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Smart TV for the bedroom
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You don't buy a new TV every year, with most of us expecting our tellies to last a decent span of time – and there's no doubt that smart TVs are in high demand. Whether its for streaming services such as Netflix or Disney+, gaming on next-gen consoles such as the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, or even good old free-to-air broadcast TV, having a single remote that gives you quick access to smart TV features is highly appealing.
The range of brands, prices and choices is vast, even at recommended retail prices, and it gets even more complex when you see how much price manoeuvring happens as different models have promotions and sales. We've rounded up the best choices to meet a wide variety of situations when buying a new smart TV.
The latest standard in TV technology is HDMI 2.1.
HDMI allows for a higher bandwidth and data rates that permit faster frame rates and audio with greater level of detail, but it's still not a common feature on most TVs. It's still essentially early days for the HDMI 2.1 standard, but there is a usage scenario where it may be wise to be an early HDMI 2.1 adopter.
If you already own a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, you're equipped with a console that can utilise all the extra power that HDMI 2.1 can provide. As such, investing in a higher-end model with full HDMI 2.1 compatibility would be a smart step for future-proofing your gameplay.
That's not to say that if your budget or available models limits you away from HDMI 2.1, then you can't use those consoles. It's just that they'll look their best on TVs with HDMI 2.1 support. For now, if your TV watching involves streaming and broadcast media, there's yet to be a compelling case for HDMI 2.1 on its own, although you would also benefit from most of those TVs being premium models with sharper displays as a side effect.
This is nearly 3 times faster than HDMI 2.0 and allows for faster frame rates at higher resolutions, as well as more detailed audio. In 2020, we started to see some of the best TVs incorporate HDMI 2.1, and in 2021 it will start to become common. For the foreseeable future, HDMI 2.1 is mostly utilised in gaming. Both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X rely on HDMI 2.1 to deliver their advertised experiences. So if you intend to game on your TV, check it has HDMI 2.1 ports for video and eARC for audio.
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The battle in premium TVs is still being pitched between OLED and everyone else and, for now, OLED is still holding its ground in the eyes of most reviewers of premium TVs. It's hard to get much more premium than the LG SIGNATURE ZX 77" 8K Smart Self-Lit OLED TV w/ AI ThinQ. It's not called "Signature" by accident, and it's exceptionally high price point does reflect that. Technically, LG has an even more premium-priced rollable TV if you're totally flush with cash, but there are concerns there around long-term durability and relative value for money.
The ZX 77" is one of only a handful of 8K models on sale in Australia right now, and while that does give you a degree of future-proofing in terms of TV standards, the reality is that you're going to be watching an awful lot of 4K-at-best content upscaled for a good long time. Outside the 8K promo loops you see in TV stores, there's really no true 8K content out there right now in the streaming or broadcast spaces, and all sorts of issues with the bandwidth required for streaming at that level.
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If you're buying a TV on a budget, you're awash with choices in the lower cost ranges. Often the most important decision to make is whether it's worth buying a 2021 budget TV or try for a bargain on a 2020 mid-range model that's now been superseded and seen a price drop as a result. That's still worth considering, but you're going to be constrained by the available stock. In terms of 2021 models, Samsung's AU8000 50" UHD TV hits most of the sweet spots for a 4K TV while enjoying some of the refinements seen in Samsung's pricier 2021 tellies. Officially, it sells for just over $1,000, but it's not hard to grab for under that price barrier.
The cheaper panel in the AU8000 does mean careful placement is a must, with some reviewers noting that it suffers from poor viewing at wider angles. Predictably, it's not a super-bright TV, and you don't get features like HDMI 2.1 either.
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You're not exactly awash with choices when it comes to 8K panels right now, although we are slowly seeing a wider range of options emerge into the market. There's a solid argument to say that almost nobody in Australia needs 8K right now, because nobody's broadcasting or streaming any 8K content at all. So what you get right now with 8K is a lot of upscaled content that may or may not benefit from that kind of AI-led approach.
It should be no surprise then that our pick for the best 8K TV is also the winner of the best picture and sound category, because there's no point at all in buying a sub-par 8K TV right now. We're not convinced there's a strong argument for 8K overall just yet, but if you're looking for quite a long-term investment in the future of TV standards, the ZX 88" has received glowing reviews… once you ignore that price point.
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Sony's take on a large screen OLED is the A90J BRAVIA, a panel that has received rave reviews amongst professional reviewers, largely due to the way it matches the peerless contrast of an OLED panel with generally superb lighting. That's typically the weak point for OLED TVs, and where competing technologies often take the crown.
The A90J is a large TV at 83", although smaller models in the same range exist. Reviewers noted its generally good picture quality, and also its solid in-built speakers. While it's HDMI 2.1-ready, that's not true for all of its HDMI ports, and some reviewers did note that switching 120Hz capable modes for the Xbox Series X was trickier than on competing LG panels.
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TVs are only TVs when you're watching them. No, that doesn't mean that they transform into washing machines when you're not looking, but given their size there's a solid argument for TVs that can do more, especially when you're placing them outside the traditional lounge room setting. That's where Samsung's The Frame TV has plenty of appeal.
As the name suggests, it's designed to look like a framed picture, with prominent customisable bezels that look like works of art when you're not watching TV. Samsung even has its own artwork gallery to pick from, although it is a subscription service beyond your first 3 months of ownership.
The Frame scored well with reviewers for its simple 1-cable input minimising clutter in the bedroom, and for its dual purpose identity. However, some did note that it's a bit of a surprise moving from the near bezel-free design of most TVs to the Frame's bezel-heavy approach.
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There was a time when TV brands jostled for app supremacy on their smart TV platforms, back when they were trying to make Smart TVs run all kinds of apps. Often, those apps weren't a good match for a big TV, and what we've seen in the interim is more of a focus on streaming apps that actually compliment a smart TV platform.
Samsung and LG are essentially head-to-head in this race, with smart TV platforms that keep up to date with the latest streaming apps and allow for a little flexibility with other app types. We can't pick between them, but then we'd argue strongly that you should look at other TV factors when making your buying decision anyway.
If you do end up with a TV that doesn't support the streaming platform of your dreams, simple set top boxes like the Google Chromecast with Google TV, Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, or even fancier options like the Apple TV 4K 2021, can add plenty of smarts to even the most rudimentary TV.
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Hisense as a brand has mainly sold itself in the Australian market around budget offerings, and in a way you could argue that the premium U90G fits that bill. Not that it's a cheap TV, but it is bringing a large 8K experience to market for less than competitors such as LG, Samsung or Sony.
The U90G's other big party piece is the use of a Mini-LED array for more precise backlighting with over 1,000 local dimming zones and 2,000 nits of brightness. That should give it a real edge against its OLED competition, although most reviewers tend to lean towards OLED in terms of the complete picture. It's Android TV-based and 8K-ready, although, as we've noted elsewhere, 8K is rather overkill for the Australian market right now.
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Samsung's premium 4K Neo QLED – a Samsung term that essentially equates to the company's in-house version of Mini LED backlighting – is one that's resonated highly with reviewers, who have praised its exceptional brightness and picture clarity, as well as the quality and appeal of its design.
Samsung's app support is amongst the very best, so you'll easily be able to use it to watch all of your streaming subscriptions alongside broadcast TV. It's HDMI 2.1-ready, although only 1 of its 4 ports supports the standard – so save it for your PS5 or Xbox Series X console!
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LG's OLEDs have generally taken the top gong amongst most credible TV reviewers for some years now, and in 2021, that trend has continued. The LG C1 series builds on what made 2020's LG CX series a winner, largely based around the quality of its OLED panel and LG's own Alpha a9 Gen. 4 AI processor for upscaling.
The LG C1 is also a good choice for gamers, thanks to its 4 HDMI 2.1-ready ports with full specification support onboard. Where it may falter as a value proposition is simply in the fact that it builds on the already impressive LG CX series tellies from 2020, and if you can score one of those, you'll get most of the C1's goodies for a lot less. Some reviewers did note that the C1's panel was rather reflective in their home setting, which could be a concern. It's also noted for having a very thick stand, which is good for support but might not look great in every set-up, although that's not a concern if you're wall mounting it.
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