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HDTV Shopping Tips

May 12 2008, 1:07pm CDT | by , in News | Home Entertainment

HDTV Shopping Tips
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With the digital transition coming in early 2009 and some markets changing to digital broadcasts before that the market for LCD and Plasma TVs is booming. The economic stimulus checks soon to be showing up for most Americans will also see lots of new HDTVs coming to homes around the country. Today we are going to talk about a few of the things you need to consider when you are buying a LCD or plasma TV.

LCD or Plasma
There are certainly more things that most consumers will want to consider when shopping for a new flat screen TV. Two of the most basic decisions you will need to make is what size a TV you want and if you want to go with plasma or LCD technology. The decision on size will determine to some extent whether you can choose from LCD, Plasma or both technologies for the size you want.

Typically you won’t see plasma TVs under 42-inches in size. That means if you are shopping under 42-inches odds are all you will have to choose from is LCD TVs. That’s not a bad thing, it just means different technology.

Plasma panels have some pros and cons when compared to LCD TVs. The first is that plasma panels tend to not last as long as an LCD panel will. Though honestly, by time a plasma panel looses a noticeable amount of its brightness you will be ready to upgrade anyhow.

Plasma HDTVs tend to be brighter than LCDs and often have better contrast ratios. The contrast ratio is a particularly important specification of any LCD or Plasma TV. The higher the contrast ratio of a TV the better picture quality you will be able to get. It is important to note that there is no industry standard for manufacturers to use when measuring contrast ratio so the numbers are often considered arbitrary.

720p or 1080p
One of the biggest selling points for HDTVs is the resolution of the TV. The resolution is often stated in several ways so you may see things like full HD, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, 1920 x 1080, or 1280 x 720. Most lower cost HDTVs will be 720p. I am not familiar with any network, cable, or satellite that broadcasts in full HD (1080p). That means that if you are only planning to hook your set up to cable or satellite for HD viewing you will only get a 720p signal. Many boxes will upscale to 1080i and every 720p set should be able to handle the 1080i resolution.

If you plan on hooking your TV up to a Blu-ray player that can do full 1080p resolution you might want to spring for the full HD or 1080p TV. Many people have a very hard time telling the difference between 720p and 1080p content. It is important to consider when choosing your resolution though that over the coming years 1080p may well become a commonly broadcasted resolution. For the sake of future proofing you may want to get the 1080p set if your budget allows. Personally, if it was me and my budget was tight I would opt for a larger screen size and 720p resolution over a smaller screen and 1080p.

Installation & Warranty
Anyone who has been in Best Buy or another large electronics retailer knows that extended warranties and set up are one of the things they always try and sell you. The extended warranty is a fully personal decision and will depend on the user. I never buy them myself; I have never had a failure in one of my TVs. However, my dad's failed in a storm last week. Had he bought the extended warranty he would have a new set instead of a bill for at least $300 to repair the set, if it can be fixed.

As for installation, unless you plan to wall mount your HDTV don’t bother with this charge. There is nothing to install on a HDTV if you are simply setting it on your entertainment stand. If you have a large and complex home theater you may be the exception. However, if all you are connecting is a DVD player and your cable box you can do it yourself in literally 10 minutes.

Cables
Be sure when you buy that you get the cables you might need, like HDMI cables. You will also want to check your cable box. Some cable companies still use HD cable boxes that use DVI outputs. You can get a DVI to HDMI cable and connect to your new TV with no problem.

When it comes to cables this is one place you can go cheap. I have used all sorts of cables from those that cost several hundred each to the $10 specials from Wal-Mart and the cheap cables that ship with game consoles. I have yet to see a cable make any difference in the picture quality (assuming the cables are all in working condition). Also get the shortest cables you can, this will save you money and make things neater behind your entertainment center.

Dealing with Sales People
The best tip I can give you when it comes to shopping for an HDTV of any type at any store is to be an informed consumer. It never fails to shock me when I am in Best Buy or Wal-Mart to hear how little the people selling these products actually know about them. You also need to keep in mind that these guys are there to sell TVs and not to always help you get what you want or need.

If the salesperson helping you keeps trying to steer you toward something other than what you are looking for, go somewhere else. Sometimes the salesmen get more commission or other bonuses for selling a particular model or brand at any one time. This can lead them to recommending inferior products simply to help the store (and their) bottom line. The key is to know what you want and don’t settle for anything more or less.

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