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How to Purchase the Perfect Flat Screen TV

Sep 19, 2013 01:32AM ● By Erin Frisch

Technology is ever evolving, and along with it are the choices to be considered when you are planning to purchase electronics—televisions included. One of the most daunting tasks can be comparing and contrasting the available models and features to make the right choice. Now with more options than ever, TVs can be very confusing. Here we take a look at what the market has to offer these days so you can make an informed decision and find the right TV for your needs.

Screen Size

First you’ll want to decide on a screen size that suits your needs. If you are replacing an older tube TV, you should take into account that most flat screens are widescreen high-definition TVs. This means that the proportions of the television itself are different, and comparing sizes of tube TVs with widescreens is like comparing apples to oranges. Screen size is largely based on your budget and room size, but TV buying guides recommend going no smaller than 42 inches for a TV that will be in your living room or family room. If your room is very large and you’ll be sitting about 10 feet from the screen, consider a 50-inch screen. For bedrooms, 26- to 32-inch screens will often suffice.

Types of Flat Screen TVs

The majority of flat screens are either LCD or plasma. You may have also seen some sets marketed as LED TVs, but these are actually LCD televisions that use LED backlights (rather than fluorescent), so they should be considered in the LCD category. Let’s take a look at the differences between these types to see what each has to offer:

● LCD. These are generally thin (2 to 3 inches in depth), lightweight televisions that come in a wide variety of sizes (15 to 70 inches). There are models that offer 3D technology (this jacks up the price point, but if it is within your budget, you may want to consider it). LCD TVs are great for viewing in bright rooms; many (but not all) have matte screens that eliminate glare. They are made and marketed by a wide range of manufacturers, giving you plenty of options to shop around for one in your price range. Models with LED backlighting rather than fluorescent lighting are very conservative in the amount of energy they use, making them a good energy-saving investment. The cons of LCD TVs come in the form of motion blur and viewing angle. Unless you get a set with a 120Hz refresh rate or higher, motion blur can be an issue. When compared to plasma TVs, LCDs have a narrow viewing angle, with the best-quality picture being at eye level directly in front of the screen (for example, from the middle of the couch). If you happen to be sitting on the end of the couch or looking up at a TV mounted higher on the wall, you might not be seeing the best picture.

● Plasma. Plasma televisions are also thin (3 inches in depth or less), but they come only in sizes starting at 42 inches and going up to 65 inches. So if you’re looking for a smaller model, this type may not work for you. Some models also offer 3D technology (at a larger price point). However, when you compare prices for the same size screen, plasmas often come out on top, offering more bang for your buck. Newer models have mechanisms that minimize glare to compete with LCD screens, but in many models glare can be a problem in the same way it is on a traditional tube TV. The energy usage is similar to that of a fluorescent backlit LCD set, but it is greater than the LED backlit LCD models, so if you’re looking to save on your energy bills, plasma might not be for you. On plasma TVs, the picture looks the same from any viewing angle, so if you have a wider room or want to mount the TV up higher, you’ll be getting the same picture no matter where you’re sitting. These sets are also better at providing blur-free motion than LCDs. If you’re looking for a movie-theater type experience, plasma TVs have stronger contrast and deeper blacks than LCDs; these have the effect of giving your viewing choices a more cinematic look. One downside to plasmas is the possibility of temporary image retention (aka “burn in”), though most models these days have features that minimize the risk.

Other Considerations

● Internet Connectivity. Many newer models of both LCD and plasma TVs offer Internet connectivity (either broadband or wireless), allowing you to access Internet content directly on your TV screen without a computer. The majority of models restrict your Internet viewing to specific content (for example, HuluPlus, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Pandora, etc.), but now there are more models offering full web-browsing access. If you use the Internet to watch shows or movies on your TV, this is a nice feature to have.

● 3D. As mentioned above, there are models of both types of TVs that offer 3-dimensional technology. They function as normal 2D HDTVs until you switch into 3D mode to watch a 3D Blu-ray disc (which requires a special 3D Blu-ray player) or the increasing number of 3D channels; for both of these you still need 3D glasses.

● Inputs. Consider the number and type of input connections you will need. Most models have about four HDMI inputs and two component video inputs. Both are sufficient for carrying HD signals from cable boxes/satellites, DVRs, and Blu-ray. For a DVD player, you need a composite input (sometimes component inputs double in this function, but not always). Models that offer 3D have HDMI 1.4 inputs capable of carrying 3D signals. And if you will occasionally hook up a video game system, look for models with the inputs on the front or side panel for easier access.

● Speakers. Most models have the speakers built into the side or bottom of the television, while some have audio outputs that you can connect to external speakers, stereo systems, and subwoofers. Consider which is better for you based on the equipment you have or whether you are thinking about purchasing external speakers for surround sound, for instance.

Once you select your size, type, and features, shop around. Check out different manufacturers to compare prices and watch for sales, then pick the perfect flat screen TV that fits your budget.

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