With technology evolving at such a rapid pace, buying a new TV can be an intimidating proposition. After all, no one wants to invest in a high-definition television that’ll be outdated by the time you take it home and plug it into the wall. Complicating matters is all the confusing jargon thrown around, be it 1080p, 16:9, HDMI, ATSC, 120Hz and Blu-ray. Huh? You probably — and justifiably — feel like you need a degree in electrical engineering just to understand it all. And then there’s the sheer number of choices at retail. Take a stroll into your local retailers and you’ll stare at a sea of never-ending television sets. How on earth do you know which one to buy?
Let’s take a look at some of the key considerations when shopping for an HDTV.
Debating between LCD or plasma can almost get as subjective as debating between chocolate and vanilla. But unlike the never-ending ice cream debate, there actually is a superior TV choice, depending on how you plan to use it.
Check out some of our previous guides on the subject to get a better look, but in short, plasmas use more electricity, come in bigger sizes, have deeper blacks, don’t suffer from motion blur, and offer an unlimited viewing angle that’s best for off-axis viewing. LCDs are more energy-efficient, have fewer problems with glare due to their matte screens, can hold an image for hours or days without suffering “burn-in,” and generally look brighter.
“Bigger is better” doesn’t make any more sense when choosing an HDTV for your living room than when choosing a couch for your living room. A lot of factors come into play. As a general rule, consider a TV 1.5 to 3.0 times the screen size. For instance, a 32-inch television might make sense for viewing distances as close as four feet away, and as far as eight feet away. Check out our guide to choosing the right size HDTV for more details, including a helpful chart.
All consumer HDTVs break down into either 720p or 1080p resolution, which represents the number of horizontal lines in the display. More is obviously better here, but at small screen sizes – like 32 inches – many people find it hard to distinguish the benefit of 1080p resolution. As our guide to screen size points out, viewing distance can also play a factor: The closer you sit, the more you’ll appreciate higher resolution. In general, many people start to see an obvious difference between 1080p and 720p as screens sized 40 inches and up.
Also take into account that much of the content available today doesn’t take advantage of full 1080p resolution. Many shows still broadcast in 720p or 1080i. Technically only Blu-ray discs and digital, non-video sources (like a PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, or PC hooked up to the TV), really offer true 1080p content. This makes 1080p a no-brainer if you want to play Mass Effect 2 with the most detail and watch Star Trek on Blu-ray, but less essential if you just play to watch standard over-the-air broadcast material.