The end of September is always an interesting time in the What Hi-Fi? offices. Summer’s over and the yearly Apple event is behind us. But that doesn’t mean our labours are over for the year because the What Hi-Fi? Awards are just around the corner.
This means we go from our Summer locale lounging on the beach or at a distant poolside, to hermitting in our test rooms as we run every product we’re considering for an Award against its rivals to see which is truly the best of the best.
That was the situation with our home cinema team this week, where our intrepid team of TV testers, myself included, put our collective eyes, brains and ears together to try and decide which sets deserved our prestigious Awards badge this year.
And while that may sound like a dream come true for any home cinema fan – which in many ways it is – as was the case at our Bristol Hi-Fi demo earlier this year, as I rewatched the same scenes over, and over, and over again, I slowly had a thought crystallise.
But unlike our Bristol Demo, where everything was focussed on max brightness, this epiphany focussed on a different, but equally important ingredient in the recipe for perfect picture quality – colour temperature.
I’m not going to get into the detailed science of colour temperature and start talking about kelvins – I’ll leave that fun job to our clever-clogs technical editor Ketan Bharadia in a later article. But the short version is that temperature is a metric indicating how warm or cool colours look. A cool temperature can give the picture a distinctly blue hue. Meanwhile, if it’s too warm it may have a yellow/red tinge.
The reason this metric came to mind during our testing marathon was that as we ran through all the sets I couldn’t help but notice that many TVs, even in director mode where all processing is supposedly subdued, still didn’t give a perfect performance.
This was really obvious during one check, where we watched the intro scene of Blade Runner 2049 multiple times playing our standard game of spot the difference. In it, the fact that one of the TVs’ colours were too cool, even marginally, made a huge difference to the scene.
Dave Bautista’s skin tone had a blueish tinge that made him look slightly vampiric in comparison to the picture we saw on a competitor with a more accurate colour temperature. Peak whites, even if they held detail, didn’t look as natural, having an overtly sterile feel that didn’t have the “as the director” intended it feel.
Would I have noticed this if the other sets weren’t directly next to it? I’d like to think so, but there’s a reason we insist on having direct comparisons rather than relying on memory as part of our testing processes.
Does this small metric mean the cool TV was worse than its rival? No, there are plenty of other important metrics to gauge screen quality – motion handling, dynamic range, sharpness; these are all things that also matter. And to be clear, the picture on the OLED in question was still oh-so-very impressive and I am very much in nitpicking territory here.
But the experience did wake me up to the fact that even at the top end of the market, there are still plenty of sets that are still not completely nailing colour temperature in any of their picture modes and, in turn, inspired me to write this opinion piece.
These are the best OLED TVs we’ve tested
These are our picks of the best TVs
Looking for something a little larger? These are the best 65-inch TVs currently available