Televisions have been getting better and better over the course of the last several years. One big reason is the move from big, heavy CRT TVs to the sleek convenience and quality of the various types of flat-panel TVs. This change, of course, has brought with it an entirely new vocabulary with which to discuss the television experience and more new concepts in television design than you can shake a stick at. There’s more tech in televisions today and you need to understand it, at least a little, before you can do a good job of buying a new television. Think of this as a sort of crash course in deciding what flat-panel HDTV is right for you.
When flat-panel was young, plasma was the only way to go. That has changed over the intervening decade and there are more technology choices now and few manufacturers are making many plasma sets. Those that are are confining their plasma products to the larger screen sizes, where plasma still has a few advantages. Those advantages are still important, though, and include better picture consistency, fewer color shifts, better constant saturation levels, and wider viewing angles
Still, LCD is primarily where flat-panel is at and LCD sets comprise the majority of televisions available. LCDs have a number of benefits that have made this sea change almost inevitable. LCD sets allow, among other things, better energy efficiency, a better range of screen sizes and brighter pictures than plasma. The list in the last paragraph of the things plasma does well is also a list of the things that LCD sets don’t do quite as well. Please note as well that LCD is not quite as good at minimizing detail loss when the action gets fast, like sports on television. This problem in LCD units has been largely solved with the inclusion of LED backlighting.
The right resolution
If you can possibly afford it, you need to get 1080p resolution (1,920 by 1,080 pixels, progressively scanned) with your new television so that you can really properly display HDTV signals. That said, if you are sitting a long way (more than 12 feet, perhaps) away from your set, it can be very hard to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p. Also, 1080p is more important for the larger screen sizes, where the larger pixels of a 720p set can make the picture look pretty tacky. There was a time in the history of HDTV that it cost quite a lot more to get 1080p rather than 720p but those days are largely over. The premium to get 1080p is disappearing and it is highly recommended that you get it.
Where do you watch?
The place where a flat-screen television lives within your house has a lot to say about what TV you buy. A lot of this has to do with screen size being matched to the distance you will be sitting from the television. Too far, and you miss out on detail. Too close, and you start to see individual pixels, which ruins your viewing experience. For example, the ideal viewing distance for a 60-inch screen would 6 feet. As the screen sizes increase, the ideal distance goes up, so that a 70-inch screen should be about 7 feet. The reverse is true for smaller set sizes, so that a 48-inch screen is best viewed from about five feet.
Don’t forget that these are ideal distances for HDTV, not standard television. At the ideal distance for HD content, regular old television will look pretty bad. In order to make it look better, you will need to increase the viewing distance. This can make it difficult to switch back and forth between the two, a situation that will not improve until all of our content is available in HD.
You also need to think about how much ambient light exists on the room in which you will be watching your new television. Plasma is back in the picture is you watch most of your video content in a dimly lit room; it is better at automatically reducing image intensity so that you can pick more detail out of brightly lit scenes that are in greater contrast to your viewing environment. If you normally watch in a brighter room, either in daylight or artificially lit, you are better off with the brighter pictures of LCDs.
The darker-colored screen materials of LCD televisions look very high-contrast and saturated in very well-lit areas, also true of some plasma screens. This can be exaggerated with yet more contrast on screens with a very glossy finish. Don’t forget, though, that the glossier the finish of the screen, the more likely reflections off its surface become. In some lighting situations, these reflections can be very distracting. The same television that can be perfect in a very light room can be garishly contrasty in a dark room, so make sure the unit you buy has the option that automatically dims its screen brightness when the room gets darker.
You’re going to need to get a lot of signals in and out of your television in this video-mad age, so make sure that you get plenty of connection ports. You should get at least three or four HDMI ports that you’ll use to connect your TV to modern output devices, like DVD players, game consoles, and set-top boxes. If you plan to use any older analog devices with your set, make sure that the connectors are there for those as well. You would also be well advised to get a set with WiFi so that you can connect your set to the internet to stream video from sites like Netflix and YouTube.
Keep all of this in mind as you’re shopping for your new television. You’re probably better off to stick with established brands, such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio. Remember, too, that very few HDTV sets sell for the manufacturer’s list prices. Once you find the set for you, make sure to look around, both locally and on the internet, to make sure that you’re getting the best available price.