Don’t Buy a New TV

The proposition is seemingly simple. A television should show you a moving picture, provide some accompanying sound, and ideally, blend in with your home decor. This has been the case since the invention of TV. This year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, we saw the newest and best TVs. They’re pretty boring, which is weirdly exciting.

If you own a 4K TV right now, there’s a great chance it’s terrifically suited to most things you want to do with a TV—watch movies, enjoy sports, stare at the darkness. At CES this year, some of the biggest technology companies in the world announced that the next generation of TVs will look a lot like the last. Count on 4K resolution. Depend on HDR and Dolby Vision. Lots of local dimming zones. These are all qualities in a television that seemed extraordinary just a few years ago, and now they’re standard. In the coming months, the latest TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and others will hit the market without many new things to offer.

This isn’t bad news. There is a new generation of TVs that offer 8K resolution, speakers embedded in the screen, and new display technology like microLED. This was all on display at CES, although it seems useless for the average person. There’s not much 8K content to display on fancy new 8K TVs. Most reasonable people use soundbars instead of their TV speakers, and microLED technology still isn’t ready for prime time. That means that most of what major TV makers are putting on the market this year is just a slightly upgraded version of what they offered last year and the year before. And those older TVs are cheaper than ever.

If you’re dying to spend money on a new TV, there are some interesting ways to do it. LG continues to push boundaries with its OLED lineup, and its roll-up TV will finally ship this year for an astounding $60,000. Samsung is selling an expanded line of 8K TVs—and remember, there’s practically no 8K content to play on them—for many thousands of dollars. Sony is expanding its Master Series with a new 48-inch model. Vizio is joining the OLED game with a brand new model that’s shipping this year. TCL is updating its popular 6-series with mini-LED backlighting that promises the same kind of performance as OLED displays.

All of these new TVs are terrific and beautiful, but none of them are really revolutionary. In the coming years, we will see microLED come to market. We’ll see OLED displays that work like wallpaper. We might even see light field displays that track your eyeballs and look like holograms. But for now, the cheap 4K TV you bought three years ago is just about as good as the newest ones coming to market. So don’t worry about buying a TV this year. And if you do, buy an old one on sale.

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