Trick to make cheap TV sound expensive
Here's a secret most TV manufacturers don't want you to know: A lot of lines of TVs are basically the same from the entry level $1500 model to the $5000 one.
The screens will all look pretty much the same when you're watching Netflix or Foxtel. The primary difference is the speakers, and even then, they're still probably not going to sound great.
The vast majority of flat screen TVs have two shallow speakers on the back of the screen, firing their sound at the wall, with no proper subwoofer, making the sound muddy and muffled. As you work up the cost scale to more expensive TVs, you start getting front-firing speakers, or in-screen speakers, but they still don't sound great, thanks to the lack of dedicated subwoofer for the bass, or having enough room for decent drivers.
SO HERE'S THE TRICK
Buy the cheapest TV with the screen you like. If you're feeling fancy, get a base-level OLED with 4K HDR and all those bells and whistles, and then invest in a decent sound bar.
Or, if you're thinking of upgrading your TV because even though the picture is fine you just want something a bit better, skip upgrading and get a sound bar for your existing set and postpone the more expensive purchase for a few years.
Most of the emotion in TV and movies comes from the sound; those soaring music cues that make you think those highly-paid actors are really in love, or those reality show contestants really are stressed about getting the plastering finished in time.
How much of the excitement of a game of footy comes from the roar of the crowd and the shrill tones of the whistle? Seeing the action matters, but it's what you hear, and from what part of the room you hear it can make you feel like you're a part of the moment.
That's why a lot of tech experts say that good surround sound is more important than fancy picture technology including 4K and even HDR. Resolution is important if you want a giant TV in your living room, but life is too short for poor quality sound at any size.
There are also more mundane reasons to consider buying an affordable sound bar over a new TV, something I discovered from personal experience.
My dad insists he has perfect hearing (he doesn't, but that's another matter) and yet he and my mum had been steadily turning up the volume on the TV at their place for years. They kept missing dialogue and thought the TV was too quiet and they'd understand it better if they turned it up.
I eventually got concerned about the hearing of their neighbours and got Mum and Dad a sound bar. Suddenly they went from having the volume at 50 notches to 20. It wasn't that they couldn't hear the TV, but that because of age-related hearing loss they were missing the few frequencies the built-in speakers in their TV were good at, which meant they just couldn't understand what was being said.
All of a sudden, their 12-year-old TV seemed good as new.
But, once you've worked out that a sound bar is the answer to your problems, how on earth do you pick the right one?
Bars range in price from $250 to $2000, and you can probably immediately discount the absolute cheapest and most expensive from that range. If you're a discerning audiophile with the budget for the most expensive in the line, you'd probably be better off with a traditional surround sound system anyway, and the cheapest ones either don't have sub woofers (which will add to the expense), or they're too shallow.
Once you've worked out your speaker budget, the next step is to work out what size your TV is, and then get a bar that's that width. Getting one that same width as your screen will make sure that the left, right and centre sounds will be coming from the right spots on the screen, which is super important for psycho acoustics (the psychological tricks good sound bar manufacturers use to make the sound more realistic and get you more involved in what you're watching).
After that, make sure it has a subwoofer either in the box, or a compatible one that's sold separately. You want that bar to focus on the high and mid-tones, and let it outsource the explosions and deep voices to a sub that knows how to handle them.
Also look at the modes it has - does it have an option to boost dialogue clarity? Because that's key for a lot of people.
If you're wanting the bar to add extra features to your TV, LG's sound bars have Dolby Atmos built in, and are designed to emulate a 27-speaker surround sound set up. Nothing will ever achieve that perfectly, but they got Meridian (an English company that specialises in speakers worth more than a new Ford Mustang) to tune it, and they actually did a pretty good job of it.
If your TV is too old to have Dolby Atmos, or even Dolby surround capabilities, you can just plug the Blu-ray player into the bar directly to get the sound experience.
After you've made your shortlist and worked out what features you want, just head to a store and listen to them all on the kind of content you like to watch - bring a USB key or a Blu-ray to make sure it sounds good for what you like. Everyone has different ears and tastes. Really, the only thing that's universal is that you need an external speaker for your TV. Everything else is up to you.
The author travelled to England as a guest of LG.