For Your Man

Buying a TV for the family

Just as starting family life meant you had to change your car, here are some tips for what to look out for when replacing your TV.

Do buy a brand. You might try to kid yourself into thinking that the marginally cheaper supermarket-own brand is just as good as a Japanese or Korean brand but it rarely is. The big brands have added layers of design and quality control they need to protect their brand name, even if they are now buying-in their cheaper products from the same factories. These are hoops which the cheaper supermarket brands don’t need to jump through and it shows in the final product. Did you know that Japanese safety standards are the strictest in the world, even more so than the EU standards?

The most important feature about any TV is its screen. I’ll avoid the increasingly archaic plasma vs LCD debate by simply advising you to go and look at your candidate TVs in a showroom before you buy. (Whether you decide to buy it at the showroom or later online is your decision.) Comparing TVs side-by-side you will notice some look brighter, some look more natural, whites might look greenish or blueish. If the picture looks good to you, then you’re onto a winner. You might want to check the sound isn’t too tinny before parting with your own tin unless you’re planning to plug into a home theatre. (With toddlers around, keep cabling out of reach!)

With TVs continuing to get thinner with near-zero bezel, you can afford to get that larger screen size without it dominating your living space. As a society, our viewing habits are becoming more individualised. Even 4-year olds are getting the hang of navigating catch-up TV through tablets for themselves. Why not encourage that old-fashioned “let’s watch TV as a family” feeling with that
special big screen?

However do check for EU energy rating label to ensure that the bigger screen won’t end up costing the earth. A is good. A+, A++ or A+++ is even better. The eco flower policed by the EU is a good indicator too, check www.eco-label.com. These days, LED TVs are often most efficient.

CHILDPROOFING YOUR TV

While you’re at the showroom, take a look at the remote control. Is it intuitive to use? Check the battery compartment. If it is easy for you to open, then the kids will figure it out and you’ll find batteries strewn around the house everywhere except in the remote control. You might want to buy a remote where the battery compartment is secured by screws or other means.

Almost all TVs come with fittings to wall mount but very few people actually bother. With little smudgy fingers around to decorate your screen (or worse, push it off its pedestal) you might find wall mounting will save on your nerves.

GETTING TECHNICAL

Avoid “version 1” technologies whether it be 3D, Connected TV or anything else. They are always expensive and the competitive pressures on getting them out to market first means that they are more likely to have undiagnosed faults. Of course, the good TV brands will do their utmost to fix the TVs while you sleep (something called a software upgrade). But your initial outlay will bankroll the effort. Wait until the technology matures before buying and you’ll have the added bonus of an affordable price tag. If your TV is just a screen to plug your Sky or Virgin box into then make sure your TV has an HD Ready 1080P logo and you’re good to go. There’s no need to pay for anything else. (Unless you want to subscribe to Sky 3D that is…see later.)

SOMETHING FOR (NEARLY) NOTHING

If you are not quite so charitable as to fund Premiership footballers’ salaries with a pay-TV subscription you might want to know what you can get without a monthly subscription. A great technology that gives you “something for nothing” is Freeview HD. That way you’ll get sharp high definition channels from BBC, ITV and Channel 4 as well as around 50 digital channels.You receive it free-of-charge through your regular TV aerial and it is available in most places now but you might want to check first at www.freeview.co.uk/HD.

Children go through TV watching fads pretty quickly. A hard disk recorder is great for recording all the episodes of their favourite programmes and younger kids rather like watching the same episodes several times. You get other features too. For example, press the pause button whenever you have a potty emergency and press play to resume watching.

There is something called Freeview HD+ which gives you high definition channelsplus a built-in hard disk recorder with snazzy features like the ability to record a whole series at the touch of a button. The trouble is that to date there are no TVs with this Freeview HD+. So you might need to make a choice – buy a Freeview HD+ hard disk recorder plus a TV or buy a Freeview HD TV with a record function, albeit without some of the frills.

ANOTHER DIMENSION

3D TV is a buzzword technology. Like all new technologies there is a bewildering array of options and opinions. Watching 3D TVs usually involves wearing a pair of glasses. These can be either cheap “passive” glasses,where you lose picture quality, or the expensive “active” glasses, which you definitely don’t want to be coated with peanut butter. You could also try a glassless 3D TV if your budget will stretch to it.

A worry that parents often have is whether watching 3D TV will harm a child’s vision. Indeed, TV manufacturers warnagainst very young children watching 3D content. More recently, some evidence has emerged that watching 3D content won’t damage developing eyes (it could even strengthen them according to some). However,watching 3D TV could still cause nausea and disorientation in some cases, whether adult or child. So be vigilant.

If you are going to spend extra on a 3D TV then ask yourself where your 3D programmes will come from. To date, the main sources are Sky 3D or 3D discs for a BluRay player (but these are expensive… Toy Story 3D is £18 from Amazon). Some 3D TVs have a 2D to 3D upscaling feature where the TV tries to display regular TV pictures in 3D. You will probably end up switching that feature off and using 3D for “special events”… like watching an £18 BluRay disc. Otherwise, you might want to save your hard earned cash and settle for High Definition.

PLUG IN

For me, the game-changing technology is Connected TV. This is not so much about connecting your TV to the Internet but watching movies and catch-up TV from the big screen in your living room rather than the small screen of your laptop or tablet. However, it comes with a catch. These are relatively early days for this technology and things are changing rapidly. Last year’s LoveFilm (a premium movie service) might succumb to this year’s Netflix (its US rival now out in the UK).

To prove my point, there are new entrants expected into the Connected TV market this year. YouView promises a 7-day Programme Guide either backwards (watch any programme from the past 7 days as catch-up TV) or forward (record any programme in the future 7 days). It’s backed by BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five but again I wouldn’t buy the first version. It could set you back £350-ish for a set-top box and industry rumours are pretty scary.

Sky is planning its own service to compete with YouView which allows non-subscribers to cherry-pick Sky’s programmes on a pay-per-view basis rather than as a subscription. Watch out for news as TV manufacturers start to integrate Sky to their Connected TV offerings.

Despite the confusion, if you have a broadband connection, do choose a TV with BBC iPlayer. You can “catch up” on most BBC programmes from the previous seven days in a pretty easy to navigate format. Some TVs also offer other catchup TV services namely 4OD (from Channel 4) and Demand Five (unsurprisingly from Five).If you are going to buy a connected TV then ensure that the TV will be close to your Ethernet cable for Internet or that it has Wifi built-in (or you can buy a dongle to enable Wifi).

With London 2012 just around the corner you might want to check if your TV has the BBC Sports app – this promises to give you all the Olympic action.

A word of warning though.If your Connected TV has access to user-generated content like YouTube or DailyMotion then parental control means relying on users policing one another’s content. And that isn’t really any kind of parental guidance now is it? However,catch-up TV like the BBC iPlayer does have appropriate parental guidance.

READY TO BUY YET?

TV manufacturers have been losing money for years now. Well, it’s a cut-throat business. That’s bad news for them but good news for you, the customer. So if your family needs a TV, there is really no point in waiting for whatever’s around the corner. Buy now and you’re sure to get a good deal.

(by Stevie J. Manu)

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