How to Shop for a New TV
Size, budget and energy consumption are some of the things to consider before buying a new TV.
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January 27, 2009 by EH Staff

To that end, look for “home” viewing modes made available during the on-screen setup. Most TVs ship in vivid or “torch” mode to appear bright and colorful in retail stores, and many people never tone them down. Just taking a TV out of the vivid retail mode can save 20 percent or more in energy consumption.

There are automated modes, too, that dim or brighten an LCD’s backlight depending on dark or light scenes in a movie, for example. Ambient light sensors, available on many LCDs and plasmas, can dim the panel based on the light levels of a room, so the display is brighter during a bright day and darker at night. That saves plenty of juice.

Hot-looking sets from several big-name brands even feature LED (light-emitting diodes) for backlighting. More than a thousand LEDs not only provide more efficient light and tend to last longer, but some of them can also be turned off completely, giving parts of an LCD picture better blacks than ever. This is called “local dimming.” A big drawback with fluorescent-lit LCDs is that the backlights never turn off completely during viewing, so some light always leaks through in dark scenes. By shutting off regions of the screen at certain times, energy is saved, and the blacks are deeper and better. LED TVs are a win-win, until you get to the $3,000 to $4,000 price tags. But be patient: LED costs will come down in the next couple of years, and LED backlighting may become the norm.

Many TVs also have auto-off timers that will shut off the set after a warning if no channels have been changed or no commands have been made over a period of time. This can be a huge energy saver. There’s even a laser-lit TV coming from Mitsubishi that promises to use about half the amount of energy of LCDs.

Types of Displays
One of the first decisions you should make in buying a video display is what type you need, and we’re not talking about LCD, DLP, plasma, blah blah blah. That’s for later. First, you should decide whether you want a sexy flat-panel TV, a rear-projection set, a front projector, or a good-old direct-view TV (like a cathode ray tube, or CRT).

Flat-panel TVs include LCDs and plasma-based sets. These are just a few inches thick—or less—and can hang on your wall, though most people buy stands for them. (Remember that you have to run the power cords and connecting wires somewhere.) Flat panels are great for saving space, but they’ll cost you a little more. Sizes of LCDs range from small units to those that are 60 inches or larger, while plasmas vary from 40 to 70 inches, with a few 100-inch jumbos. LCDs have gotten a lot better, and 1080p resolution and a 120-Hz refresh rate helps them as well. Plasma still offers wider viewing angles, though it is more susceptible to glare. Don’t shop contrast levels, especially with LCDs. Some companies promote static contrast (a one-time measurement between the darkest and lightest levels), while others tout dynamic contrast (at different times). Contrast levels don’t mean much unless you’re sitting in a very dark room.

Rear-projection sets are no longer those bulky old CRTs but are newer and lighter “microdisplays” with screen sizes up to 70 inches. These come in DLP, LCD and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) varieties, such as HD-ILA (direct image light amplifier). You’ll still need some floor space for those, and a few come with LED backlighting. These are some of the best bargains in HDTVs.

Front projectors are mainly for home theater use. They come in DLP, LCD, D-ILA, SXRD and even some big old CRT models. DLP dominates this category, with light and portable projectors available for $1,000 or less. Look for brightness in these, expressed in lumens, although even with the brightest ones, you should have a darkened room for optimal viewing. Many projectors can also be fitted with special anamorphic lenses that help create super-widescreen CinemaScope images. RGB connections are useful as well.

Projection Screens are needed with front projectors. It’s always best to have a professional match a screen to a projector. Many different sizes of screens and types of fabrics are available. Gray screens are often used with DLP projectors to enhance contrast. Some screens are motorized and can be hidden in soffits. Others have masking systems that black out parts of the unused screen, depending on the aspect ratio, or format used. Gain measures the amount of light a screen reflects.

Direct-view TVs are mainly CRTs.  You can get these in an HDTV at very reasonable prices. They’re just bulky. If you get a SDTV, this is probably the way to go.

Buying Tips

  • Determine budget and screen size first.
  • 720p is fine if you sit far back.
  • LCDs are getting better and better.
  • Look for energy-efficiency features.

Click here to view slideshow of 22 different TV models.

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