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

Shop the expanded menu of today’s video displays, and you might be choosing between flat, flatter and not so flat. You can get a TV that accesses the Internet, one that’s friendlier to the environment, and one that’s so thin it seems to float on the wall. You won’t want for options, but how do you choose?

Size should be a primary consideration. Where you’ll put the TV will determine how big you can go. You’ll want to go larger than you did with an old analog TV because the aspect ratio (the length of the width in relation to the height) of digital TVs has changed to a wider format. Today’s 42-inch plasma TV is actually shorter than a 42-inch tube TV, because TV screens are measured diagonally. If you’re used to watching a 36-inch direct-view TV, a 46-inch LCD or 50-inch plasma comes closer to the screen size you’re accustomed to viewing.

What to Spend?
If the price of upgrading to an HDTV has held you back, know that HDTVs are pretty affordable.

You’ll spend more to get the big-screen experience, but you won’t have to budget too much more. Some 32-inch plasma TVs can he had for about $650, and you’ll find other great values from brands that might be new to you, with many 40- to 58-inch models priced from around $1,000 to $4,000.

Overall, DLP TVs offer the best value today in HDTVs. Although they’re bulkier than LCD or plasma flat-panel TVs, DLPs measure as little as 10 inches deep. Some companies are also touting the 3D capability of DLP TVs, especially for video gamers. When you put on special glasses, even standard PC games appear in 3D.

DLP may have the cost advantage, but flat panels still rule today. So how do you choose between plasma and LCD, especially now that LCD TVs are as large as plasmas? “If you’re comfortable with the picture you got from a CRT TV, a plasma TV will make you happy, because the way it works is very similar visually to CRT,” says Bill Whalen, director of product development for Hitachi. And there are plenty of high-end models in plasma TVs, with enhanced black levels and other advanced features.

It’s extras like these that tend to jack up TV prices. More expensive TVs also tend to have better video processing, which is an important indicator of picture quality. Other premium options range from design and appearance to performance to energy efficiency to expanded accessibility. The latter—in the form of Internet access—is the latest advancement in HDTV, combining the immediacy and breadth of Internet content with the convenience of the TV.

Form and Efficiency
Now that TVs are thin and light enough to hang on a wall, many homeowners seek decor-level design. TV makers are responding with thinner bezels around the screen and, in some cases, color. In some of today’s super-thin models, the electronics—like TVs’ tuners —have been outsourced to external set-top boxes.

And don’t forget sound. Look for speaker options, and in some cases speakers that attach to flat panel displays and that mimic all five speakers of a surround-sound setup. 

Energy efficiency is being touted as well. On November 1, more stringent requirements go into effect for TVs bearing the Energy Star logo, which signifies that the set is about 30 percent more energy efficient than most other TVs available in the United States.

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