Question:

05 Loewe AcondaWe have been living with a lovely Loewe, an old cathode ray tube (CRT) television, up until Covid-19 hit. It hit the TV as well and it gave up the ghost. I was sad because it had a lovely, gentle screen, not the brash things of recent times. I had it connected to a borrowed fetch box.

So I retrieved another Loewe, a 32-inch LCD probably seven years old that I found on the street, and connected it to the Fetch box. It has great speakers inbuilt and therefore doesn’t need to be attached to a sound bar or music system. But I can do that if we are watching movies. It has troubles turning on the display sometimes, but I don’t know if that is the TV or the Fetch. It’s intermittent and connections to DVD players still work, so it’s very confusing.

I’m cognisant that new TVs have digital tuners and also have the apps with all the on-demand streaming in-built. But they also have crap speakers, bright screens and they’re costly.

My partner wants to get a new TV, largely because of the intermittence mentioned above. Also the borrowed Fetch is attached to an account that is about to die, and so the fetch will die with it. So I’m stuck. I can attach an old strong STB, or an old Tivo, but won’t get the streaming. We love ABC iView and SBS-on-demand. So, problems.

05 Loewe 32Do you have any suggestions on how to keep the Fetch going, or alternatively new TVs? We won’t need one any bigger than 40-inch. Personally I think that is too big, but the boss has sway. Our flat screen Loewe has poor reception. The aerial on the building is poor. So poor that I stick the aerial wire towards the window and it gets more consistent reception than the aerial plug in the wall. Do new TVs require good reception, that is, are they less efficient than older TVs in processing the signal?

I’ve heard the LG OLEDs are good but there is a newer thing coming. I’m not wedded to any brand, but want to buy the best we can afford for what would be a relatively small, say 40-inch, TV. And then what do we do about sound? Money is always an issue, as is electricity.

Answer:

There are several arguments for buying a bigger screen, but I’ll get to them in a moment – for now let me tell you about CDs. When they first came in their sound was wonderfully defined, and there was no surface noise. And they were easy. The market took to them at speed and rejected vinyl, only the enthusiasts complained about vinyl’s sound being better. And it was, those early CD players sounded sharp and brittle. Then Yamaha introduced oversampling and CD players just got better and better until today, with 24/96 recordings they can make your knees weak. I still listen to a lot of vinyl, but I have CDs that beat the pants off records.

Now the same is true of screens. The early flat panel screens were sharp and the colour balance was terrible, as was the contrast. But they’ve become lots, lots better. I had a Loewe 61 cm widescreen CRT for years and loved its gentle picture, but when I replaced it with a 50-inch Pioneer Kuro plasma (which cost a bundle) I was blown away. The Pioneer ate it. I gave the Loewe to a friend and it promptly blew up. Oh well. I bought the Pioneer in 2005 and it’s still our main viewing, it’s fantastic.

And this story is repeated often. My gym buddy Bob bought his first LCD a few years ago, replacing his CRT, and was gobsmacked. “I couldn’t drag myself away,” he said. “I was even watching the ads.”

05 Pioneer plasmaPicture quality these days is stunning. Colour balance, once you get the setting rights, is great. Contrast is good and with the OLEDs (and the old plasmas) is great. And yep, generally the sound is terrible.

The reason you think modern flat panel televisions are too bright is because most of them that you see are too bright. Their default setting has the brightness turned to max because that’s the way the big retailers display them, and they do this because the lighting in their showrooms is way brighter than in your living room and if they turn the television’s brightness down the picture starts looking muddy. So check the television’s setting and you’ll find a range of brightness options, practically all of which are better than the default in a home environment.

I think you would be making a mistake buying a small television (and 40 inches is very, very small, actually the smallest size offered by a lot of the brands these days is 42 inches). The big problem with finding a premium 42-inch is that hardly anyone makes premium 42s. Their 42s are usually budget-priced specials because most people who buy them get them for the bedroom, and quality doesn’t matter much. Finding one with inbuilt features like streaming and internet connections can be difficult. And, at that size, it can be difficult to pick any quality improvement that super high definition has over high definition simply because the screen is not big enough to show it. Getting a 42-inch OLED, or 4K, would be a waste of money even if you could find one. Also, you have spent years and years looking at your old Loewe and you’re used to a small screen, and anything bigger seems, well maybe a bit obscene. But there’s a reason everyone except you has a big screen, and that’s because they’re fantastic, especially for movies. I hate to use this sadly overworked word but for you it’s appropriate – you’ll find a larger screen immersive.

05 LG OLEDSo I would suggest you buy the biggest screen you have the space and budget for. Pretty much the smallest televisions that have the features you want will be 55-inch and even these can be hard to find in a big store because they look crazily small amongst all the other offerings. I did a pass through my local store a few days ago and after looking at all the televisions on display I saw an inordinately small one in a corner. I figured it was a 42. Nope, it was a 55, bigger than the one I have at home. It just looked tiny in the context of its surroundings. Have a swing through a big retailer like this and you’ll be knocked out.

OLEDs are the best. Sonys are brilliant, the Panasonics, which were magnificent and unequalled by anyone, are no longer on the market. LGs are probably the best OLEDs but it’s hard to pick between those and the Sonys. They’ll give you the contrast levels you had with the Loewe (great detail in very dark pictures) and stunning picture quality. Samsung’s QLEDs are the next step down but also brilliant. They are LEDs, not OLEDS, but they are very good. For an LED screen there are heaps of premium models on the market and they’re all pretty good, just take your time picking. There are some 8K offerings now at high prices but frankly it’s hard to pick the difference between a 4K and an 8K unless it’s a super-big screen, like 77-inch or above. My old Pioneer is super high definition (SHD) and it still blows me away, and most broadcasts these days are in high definition (HD), and some streaming goes even better to SHD.

Now look for features. You’ll need streaming, and a lot will have the stations you want (like iView, SBS-on-demand and Netflix) built in. Otherwise you can get an outside box, like an Apple TV. You don’t need a voice-assist feature like the ones offered by Google, Microsoft and Apple, but you’ll probably wind up with one anyway, just disable it if you can.

Look, seriously, your Loewe CRT is not even in this race.

The first time I saw something that made me think of replacing my Pioneer was a few years ago when Panasonic introduced its OLEDs. Then they left the market. I now figure I may replace the Pioneer (which means moving it upstairs to the man cave) when OLEDs from LG or Sony get a few more years development and come down a bit in price. And my Pioneer is 15 years old. My point is, buy carefully and in 15 years you’ll still love your telly.

Aerial: You need to talk to a specialist about this. Digital signals are all or nothing. If you get one it will be full quality. If the signal deteriorates it will simply drop out and you’ll get nothing. I would suggest you get your new telly installed by a specialist who can check signal strength (many televisions do this anyway) and advise on a new aerial if you need it. Speak to the strata because others will be having the same problem you have.

Sound. The best thing is to route the sound through your hi fi, but if you need a soundbar you should be able to do a deal when you buy the telly. I’m very impressed by the LGs that have been co-developed with Meridian (they wear a Meridian badge at the left side) and start around $700. That would be my minimum spend. Whatever, make sure it has a tone control (usually you’ll have to go into the electronic menu) so when voice starts getting swamped by music or background you can ramp up the treble and turn down the bass to make the voices stronger. This is not the movie, it’s the way your hearing changes as you get older. It’s why so many older folk complain about the poor diction of actors these days – the actors haven’t changed, it’s their hearing.

Once again you have to listen and select what’s best for your ears and your budget.

Posted June 2020.

 

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