What you need to know about TVs

Carly Styka, Opinions Editor

Shopping for a new TV can be a daunting task. New technology being implemented yearly makes it hard to keep up with the trends. Knowing which features are worthwhile and which are marketing gimmicks is very important in making an informed purchase. 

One of the latest trends is 4K technology. TVs with a 4K resolution display four times the number of pixels (approximately 4000) as an HD 1080p TV. Despite 4K being relatively new, the cost of 4K TV sets began to drop in 2014, according to data from the IHS Markit. This resolution only comes at a $200-$300 premium over the standard full HD. Since the screen is displaying a larger number of pixels, the picture quality is greatly increased. The images seem very lifelike and small details, such as a blemish on someone’s face or a pattern on an insect’s wings, are much easier to spot.

Even though many new TVs on the market today are 4K, most broadcasters and cable companies don’t support 4K content. Why? Mostly because it costs too much. Chris Fenger, chief officer of cable company RCN, told the Boston Globe, “There isn’t a rush to produce more 4K content because it’s so capital-intensive in all respects.” An image that is four times larger costs more to record, edit, store and transmit to households across the country. The main attractions of a TV, such as live TV and cable, aren’t 4K compatible.

But there are still many ways to benefit from 4K. Most streaming services such as Amazon Prime offer 4K movies and shows and continue to add more compatible content. Even YouTube supports 4K. Another area where 4K shines is gaming. Xbox and PlayStation consoles both support it, and many new games can be played at the higher resolution. Having greater depth and detail on-screen makes video games much more immersive. Whether or not 4K is worth it depends on what each person wants out of their TV. 

Another noteworthy feature on new TVs is how “smart” they are. Smart TVs can connect to the internet and have built-in web browsers. Users can browse the web, whether that includes watching YouTube videos or scrolling through social media. They also have pre-installed apps for services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, eliminating the need for an external device. 

One downside to this feature is how it affects user privacy. Modern TVs can analyze pixels in order to track what you’re watching and your web browsing activity. This is used primarily to tailor content and offer recommendations. This data is also sold to advertisers by TV manufacturers. This practice, called post-purchase monetization, allows TV companies to continue to profit off their TVs long after the initial consumer purchase. It has come under fire after several brands were caught selling consumer data to third parties. Vizio was fined for over two million dollars by the FTC in 2017 for keeping track of what users watched without informing them. They also settled a class-action lawsuit in 2018 for $17 million for the same issue. 

While this tracking is somewhat of a breach of privacy, most of the settings that control it can be turned off. It also helps to keep the prices of TVs lower, since companies can continue to profit off their products. Having a smart TV is still worth it despite the drawbacks. After all, if it’s not our TV tracking our behavior, its our phones and computers doing it.