Side By Side TV Comparisons In Store Are Worthless

Go into any electronics store and you'll be met with a glowing array of flat panels, all trying to tempt you into purchase. Sadly, this is about the worst way possible to assess a TV.

That thought struck me recently while at a TV launch — Samsung's specifically, although it could have been any given TV launch — because it's precisely what big TV makers do when they're trying to woo journalists and retail buyers as well.

So why is it a problem to look at TVs in this way? There are a couple of inherent problems. First of all, most of the TVs on display are unpacked by the underpaid sales staff and simply switched onto whatever viewing reel they've been told to run. As such, there's little or no effort made to calibrate them. Decent picture balancing in the right environment can make a very big difference to your appreciation of how good or bad a given panel is, but I've seen far too many examples of poorly calibrated screens to think that this is ever really done.

Not that it would make that much difference, however, because the other thing missing in most store environments is an even halfway decent stab at replicating the environment you're actually going to watch your TV in. Do you watch TV at home standing directly in front of the panel, surrounded by fifty other panels, listening to blaring music under harsh fluorescent lighting? The chances are pretty high that you don't, so again you're not getting a decent appreciation for the quality, or lack thereof of one panel over another.

Finally there's the illusion of size. Australians as a whole are gravitating towards larger panel TVs, and that's fine as long as you have a living room that's big enough to allow a decent viewing distance from the panel. Looking over fifty panels, some of which can stretch up to 90 inches or more in size has the effect of making the smaller panels — some of which could be entirely suitable to your home setup — appear that much smaller, and the larger panels more desirable. They're not always going to be the best match for your situation.


Comments

    Totally spot on Alex, I used to work in electrical retail and the TVs are switched on and by default they are set to be over bright, grossly over saturated colors and setup just to grab people with every setting maxed out.
    I used to say to people look for natural colors, peoples faces should not be bright red, colours should be realistic, grass is not fluro bright green.
    I used to try and educate my customers on what to look for, the boss didn't like it because it took longer up front, but as I said to him it meant less problems after the sale, customers were happier, would return to me for there next upgrade or next new electronic gizmo or gadget, and I had the lowest return rate if anyone in the store. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way, helped me get more sales, and happy customers, some of whom have gone on to close friends.

    Not to mention that they'll all be playing a Blu-ray copy of whatever Pixar's latest release is, which looks good on even the crappiest panel.

    In addition to these problems, another one is the totally under qualified sales staff. I've had salespeople tell me things like "All of these panels are about the same" or "room brightness/distance from screen doesn't really matter".

    I say do yourself a favour and do all of your research online before you ever step into a store and don't allow yourself to be convinced away from 2 or 3 choices you've already researched well.

    Actually I think there is one aspect of a TV that should always be checked in store. It's the quality of the picture during high speed movement - such as sport. I like to get a TV and put it into game mode and then watch something with serious motion in it - like soccer or tennis. Immediately you'll see how the TV performs at a base level. Having a USB with some video on it ready to go is handy for this.

    It's also generally the only thing you can't get a clear grasp from reviews.

      Uh, you realise that this shows nothing? Game mode disables all the features, thus it'll just come down to LCD vs OLED vs Plasma panels. If it's LED vs Plasma, the plasma wins on high-speed content.

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