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Ten tips for buying a TV in-store

What to look out for when faced with a wall of screens.

ten in store tips for checking out a tv lead

The Australian TV market is dominated by Samsung, LG, Sony and Hisense. The smaller players you'll see in major retailers generally try to position themselves at the cheaper end of the market.

Very cheap TVs outside the major brands of Samsung, LG, Sony and Hisense don't make it into our lab for our TV reviews as often as we would like because we're limited in the numbers we can test each year. 

However, even the bigger brands are now producing cheap models to compete at the low end of town and some exhibit the same faults and poor performance of the lesser known brands. Here's how to spot them.

Ten tips for comparing TVs in a store

1. Watch a variety of footage

Start with a free-to-air broadcast in both SD and HD resolution, and flick through channels and various shows. You should be able to see differences pretty quickly when watching live TV, particularly sport footage, and HD footage performance will depend on both the quality of the screen as well as the TV processor.

If the salespeople refuse to let you watch anything other than the specially prepared optimised video, go somewhere else. You can't make a judgement based on a Blu-ray cartoon or digitally mastered movie – some TVs can do an OK job with this input, but will look awful with standard definition or free-to-air HD footage.

2. Look for details in shadowy scenes

Inferior TVs can struggle to display darker scenes.  Flick through channels to find one and watch carefully - is it well-defined despite the dark, or a murky, pixelated mess? If you can, take in your favourite movie and test a scene you know well. 

3. Assess skin tones

Use live news presenters in studios. Here, tone should look natural, and primary colours shouldn't have obvious faults (reds looking orange, for instance).

4. Judge blacks

This can be tricky if you can't control the source, but very poor TVs will appear dark grey rather than black. Some of the latest OLED TVs deliver very good blacks as each pixel can depict black by simply turning off, however you still want the detail to show.

5. Observe faces

This is another way to assess colour accuracy. Look to see if the skin looks blotchy, or if areas of the face move at different rates.

6. Look for a smooth picture

Things like judder (lack of smooth panning) and motion blur (trailing elements behind fast-moving objects) can be in the source, so be careful to make sure that all the TVs on display aren't doing it.

7. Try the TV's remote

Use it to access the TVs main controls – you should be able to get around and do basic things like selecting a source, changing channels and selecting an app such as Netflix or Stan without having to look at the manual.

8. Open the electronic program guide (EPG)

Have a flick through some menu screens. We've seen some that make it very difficult to get around and find the programs you're looking for. Freeview Plus allows you to access all the popular catch-up TV channels such as iView, as long as the TV has access to the internet.

9. Inspect the back of the TV

This is so you can see where the connections are. If you're going to wall-mount the TV, check that it's possible to get to them easily from the side or underneath. The labelling should be legible and of high enough contrast to be visible even in poor light.

10. Check you can record to a USB device

See what restrictions there are for the type of device you can use (some won't accept certain hard drives and others require a specific formatting). These TVs should have two separate tuners so have the retailer record some live TV and switch to another channel to see if it's being recorded properly. Most of the new Sony TVs can't record to a USB device.