From smart sets that interact with the internet to cinema-quality screens, the humble television set has never looked so good, writes Jodie Thomson. Over the years, we've watched televisions evolve from great hulking boxes to something flatter and sleeker. Now, they're getting smarter too. The latest models offer an impressive array of features, from movie-quality picture resolution to 3D viewing and internet connections.
The biggest revolution this year in the TV market has been the introduction of smart TVs, also known as IPTV (internet-protocol television). "Smart TVs have the ability to integrate with other products," says Trevor Rooney, General Manager at home-cinema specialist Len Wallis Audio. "It can be as simple as streaming music, photos or video from hard drives, to grabbing content through the internet."
Along with accessing on-demand entertainment options, like movies or TV programs, smart TVs let you browse the web from the TV screen, doing everything from using social media applications like Facebook or Twitter, to Skyping friends overseas. "Eighty-five per cent of our [new] TVs this year are internet TVs," says Paul Colley of Sony Australia. "Internet TV is something people will use all the time and will change the way we watch TV."
The other big-ticket feature on new TVs is 3D viewing, available on a growing range of plasma and LCD screens and picture quality is steadily improving. "The 3D feature is more mainstream this year and it's a great way to futureproof your TV, as you can't add it later," says Colley.
Going the distance
It's a common design blunder: the living room is dominated by an enormous flatscreen TV. But how do you know what size screen is right for your living space? Trevor Rooney of Len Wallis Audio says there's no hard and fast rule about what size TV should be used in a particular sized room and personal preference plays a part. Flatscreen TVs range from about 20in (51cm) to 60in (152cm) in size. (Note: television screens are measured on the diagonal.) The best approach is to take the time to talk to experts in the stores when you're buying, and look carefully at the screen. Don't be seduced by the idea that bigger is better, and consider the size of your room, the lighting arrangement (including windows) and the placement of furniture. If you're after a TV with 3D viewing capability, be aware that this feature is more effective on a bigger screen, ideally in a dark room. "The smaller the screen the worse the effect," says Rooney.
LCD Or Plasma?
There's no right answer, as each have their pros and cons. In general, plasma screens offer superior picture quality, while LCD screens are considered more energy efficient. Screens labelled 'LED TVs' are in fact LCD TVs with LED backlighting instead of fluorescent lighting. "In terms of energy consumption, bigger TVs of all screen types use more energy than those with smaller screens," says Rooney. "If you're just looking at picture quality, plasma will always win out, and there have been big improvements in the efficiency of the latest plasma screens. For example, Panasonic's latest plasmas are made without mercury or lead to reduce their environmental impact when they're at the end of their life."