How to buy a HDTV – a complete guide to high-definition television

March 15, 2009

Buying a high-definition television is a massive decision, because they don’t come cheap. Which means that before making your purchase, you need to know exactly what your options are, and what best suits your individual needs. The following is a complete guide to buying a HDTV, from the choice of LCD or plasma, what the difference is between HD Ready and Full HD, and which brands to look for.

LCD Vs. Plasma

This issue has already been discussed at length here on BUY.Blorge. Anyone still unsure on this issue would do well to read that article but I’ll reiterate the main points. Both LCD and plasma have their advantages and disadvantages, which will need to be weighed up before you make your decision. It really depends what’s important to you and what your individual needs are. In the end, I would have to recommend LCD because the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. There’s also the fact that while LCD is improving, plasma has probably reached its pinnacle and is on the way down, with many manufacturers now stopping producing them.

Size

When thinking about the size of HDTV you want, there are three things to consider: budget, room size, what the TV will be showing.

Budget – Before you even start looking at the high-definition television you want to buy, work out a budget and then stick to it. The economy isn’t great at the moment, so you may have limited funds available. Work out what you can afford and then work from that. With your budget in mind, you can then see what size TV you can get for your money.

Room Size – This is common sense but it’s shocking how many people blindly buy a a massive HDTV without first considering the size of the room they will be placing it in. If you have a tiny front room where the sofa is three foot away from the television, it’s no good buying a 50-inch TV. Not only will you be wasting your money, your experience will be worse as a result.

Output – What will you mainly be using your new television for? Will it be all HD television, or a mix of SD and HD? Will you be gaming on it, and if so, will that be with a console capable of outputting at high resolutions such as the PS3 and Xbox 360, or one that isn’t capable of doing so, such as the Wii or any retro machine?

Resolution Capabilities

HDTVs come with one of three highest resolution capabilities: 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The ‘p’ stands for progressive scan and the ‘i’ stands for interlaced. The best of these three is 1080p because it means the television is capable of displaying full-HD content at 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. 1080i offers the same display potential but interlaced rather than progressively scanned, which means the odd-numbered and even-numbered lines appear alternatively. 720p is the lowest standard of HDTV which will be fine for most content but not future-proofed for Blu-ray and other high-definition broadcasts which are becoming more common.

Brands

There are a multitude of different brands on the market to choose from, and finding the right one for you can be a huge dilemma. The old adage that you get what you pay for rings especially true when it comes to HDTVs. Don’t buy an obscure, unknown brand and expect the picture quality or features to match up with the likes of Pioneer, Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba. Those are the five brands I’d consider the top-performing in this category. Having said that, it really depends what your expectations are, and it may be that a cheaper brand fulfills all your requirements.

Picture and Sound

Picture – The quality of the picture is probably the most key ingredient in buying the right HDTV. The problem is that each brand and model of television is unique in this field. One television may look fantastic when displaying content in full HD but fail miserably with standard definition. Another may handle the demands of current-gen games consoles really well but look atrocious when trying to cope with a Blu-ray movie. The only real solutions are: reading plenty of reviews of the particular brand or model you like the look of, and seeing if what the TV does well fits in with your requirements; and actually viewing the television for yourself in a store showing the content you’ll be mainly viewing on it.

Sound – Again, sound is a key ingredient, but there is a more viable solution should the TV you want have everything you need except good sound quality. Buying a 5:1 surround sound system and hooking it up will make this a moot point, but it does add a few more dollars to the asking price. Again, before purchasing, read reviews online of the set your thinking of buying, and then test it out in-store.

Connection Ports

Every HDTV will come with a variety of different connection ports, from Scart to HDMI and everything in between. Inputs such as S-Video, composite video or VGA will be necessary for connecting older equipment to the television, and Scart will probably still be the standard for most of your devices. HDMI is the current standard for connecting HD equipment such as a PS3 or Blu-ray player to a high-definition television. There’s no right or wrong number of connections your TV should have but it’s worth noting before purchase in order to ensure all of your current equipment will be compatible.

Miscellaneous

The best advice I can give when choosing which HDTV to buy is to actually visit stores and see for yourself what your options are. You may end up buying online but there’s nothing wrong with first visiting retail outlets and comparing brands, models, sizes, resolutions, and picture quality. This is truly the only way you’ll know for sure that you’re getting the high-definition television you want to live with for the next few years.

A last tip, which only applies once you’ve made your decision and bought your new TV, is never to leave the set on its default settings. It could be that when you first turn the television on, you’re disappointed with the picture quality, especially if you’ve graduated from a CRT screen which can look very smooth in comparison. Go into your menu and fiddle with the settings until you are happy with them. Then you can sit back and enjoy your television for years to come.

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