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This Forum is for: HDTV Buyer

FROM: alantran
SUBJECT: How to Buy an HDTV
KEYWORDS: HDTV , LCD, LED, HDMI, 3D, 1080p
Whether you're looking for a very basic low-cost set or a feature-packed, razor-thin model with 3D, selecting the right HDTV isn't easy. There are plenty of questions to answer: What type of display should you get? Plasma, LCD, or LED? How big should the screen be? How about resolution, refresh rate, 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 your next HDTV.

Plasma or LCD? And What About LED?

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.

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, 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.

Choose Your Resolution

Right now, 1080p resolution (1,920 by 1,080 pixels, progressively scanned) is 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.

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.

You may have heard some mutterings about 4K or Ultra HD, which is being billed as the next big thing in HDTV resolution. An Ultra HD television is one that displays at least 8 million active pixels, with a minimum resolution of 3,840 by 2,160. Sony, Toshiba, and LG have announced Ultra HD televisions. In fact, the 84-inch LG 84LM9600 went on sale in late October for $20,000. With prices that high and virtually no content to watch at that resolution, it's safe to stick with a 1080p TV for the foreseeable future. Ultra HD isn't coming to your living room any time soon.

Refresh Rate and Contrast Ratio

One of the biggest problems with narrowing your choices to a single HDTV is the sheer number of specs. To make your job a little easier, two of the biggies, refresh rate and contrast ratio, are safe to ignore.

Refresh (or response) rate, the speed at which your TV's panel refreshes its image, is expressed in hertz (60Hz, 120Hz, 240Hz, 480Hz, or 600Hz). The theory is that the a faster refresh rate results in a smoother image. But in reality, there are several reasons this simply isn't true, and it's not worth paying more for a set with a faster response rate. In many cases, 60Hz will do just fine.

Contrast ratio is the difference between the darkest black and the brightest white a panel can display. In theory, the highest contrast ratio possible is desirable since dark blacks and bright whites contribute to a high-quality picture. There isn't a standardized way of measuring this spec, though, so Samsung's numbers aren't comparable with, say, Panasonic's or Sharp's numbers. And, as you might imagine, vendors are vying to come up with the highest ratios, so they can charge more. Always ignore contrast ratios from manufacturers, and read reviews instead. We test contrast ratio uniformly across all the HDTVs we test.



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