HDTV Shopping Tips

Buying an HDTV nowadays can feel like buying a car, because there are so many options: LCD or plasma? Is a 32-inch screen too small? Which one will just make my movies look better? It might seem overwhelming, but knowing the following basic facts will make finding the right TV a snap—just in time for holiday clearance sales!

1) Size Matters. Bigger isn’t always better; sit too close to a big HDTV and the picture will look fuzzy. Generally, 32 inches or smaller is great for bedrooms and dorms, and 40- to 46-inch TVs are better for family rooms. Don’t go over 50 inches unless your couch is at least 7-8 feet away from the set.

2) What Kind? What Brand? Both plasma TVs and LCD TVs look great, but generally speaking, plasma TVs are suited to darker rooms and show darker colors and blacks slightly better; LCD TVs thrive in well-lit rooms and come in a wider variety of sizes and models, plus tend to be a little cheaper. The dozens of various TV brands all have tiny differences—but unless you’re a gearhead, you likely won’t notice most of them. The major HDTV manufacturers, such as Samsung, Sony, LG, Sharp and Panasonic, all offer great products. For the more budget-conscious, value brands such as Vizio and Insignia offer great bang for the buck.

3) The Only Number to Notice: 1080p. The term “1080p” refers to resolution; the number is how sharp the highest-quality picture is, like a digital camera’s megapixel number. A 1080p set can handle all kinds of resolution settings, including standard-definition TV broadcasts, so spring for this kind. You’ll see a ton of other numbers attached to each set—refresh rates, viewing angles, response time, etc.—and they offer small differences, but few that you’ll actually see with your own eyes.

4) HD doesn’t stop with just the TV. An HDTV is really just a window; it doesn’t automatically make everything look better, and it needs high-definition video signals or else it’s like a magnifying glass on a blurry photograph. Ask your cable or satellite provider if you need new equipment, and if things like your DVD player are plugged into your old TV with those three plugs of yellow, white and red—known as composite cables—those aren’t HD-ready. You’ll need to get at least component cables (with five colored plugs) or, if your device can handle it, an HDMI cable, which is both the highest-quality connection and the easiest one, since it’s just one cable for all your video and audio. No more spaghetti bowl behind the TV!