Consumers looking for a new television these days should probably have a general idea of the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today – as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV is placed in will affect image quality – before coming up with any kind of TV set shortlist. Those consumers that want to get as close as possible to that desirable “cinematic experience” at home should also decide how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting before making a purchase. Having settled on those, they can save serious money by choosing between a 4K TV and an 8K TV model.
It’s only after consumers have made those decisions that the matter of specific use cases can be discussed. Different types of TVs can do a better job than others when it comes to sports viewing, film watching or playing video games. All the important questions to ask when picking up a sports-friendly TV are already answered and now… it’s movie time: what do film buffs need to know about the much discussed “cinematic experience” modern TVs promise and how can they make sure they’ll pick the right one for their specific needs? Let’s break it all down.
The goal: what the movie creator intended… but in a living room
People can obviously watch films on any old TV but, during the last few years, modern televisions have become so good at delivering a detailed, quality picture that the term “creator’s intent” entered the home entertainment conversation. There used to be this big difference between how a movie director envisioned a film should look for movie theater watching and how it ended up looking when consumers watched it at home because, well, up until then our TVs could not hold a candle to ultra-expensive projectors used in multiplexes.
Since OLED TVs started becoming somewhat affordable and LED/LCD TVs started greatly improving their local dimming backlighting – so at some point during the last 5 years – manufacturers felt comfortable comparing the picture offered by these sets to the picture offered by the astronomically expensive mastering monitors used in Hollywood to fine-tune film color and contrast (creators make the most important decisions about how their movie will ultimately look using those). From that point on “the creator’s intent” effectively became a marketing weapon: suddenly every manufacturer, talking about its flagship TV models, claimed to “stay true to the creator’s intent” by striving to offer the high-quality, “cinematic” picture only associated with those monitors and, of course, movie theaters.
So what does a modern TV have to get right in order to offer movie fans a film that looks as close to “the creator’s intent” as can be expected of a consumer-level product? A number of different things. Ιt must be able, for instance, to present a picture of high contrast ratio (the range of brightness levels a screen can handle) so as to display rich, vibrant colors while also preserving detail in the darker or brighter parts of the picture. It has to be able to handle movie content – traditionally displayed at 24 frames per second, often in need of conversion from other frame rates – without “shaky” motion (“judder”), without making movement too smooth (the dreaded “soap opera effect”) or sacrificing picture detail during processing.
In 2022 terms, a modern TV has to offer the kind of high dynamic range – the possible variation in brightness in different parts of any given frame – that will highlight stuff like e.g. explosions or reflections without having to lift the overall brightness of the picture (which would ruin black level consistency). Any quality TV with “cinematic” aspirations must also be able to produce (and sustain) a color palette as close to the one a movie’s creators intended for it without altering hues or tampering with the contrast of the original material.
Yes, it’s a lot. That’s why there’s only a small number of TV models every year actually getting close to honoring “the creator’s intent” in the literal sense and that’s why they expect consumers to pay for the privilege of owning them, too.
What’s the best display tech for a “cinematic TV”, then?
In short? It’s the kind of TV that can reasonably hope to replicate the kind of picture we’ve all enjoyed in cinemas. It’s no wonder that OLED TVs were the first TV models to seriously claim that their picture can be compared to what Hollywood mastering monitors have been offering for years: their perfect blacks lead to extremely high contrast ratios, the instant response of their screen makes movement control easier and the pixel-level control of their backlight is unrivaled. But then high dynamic range (HDR) content came along and top LED/LCDs gained an advantage of their own: as they can get much brighter, they help HDR content be displayed in a much more impressive manner, with dazzling highlights and punchy colors.
So which is the better option between the two for movie fans? It depends on a few factors, but here are a few pointers. OLED TVs are inherently more “cinematic”, generally speaking, but they need the absence of light around them: in bright environments, their picture often looks flat and washed-out. People who prefer to watch films in the dark will have no problem with that, of course. This goes for the new QD-OLED TVs too, which offer everything OLED TVs do, along with the promise of pure, richer colors and a boost in brightness overall.
LED/LCD TVs will work without issues in bright environments, but they absolutely must use a backlight system based on local dimming or they cannot hope of preserving shadow and highlight detail (let alone avoid a host of problems occurring when displaying bright objects on dark backgrounds). The best LED/LCD TVs offer hundreds of “dimming zones” for effective backlighting (the more the better), while the latest MiniLED TV models employ upwards of 1500 or 2000 dimming zones. They do not come cheap, of course, but neither do quality OLED TVs or QD-OLED TVs.
What else to consider when asking for a “cinematic experience” from a modern TV
Picture quality depends on every factor mentioned earlier, so movie fans should be looking at each one of those first. Then there are a few more things to take into consideration: size matters, for instance, as a big television is more immersive and certainly more impressive in the eyes of most consumers. Picture quality is arguably more important than size for movie watching, though, so unless money is no object – asking for both becomes expensive fast – it’s probably better to go for the former over the latter.
Then there’s the rather important matter of the right material. There’s no point in getting a high-quality TV capable of offering a truly “cinematic” picture and then feeding it low-quality movie content. In order of preference, a good modern 4K TV should be used to watch movies stored on UltraHD Blu-ray discs, streamed from Apple TV Plus or Disney Plus, stored in Blu-ray discs or streamed from Netflix. Leave your old DVDs in the cellar, no matter what their sentimental value: your new television will do them no favors.
Other things to keep in mind: want the absolute best possible picture from your TV? Consider hiring a professional for proper calibration. Want to have the widest possible selection of movies to choose from at any given time? Make sure that the operating system of the TV you’re going for offers apps for as many streaming services as possible, certainly for the Big Six: Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Hulu.
Last but not least: sound. Many quality TVs incorporate decent speakers these days, but it’s better to invest in a soundbar/subwoofer combination at the very least. It’s a given that no director intended for you to watch his/her movie with excellent picture and mediocre sound!
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line