Top Gadgets

15 October 2011

How to Buy an HDTV

How to Buy an HDTVHow to Buy an HDTV

Undoubtedly, the biggest trend in HDTVs this year is 3D TV. But the truth is, not everyone wants to spring for a 3D-ready HDTV and the accessories required to bring 3D to your living room. If you're not sure, Buy a 3D TV Now or Wait? can help you decide, and if you're dead-set on getting a 3D set, here's a list of the best 3D TVs we've tested. Whether 2D or 3D, selecting the right HDTV isn't easy: what type of set should you get? How big should it be? How about resolution and other specs? What sort of extras do you need? Understanding the basics will help you make your choice (and your video) crystal clear, so here's what you should consider when shopping for an HDTV.

Plasma or LCD? What About LED and DLP?

Plasma TVs were the only flat-panel models available when they were first introduced more than a decade ago. But given the remarkable rise in the popularity of LCD TVs in the past couple of years, many manufacturers have stopped making plasma sets, while the remaining players—LG, Panasonic, and Samsung—are shifting toward producing larger screen sizes and plasma-based 3D TVs. HDTV
The popularity of LCD TVs can be attributed to some of the technology's inherent advantages over plasma, including a wider range of screen sizes including smaller ones, a very bright picture, and better energy efficiency. And LED-backlit LCDs offer even greater energy efficiency and are often thinner than CCFL-based LCDs, especially edge-lit LED models. But LED-based sets can suffer from some picture uniformity issues like 'blooming,' where lighter parts of the picture bleed into darker ones, reducing overall black levels.
Plasma's strengths include its very dark blacks, and overall picture consistency, which (unlike CCFL or LED) doesn't exhibit color shifts, loss of saturation, or reduced contrast when viewed at wider angles. With plasma you don't need to be front and center to have the best seat in the house. And a plasma's fast-pulsing pixels are inherently well-suited for minimizing detail loss in fast motion like action films or live sports. Also, plasma can give you good bang for your buck if you want a really big screen. HDTV
Finally, Mitsubishi is still making DLP (Digital Light Processing) HDTVs. Other manufacturers ceased production of these bulky sets years ago. The recently released and reviewed Mitsubishi WD-60738 offers 3D support on a big 60-inch panel for less than $1,500, but the set is 15 inches deep and suffers from some uniformity and viewing-angle issues.  HDTV

Where Will Your New TV Go?

Choosing the right HDTV will greatly depend on the room in which you're planning to watch it. Finding the right display size for your viewing environment is simple—go as big as you can fit in the space (budget permitting, of course).   HDTV
This chart will help you figure out which screen size will work best. It outlines the minimum ideal distance for viewing HD material on various screen sizes. Sit any closer to the screen and you'll start to notice the pixel structure of the display. Also, keep in mind that standard-definition (SD) video on an HDTV will look disappointing at the distances listed on the chart, so consider moving your seat back to improve the appearance of SD material. HDTV
Room lighting is also important. You want a TV with a screen that produces the best-looking picture under typical conditions. If you usually watch TV in a dimly lit room, plasma is your best bet because it can seamlessly reduce the overall intensity of the picture when displaying bright scenes so you can take in more subtle details. LCD TVs can create brighter pictures, so they work well in brighter rooms.  HDTV
In a well-lit area, screen color can also strongly influence the impression of picture quality—images on darker screens (LCD or plasma) can appear to have more contrast and greater saturation. Most LCD sets have very dark-colored screens, but some models incorporate a glossy screen finish that acts like a pair of sunglasses, making video black appear even darker (boosting picture contrast). Just be aware that these shiny screen surfaces can also increase distracting reflections. If you want to use an LCD TV in a darkened environment, consider choosing a model that can automatically dim its picture in response to reduced room light levels—or one that you can easily adjust manually—to reduce eye strain. HDTV
Choose Your Resolution
1080p resolution (1,920 by 1,080 pixels, progressively scanned) remains the pinnacle for consumer home-theater material, and all other things being equal, you want the screen resolution of your HDTV to match this format in order to provide the most detailed picture possible. But many factors affect the perception of picture detail, including distance, the quality of your eyesight, and the quality of the video material. At a viewing distance of 12 feet, it would be difficult to distinguish between a 720p and a 1080p display showing the same 1080p video (like a Blu-ray movie) if you have 20/20 vision. 1080p is most critical with bigger screen sizes, where larger numbers of smaller pixels create a more seamless image. It's less important for screens smaller than 40 inches, since you'd have to sit very close in order to notice the additional details. These days, though, 1080p sets are becoming the norm and no longer command premium prices. If you can afford 1080p, go for it. HDTV
Make the Right Connections
Your ideal HDTV should provide enough video connections not only for now, but for the foreseeable future. The most important input is the High Definition-Multimedia Interface (HDMI), which supports most forms of digital video and audio (from upscaling DVD players, game consoles, set-top boxes, and even some camcorders) using a single cable. Smaller HDTVs should provide a minimum of two HDMI ports and larger ones at least four. If you plan to hook up older analog video devices to your HDTV, make sure your new set provides enough of these connectors too, as many manufacturers are reducing the number of analog inputs on newer sets. HDTV
Besides 3D, the other big development this year has been Web-connected televisions. Virtually every HDTV released in the past 12 months integrates an Ethernet port so you can connect the set to a home network to gain Web access. (Some are even Wi-Fi-enabled or offer optional Wi-Fi dongles so you can connect wirelessly.) Besides the typical Web weather, news, and stock ticker widgets, television manufacturers are piling on the Web apps. If you want it, you can find an HDTV with video streaming from Netflix, Vudu, Amazon On Demand, Blockbuster, or Hulu Plus; music streaming from Pandora, Slacker, or Rhapsody; and social networking in the form of Twitter or Facebook. And many sets include a wide array of these services. Panasonic offers videoconferencing via Skype on some of its TVs and to blur the lines between the Web and your HDTV even further, Sony recently released a line of sets that integrate Google TV, which includes a full Chrome browser. Also most of today's HDTVs include a USB port so you can play music and display photos or video stored on USB flash drives and hard drives. HDTV
Which Set to Get?
The first thing to remember when you're ready to shop: Always compare prices before you buy. Rarely does an HDTV sell for its full list price, so some savvy online shopping can save you a bundle. And always read reviews first: For our top-rated models, check out The 10 Best HDTVs. For all of the latest reviews, visit our HDTV Product Guide.  (Top Gadgets Review) HDTV