HDTV Buying Tips


High-Definition televisions are often on the list of big-ticket sales at many Black Friday retailers. A good television should hopefully last several years, so this is not a decision to rush into! Big discounts on these expensive sets can tempt you into a quick purchase, but do your homework beforehand and you'll wind up with a great TV for a great price.

This buying guide should give you the basics you need to make an informed decision in buying your new set. We are making recommendations based on the overall value - the bang for your buck - and not necessarily the highest of the high end. Expect a range of options that should suit all budgets!

The Great Debate: Plasma vs. LCD
HDTVs are produced using two competing technologies: plasma and LCD. The technological details behind both would require much more space than we have here, but good comparisons are available at this site and in this video.

To summarize very briefly, LCD technology is generally the most versatile. This is what is found in most flat-panel computer monitors, laptop screens, etc. It works well in a variety of light conditions and is available in the largest range of sizes. Plasma is most true to high-quality images - especially in rendering deep blacks - and will generally produce the best image quality at a given size.

Many of the problems that were reported about each technology have since been improved to the point where the advantages to each technology are slim. Plasma previously reigned in avoiding motion blur, until LCDs introduced 120 Hz refresh rates so that blur is imperceptible to the human eye (but you'll pay more for the faster refresh rate). LCDs claimed longer life-spans until plasma manufacturers toughened their panels to last just as long as LCDs.

However, there are still some downsides to each. LCDs have a narrower viewing angle than plasma sets - be sure to test out the TV in advance by standing as far away as you would normally sit and testing the full range of viewing angles. Plasma sets are sometimes more susceptible to glare (due to their glass screens) - if your TV will be located in an area with lots of natural light, consider an LCD. Finally, although many plasma sets are Energy Star certified, their power consumption is still higher than an LCD. If you're motivated by green (in more ways than one), you might stick to an LCD.

A word on sizing: all other considerations aside, plasma sets simply are rarely less than 40", with only a few offerings in the 30" range. If you're looking for a small to medium TV (such as for a smaller living room, a game room or a bedroom), then LCD is your best bet by default.

10 second summary:
  • Buy an LCD if: you are mostly budget conscious and are looking for an all-around set with great image quality and low energy consumption, or if you want a small to medium size set.
  • Buy a plasma if: you are a pixel junkie that wants the best image quality for your money, or if you want a massive 50"+ screen to round out your home theatre.


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November 21, 2010
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