Buying an HDTV - The 5 Basic Steps
By Tom Webster
Shopping for a new HDTV set can be confusing and intimidating, but if you break the process down into smaller parts, it will start to make sense. The main factors to consider are:
- Budget Range
- Screen Size
- Style (Plasma, LCD, etc.)
- Special Uses
First things first. HDTV costs are most closely linked to screen size, but also to display type, picture quality, and brand name. You'll have to read the reviews of individual sets to get all the details, but here is a general idea of what you will get in each price range:
Under $500: 20 inch and smaller LCD, HD-Ready (without tuner) HDTVs. 15 inch integrated tuner HDTVs. You might find some up to 27 inches in certain brands, like ViewSonic and Olevia.
$500 to $1000: 32 inch and smaller LCD, integrated tuner HDTVs, 50 inch and smaller DLP HDTVs.
$1000 to $2000: 46 inch and smaller LCD, 50 inch and smaller Plasma, and 65 inch and smaller DLP HDTVs.
$2000 to $4000: 52 inch and smaller LCD, 60 inch and smaller Plasma, and 75 inch and smaller DLP HDTVs.
Another thing to consider is the substantial discounts you can find on last year's models. HDTV technology is updating all the time, just like computer technology. If you can deal with not having the very latest technology, you can find some amazing deals- 40 percent off, or more, on sets only 18 months old.
Getting the right size HDTV for your viewing space is important. In the old days, the right size TV was the biggest one you could afford, but today many people can afford a TV that is so big it dominates the viewing room, and they are forced to sit so close that imperfections in the screen, or individual pixels, are visible.
Another problem with sitting too close to a widescreen HDTV is that your eyes will be shooting back and forth across the screen, as if you were watching a tennis game from center court. These quick eye movements can make you dizzy and give you a headache.
First, look at the area where you'll be watching TV, and measure the distance from the TV screen to the center of your couch, bean bag, log, or whatever you will sit on. This distance should be 2 to 4 times the diagonal measurement of the screen. So, a 24 inch set would be good for viewing from 4-8 feet, a 50 inch set would be good for a range of 8 to 16 feet, and a 60 inch set would work well from 10 to 20 feet away.
The most popular types of flat screen HDTV these days are LCD, plasma and DLP. Cathode-Ray TVs are still around, and they usually have a great picture, but the larger CRTs are extremely heavy and bulky. They are slowly losing out to the flatter-profile technology.
LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display, and is the same type of screen used in most new computer monitors (you are likely looking at an LCD right now), cell phones, and many other devices. LCDs work the best when you want a medium or small set, need a lighter-weight set, or watch TV in a well-lit room.
Plasma sets have a glass screen (as opposed to LCD's plastic) with an ionized gas sandwiched behind it that creates a picture when it is excited by electric charges. Plasmas have a slight edge over LCD in picture quality, especially when viewed from an angle, but may have more screen glare in bright light.
DLP stands for Digital Light Processing. These sets use tiny oscillating mirrors behind the screen to create a picture. DLP sets are technically rear-projection TVs, but are usually quite flat. They are cheaper than LCD and Plasma in the large sizes but are often a little too heavy and thick to hang on a wall.
What do you plan to do with your HDTV? Are you a gamer, a sports fan, or a movie buff? Different types of sets are ideal for slightly different things.
DLP TVs often have very bright displays, but can lose detail in very dark scenes. This makes them great for watching sports, news, and outdoor scenes, but not as good for movies with lots of dark images. Plasma TVs have a great picture, and still look great when viewed from a wide angle- no darkening or color shift. However, a room with lots of windows may create glare problems on the Plasma's glass screen. LCD TVs are much brighter in bright light, so they are well suited for daytime viewing in lighted rooms. In a brightly lit room, an LCD TV can actually look better than a good plasma TV. And LCDs have better, sharper resolution in the mid sizes, so they are ideal to use as an extra monitor for your computer.
All HDTVs come with a slightly different package of features. A tuner is necessary to receive over-the-air broadcasts. Since they add expense, and many people only use their HDTVs for watching cable, satellite, DVD, video game or computer input, they are not always included. Look for an integrated ATSC tuner, or buy an external tuner to get over-the-air broadcasts.
Good speakers are nice to have incorporated into the HDTV. But, if sound quality is really important to you, you'll be better off with high quality external speakers.
Connections are important. You'll want at least 2 HDMI inputs to hook up to a cable box, DVR, or DVD player. Other types of connections, like component and S-Video cable inputs, are handy in case you want to use external components that use these cables. And if you intend to use your HDTV with your digital camera, you will need a USB or memory card input.
Using an online HDTV buyer's guide can help, too. Find one that balances sufficient attention to detail with a big-picture view.
About the Author
Tom Webster writes for FlatHDTV.net, an online guide to the HDTV revolution.
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