latest gimmick to separate your money from your wallet. I find curved displays to be more irritating than useful. They also make it harder for all your buddies to see the game. Skip curved screens.

I don't see a lot of point in buying "smart" TVs. You'll get some built-in smart TV functionality anyway these days no matter what you buy. But, in my experience, you'll still want to add a Roku Premiere+ for your streaming pleasure.

I also don't care much for 3D movie support. I've been waiting since 2009's Avatar for another movie that really makes me want to see 3D. I'm still waiting.

That said, here are my picks for this 2016 holiday buying season.

Vizio M65-D0: At $1,149 list, this is the most affordable of the high-end big (65 inch ) TVs I considered. It has excellent picture quality. With five HDMI ports, it can keep up with all your media extenders and gaming consoles.

LG OLED65B6P: CNET says the "LG B6 outperforms every other TV we've tested." It's the best I've ever seen as well. At a Black Friday week price of $2,796, the 65-inch is still expensive. If you have the money, it's worth it. The 55-inch OLED55B6P, at a Black Friday price of about $1,800, is also tempting.

LG 75UH8500 I really wanted a bigger screen, so I bought what I found to be the next best thing: the 75UH8500, LG's largest LED-LCD model. It's not perfect; three HDMI ports is one too few. But, it supports 4K, HDR, 3D, and I love the display. It lists for almost three grand, but there should be Black Friday deals for it. It's smaller brother, the 65-inch 65UH850, is available for a much more affordable $1,797 to $1,697.

Good luck in finding the best TV for you this holiday season.

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