Do you get what you pay for when it comes to dirt-cheap televisions? Aussie online retailer Kogan Technologies has once more thrown down the gauntlet to old world retailers such as Harvey Norman. Kogan claims to offer Australia’s cheapest LED TV - a 16-inch 720p model with built-in PVR for a mere $159. Also on offer is Australia’s only LED TV with built-in Blu-ray - a 32-inch 1080p model with Blu-ray Player and PVR for $749.
So how do you know whether these televisions are any good if you can’t walk into the store and see for yourself? That’s the risk of shopping online sight-unseen, you’re taking a bit of a gamble.
Of course many people just walk into a store with a tape measure and buy the biggest television they can afford. Perhaps they’re swayed by the store assistant’s suggestions, often steered towards sets which offer the biggest profit margin and have the colour cranked up to catch your eye. No offence, but if this sounds like you then you may as well save your money and buy online from stores such as Kogan.
If you’re a discerning shopper with an eye for picture quality, you can start by taking a look at the spec sheet. When looking at LCDs, the key things to consider are
- Screen size; How big is too big? If you can’t sit at least twice the screen size away from a television, it’s probably too big for the room.
- Backlighting technology; CCFL or LED? Side/Edge-lit or Back/Matrix Lit? LED matrix-lit offers a great LCD picture, in part thanks to impressive brightness and contrast.
- Refresh rate; 50, 100 or 200Hz? Don’t settle for 50Hz on anything bigger than 32-inches. 100Hz will suffice if you’re on a budget.
- Resolution; You’ll struggle to tell 720p from 1080p unless your screen is bigger than 32 inches.
- Tuners; Consider high-def digital tuners mandatory.
- Inputs - look for at least two HDMI inputs.
Beyond the spec sheet
Of course you can’t judge a television by the spec sheet alone. All the LCD panels come from the same handful of factories, but that doesn’t mean all televisions are equal.
Back-end video processing is the secret sauce when it comes to television, and that relies on the manufacturer’s expertise. Most televisions can make a perfect picture look good, but the true test of a television is how well it handles a less than perfect picture. Remember, for the foreseeable future, most of what you watch won’t be in 1080p. How does a television handle upscaling, pixelation and motion blur? Does it suffer from black crush, with the darkest shades of grey all appearing black so you lose details in the shadows?
This is when you need to trust your eyes. You’re taking a gamble when buying sight-unseen, forcing you to rely on reputation and reviews (by both journalists and customers). When you buy a brand-name television in a store, sometimes you’re paying for picture video processing. But sometimes - as Ruslan Kogan is fond of pointing out - you’re just paying for the name, along with overheads such as marketing and retail costs.
So are Kogan’s televisions junk? It’s impossible to say for sure unless you’ve seen one, which I haven’t.
In terms of bang for your buck they're unlikely to be worse than some of the junk I've seen on the shelves selling for a lot more. If you’re a bargain hunter you’ll probably be satisfied, but when it comes to high-end televisions I suspect you still get what you pay for.