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How to buy a bargain TV

Deciphering product codes can help you get a television for less.

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Last updated: 18 June 2021

CHOICE TV testing is underway for 2021 following one of the most disruptive years on record as far as TV releases and availability go. Our testers and buyers were constantly on the hop attempting to match up the TV companies' release dates for new models, with most new models arriving from June. 

But Sony, Samsung, LG and Hisense are at least telling us when their TVs are about to hit shops, which will help consumers decide if and when they'll buy a new TV. 

Even as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis and things start to become more 'normal', it's more important than ever to know what the model numbers and codes for TV models mean (especially if you're looking to pick up a bargain in the EOFY sales) because lots of 2020 models are still available instore and online. 

When are new model TVs on sale?

The latest 2021 LG and Samsung TVs were released in May and June – in limited models and ranges, with many online retailers showing 'coming soon' banners for 2021 TV models, even though EOFY sales have already started. 

Sony's latest and greatest have arrived later than usual with only some models available for this year's EOFY sales. We've just tested the latest X80J and X90J series TVs and expect more models to arrive in July and August including their A90J OLED TV. So for Sony, expect some great deals on TVs that were released in 2020 from now until Christmas.

Panasonic announced they were pulling out of the TV market weeks before COVID-19 broke out in early 2020, so if you see a Panasonic TV for sale, it's at least two years old. 

Hisense has increased its presence in the Australian market with 2021 models expected from now onwards. 

How to get the best deal on a TV

With most retailers now back to regular operating hours it's easier to talk to someone on the shop floor and let them know that you won't be tricked into settling for last year's TV without some serious discounting. 

Ordering online may be an issue when it comes to driving a bargain, but if you're armed with the right information on model numbers, you can quickly recognise the difference between a great buy and simply old stock.

The trick is to know which TVs are 2021 releases and which ones are from 2020 or earlier.

Using our reviews

In addition to new releases, our TV reviews also feature older models that are listed as discontinued (just make sure you've ticked the box in the 'Related products' field on the left to see them). Sometimes these models suddenly reappear in the EOFY sales at a drastically reduced price and with production and shipping shortages continuing, you may suddenly find a 2020 model appear out of nowhere for a crazy good price and disappear just as quickly.

When shopping for a TV online, make sure your searches include the exact model name that's in our review as well as the size so you can determine the online retailer with the best price. Also, make sure you don't simply click on a retailer on the first page of the search as the top few results often pay for the privilege of appearing at the top of the page. 

The LG OLED55CXPTA was priced at over $4000 when released in 2020 and is now available for around $2600 in some retailers.

Using a TV's product code

Major retailers will be promoting very good deals from now through to August and beyond, however the stack of bargain TVs may not be as large as it was in 2020 due to the general shortage of products for sale. Almost all of these models will be 2020 TVs, with very few 2019 models left to sell.

How do you find out the age of the TV? The secret is in the product code. Not only does it tell you the size and specifications of the TV, it contains information on the year of release – if you know how to read it.

Here's our brand-by-brand guide to cracking the code: 

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Tips for your new TV

TVs are getting smarter

One of the biggest changes we're seeing with 2021 models is the improvement not only to smart functionality, but also the ability to add new features through software updates. 

The latest TVs are more likely to interact with other smart devices on your home network, as well as using voice assistants such as Google or Amazon Alexa. Plus, they can answer queries about the weather, turn on your air conditioner, talk to your fridge and order more milk, and turn off the lights when you go to bed.

Streaming

Keep track of your streaming subscriptions. Signing up for free trials with Netflix, Stan, Disney+, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and now Binge may sound great, but if you don't cancel them, you could easily end up spending more than $100 a month once the free trial period is over.

resolution_chart

TV resolutions compared. 8K isn't really in the consumer space right now, but a couple of very expensive TVs with support for 8K are now available.

High-res options

4K, UHD and SUHD are all terms to describe the next top option in TV resolution: 3440 x 2160 pixels. By contrast, a Full HD TV has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

What do all these numbers and letters mean?

  • SD is the format you're watching when catching old reruns of Friends on TV and DVD movies.
  • Full HD is High Definition broadcast TV (TV shows made in the last few years) and Blu-ray movies on disc.
  • 4K/UHD (Ultra High Definition) / SUHD (Super UHD) is the format used for the latest blockbuster movies streamed on Netflix or a 4K Blu-ray disc, which look great on a 65-inch display TV and won't be noticed on a 32-inch display TV.
  • The arrival of 8K TV is no reason for you to throw out your 4K TV just yet. While it's true that an 8K TV can offer upscaling of 4K content, this feature isn't a big enough reason to move over to the new resolution until more movie and streaming content arrives to take advantage of the higher 7680 × 4320 resolution. 

Is your lounge room big enough for your big TV?

It's not just a question of will it fit – you should also consider the optimum viewing distance, as sitting too close to a big screen can be quite uncomfortable.

  • A 127cm (50-inch) TV showing HD video should deliver its best viewing experience when you're sitting around two metres from the screen. If you sit closer, you may see the individual pixels (depending on the quality of your eyesight).
  • If your room size forces you to sit closer, or if you really want a larger TV, then a 4K TV may be a good option to avoid that pixilation. Although you'll need to be watching 4K video for the best quality picture (and for now, most content is still in HD or even SD).

What is HDR?

High dynamic range (HDR) is all about increasing the range of brightness in images to boost contrast between the whitest and the blackest elements. This technology essentially expands the TV's colour palette by displaying high levels of contrast between bright and dark colours.

Almost all 4K TVs support HDR, and you'll find plenty of HDR-compatible movies and TV shows on disc and via streaming services. 

When you buy your TV, ask the salesperson if HDR is on by default or whether you'll need to activate it. Some brands require you to turn it on for each HDMI port. Once activated, it should automatically switch on and off when you switch between HDR and non-HDR video and games.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE