/ Technology

Flatscreen TVs can’t beat CRT TV sound – but do you care?

CRT TV sound

Did you sit down to watch the Queen’s Christmas Broadcast yesterday? Did it sound a bit tinnier than 10 years ago? That’s probably not her fault, but the flatscreen TV you’ve got…

Whether it may be public transport or pop concerts, it’s easy for older generations to look back with a feeling that standards have gone down since the ‘good old days’.

Sometimes this notion is forged from misty nostalgia, but sometimes it’s based in cold hard facts. We always say in our reviews and advice that TVs don’t sound like they used to – well, we now have the data to back it up.

In our unique snapshot test, we found that a 17-year-old Nokia CRT TV (yes, Nokia) sounded better than any 2013 flatscreen TV. But should we expect a TV as slim as a picture frame to pack audio oomph?

A matter of space

As many modern TVs are less than an inch thick, there just isn’t the space to fit the same quality and size of speakers that would come in a CRT TV, or hi-fi system.

We expect our TVs to be slim, stylish and light so that they fit easily into our homes, whether we mount them on our walls, or place them on a piece of furniture.

By contrast, CRT TVs were a piece of furniture in themselves, and moving them required a military operation and hell of a lot of ‘bending at the knees’.

Go big and go home

The advent of flatscreen TVs has also allowed us to increase our screen size expectations so that now a 50-inch plus TV doesn’t seem all that outlandish – and you don’t need to win the lottery to afford one.

In an ideal world, we’d like modern TVs to have fantastic sound and be super-slim, but speaker technology will have to improve further before that can happen. Sound bars and home cinema systems can give you better TV audio, but that does mean extra expense.

So, are you happy to trade off good sound for a large and slim screen? Or do you think TV manufacturers should do more to improve audio standards?

28 December 2013

Buy a pair of PC speakers, plug-into headphone port on TV. have used this method for years. cheaper than a sound bar. £25-£35 is all you need spend.

Improving flat TV sound: I agree with all the complaints and the reasons why listeners moan! Also, on many sports matches, I have to turn up the sound to an uncomfortable level to hear the commentary above the background noise, usually crowd noise; there is too much emphasis on ‘getting the atmosphere’ – to the detriment of missing what’s being said. I have found a good, but cheap, set of headphones with its own volume control helps a lot. I can then watch and hear my programmes with the volume where I want it without annoying my wife with the crowd noise etc!
However, my question concerns a cheap solution to improving flat TV sound. Some suggest plugging in PC speakers to the audio output socket or headphone socket of the TV. Which socket is best and why PC speakers and not other types?

My LG 27-inch flat TV has “audio out” sockets at the back. I have connected some old PC speakers which require power from the mains. My LG remote control box allows me to mute the TV’s own speakers, as well as to adjust the balance of bass and treble frequencies to a variety of broadcasts , e,g, music, sport, theatre. These external speakers can be positioned at will, but care not to have an “empty” middle, or the better stereo sound on HD channels is compromised. There is still a lack of good bass, however. I imagine that PC audio speaker sets which include a so-called sub-woofer centrally placed would improve the overall sound as the 2 lateral spkrs cannot handle low frequencies as well as a hi-fi system would. Remember than ordinary TV channels are likely to have more bandwidth compression than HD ones. I understand that sound bars might improve sound distribution without having wires all over the place, but have been advised that these really need to be connected via an HDMI socket to give maximal performance.Unfortunately my 2007 TV does not have a spare socket at the rear. I hope this helps.

Thanks, LesF, very helpful, but why old ‘PC speakers’ rather than other speakers was my question. Wouldn’t any reasonable quality old speakers do, say from an old hi fi or stereo set?

PC speakers contain an amplifier. You would need a separate amplifier to drive other speakers, though that is likely to produce much better sound quality.

I put off buying a flat screen, then my son walked in with a 37in Sony for me.What a difference! I thought I had the best picture and surround sound in my old TV . It was true, with big bass speaker and surround sound made the sound good but, the picture was rubbish against todays digital reception. I comment every day to my wife how good the picture is and how blessed we are to have so much variety in the broadcasts. I resisted going to flat screen too long I am so glad my son made the decision for me. By the way I have always bought the Which recommended buys and have so far not gone wrong. I will not let people with no knowledge of Which say otherwise!

Ann Taylor says:
3 February 2014

I cannot understand why good diction and pronunciation are no longer a prerequisite for modern-day broadcasters. It’s not about accents, it’s about clarity of speech. Surely that is the necessary tool for the job of communication – just as other professionals need tools and training to carry out their work proficiently?
Sloppy speech, poor vowel sounds and dropped letter Ts are ruining the English language and are no example to children.
In the late 50s and in the 60s and 70s, I was employed as a television announcer, presenter and reporter. In that era, many of today’s broadcasters would not have been allowed near a microphone.

Perhaps we should assume that we will have to put up with poor diction and pronunciation for the time being. Can we compensate to some degree by improving the sound quality and controls on modern flat-screen TVs? I do hope so.

I fully endorse this comment,the ability for broadcasters to pronounce their words,and project their voice does not seem to be a requirement these days.they often look away and mumble to each other as if they are no longer speaking to an audience.Quite often when it switches to an outside broacast I can hear and understand them better than those in the studio!.
Accents can be a problem,but although I speak with a yorkshire accent,and somewhat deaf.I can always hear ( using my hearing aid) and uderstand-the Queen and most royalty,David Cameron,Ed Milliband George Osbourne,Ed Balls etc.I don’t suppose they have had special speech coaching!

I am surprised that some well known people do not take more care with how they speak. Many now benefit from subtitles on TV programmes and perhaps improved audio systems on TVs could help those who struggle to hear but do not need to use subtitles.

LesF says:
3 February 2014

This conversation seems to have drifted away from the original topic of audio quality of flat screen TVs! However I agree with the last few comments on diction and would add that there is a tendency among some broadcasters to speak much more quickly, and if that also involves a regional accent it makes things quite difficult for some people to understand. What is even worse – and I’m afraid I have to pick out “The Voice”as a prime example – the use of a subject- related lingo or patois is something that few of us except the officianados of pop can hope to understand.

Ron Reg says:
3 February 2014

Returning to the original themes of variable sound quality and level. The frequent changes in audio levels during transmissions and between stations leads to a need to use the remote control as a volume equaliser. In the ‘olde days’, there was an AVC (automatic volume control) circuit that helped to smooth out these variations. The cost of adding such a circuit to current ranges of TV receivers would be very small. Even the broadcasters could smooth the variations before broadcasting; or are they concerned that the advertisers and their own trailers would not ‘stand out’.

Chris says:
3 February 2014

What does patois mean?

LesF says:
3 February 2014

Hi Chris, you can get quite good explanation of patois on Wikipedia but in a nutshell it is the jargon or informal speech used by a particular social group: examples from language come from island communities. I first heard some in the Channel Islands, a sort of franglais. I won’ t pursue this but hope it helps.

Chris says:
4 February 2014

THanks LesF. Very interesting; I think my grandchildren have some experience of patois! however off topic again. In my case, near the flat screen television was a simple and cheap(ish) micro hi fi with an audio-in socket. Found myself a short stereo plug-plug lead and connected headphone skt. on the telly’ to the mini hi-fi audio in. What a difference! However it cannot improve the poor diction and sound engineering. Another irritant is the constant overlaid background music. Noise with rytham would sometimes be a better description

Mary says:
10 March 2014

My 42″ LED LG flatscreen has terrible sound – lack of low frequencies and the loudspeakers vibrate in their metal housing. I didn’t like the appearance or price of soundbars so after an instore demonstration, bought a 2.1 speaker system from Currys for £60 (Nov 2013). It plugs into the LG’s headphone socket so the remote works normally. Two little speakers sit neatly either side of the TV with the bass unit on the floor. Best of all the 2.1 switches to receive Bluetooth at the push of a button so I can stream music from my laptop PC. The only nuisance is the 2.1 switches to power saving standby if the TV sound stays muted for a while. Good sound for only £60 – I can watch TV and easily forget I’m listening to loudspeakers at all.

I’m glad your speaker solution worked out for you, but to my mind that’s still sixty quid you shouldn’t have had to spend. The laissez-faire attitude adopted by Which? over the subject of TV sound should amaze me, but it doesn’t, they seem to be adopting the position that the supplier is right and the customer must lump it on a lot of hi-tec goods.