You want one. You know you do. And now those giant flat-screen televisions cost just a dime on the dollar compared with six years ago — and the images look more gorgeous than ever.
Maybe you already got one, but want something bigger and better. Or maybe you’re thinking about a gift that won’t be forgotten and left to gather dust after the holidays. Besides, a good 42-inch HDTV can cost a lot less than a pair of downhill skis and boots.
So what’s stopping you? If you’re like most people, you're paralyzed by the range of choices, the baffling new technologies that manufacturers invent just to confuse you. It’s not that difficult, really. Here's how to find a great TV for the holidays.
Plasma or LCD? Who Cares! There was a time when the differences were serious and they mattered. Today, not so much. Both technologies had minor problems in the past, and both have made huge improvements. But if I put two one of each side by side today, I bet you couldn’t tell the plasma and LCD apart.
Look at them in the store, and buy the one that looks good to you. Seriously. Here’s one exception; in general, a plasma set will look better in a darkened room and an LCD will be better in a bright room. But even then the differences today are small.
Numbers, Numbers, Numbers: Confused by 1080p and 720-whatever? These numbers refer to the number of dots that make up the picture. In general, more is better. The reasons get technical, but basically a 1080p set has to do less fiddling with the image to make it fit the screen than a 720p set. And most 720p sets actually have a different resolution entirely, so they have to fiddle with the image a lot. The more mucking around, the greater the chance that quality will suffer.
Buy Bigger Than You Need: When you get a portrait photo at a studio, they make a big 8 by 10 glossy color print, not one of those little 4 by 6 snapshots. Why? Because your portrait was taken with better lenses and cameras and stuff, and you need a bigger image to appreciate the extra detail. It’s the same for high definition TV shows and movies; you need a bigger picture than your old standard definition television if you’re going to see the difference.
So how big is big enough? Picture a movie theater when you sit in your favorite seat. Your TV should fill a sizable portion of your field of view. If you’re getting a 1080p set (which almost all 40-inch and larger TVs are), it should be at least 8 inches diagonal for every foot you sit from the screen. So if you’re sitting 6 feet from the screen, a 46-inch set is a bit small and a 50-inch screen is a much better choice.
Buy the Best Black: Ignore any "contrast" ratings you read on those boxes. They’re not measured in a way that's helpful. Instead, look at the images yourself. Pick one that has velvety deep blacks, because this will make the colors stand out and look great. End of story.
There Are No LED TVs: Contrary to what you may see in stores, there is no new "LED TV" technology. Those sets are just LCD TVs with different lights.
LCDs need a bright light source behind them; most use ordinary fluorescent tubes. Some newer models use solid state LED lights instead. Now, this new lighting has some distinct advantages, including better color performance and blacker blacks. Manufacturers can also put LEDs along the edge of the panel (with some tricky stuff to spread the light out), which is why the amazingly thin 40-inch Samsung UN40B6000 is only 1.2-inches thick.
TVs with LED backlights still cost 30 percent more than models with those fluorescent tubes, however, so make sure the difference is worth it before you spend that extra money.
How Many Hz Is Enough? You’ll see all sorts of numbers in the store: 60 Hz, 120 Hz, 240 Hz, 600 Hz. What is it, and does it matter? First of all, if you’re looking at plasma TVs, just ignore this whole issue — it’s not a problem for that type of set.
For LCDs, 120-Hz TVs get less blurry on fast-moving objects than 60-Hz sets, and they don't cost much more. Most people can’t see the difference with 240 Hz, however, even when it’s side by side with 120 Hz. You probably won’t need to get one that fast.
Buy a Brand: Finally, buy a set with a big name, such as Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, or Vizio. Avoid the very least expensive brands as they often use components that are visibly not as good as the majors. Happy shopping!