Find the perfect... HDTV
We look at how to buy a high-definition TV that suits your needs.Tim Moynihan | Saturday, December 08 2012
The Big Picture
High-definition TV updates standard-definition television with a wider screen containing many more pixels for greater detail. But watching standard-def TV on an HDTV won’t improve the experience. In fact, unless you adjust your HDTV to display such broadcasts in their intended 4:3 aspect ratio, images will look worse.
The two main types of HDTVs are LED and plasma. An LED is an LCD (liquid crystal display) panel that uses LEDs (light-emitting diodes) instead of fluorescent tubes for backlighting. LED sets shine a bright backlight through a layer of liquid crystals, which move to let the light pass through or block the light altogether.
Plasma sets use an electrical charge to make a gas emit ultraviolet light, which causes phosphors on the screen to glow.
The Panasonic TH-L55WT50Z smart TV
The Specs Explained
Most 40-inch and larger sets have 1080p (1920-by-1080-pixel) resolution, which can handle the maximum detail available for almost all HD content, including Blu-ray discs. Some smaller, lower-cost HDTVs have 720p (1366-by-768-pixel) resolution; but a 720p set must scale 1080p images down to match its lower native resolution, and that process may introduce imaging artifacts and reduce image sharpness and depth.
The term refers to the difference between the darkest images and the lightest images a screen can produce; in general, it is determined by how dark the blacks are. Unfortunately, manufacturers’ methods for measuring and specifying this crucial factor — using full-screen measurements, all-black and all-white, in a darkened room — are almost useless for helping you predict how the screen will look under real-world conditions. So pay attention to the contrast with your eyes, and don’t worry about the reported “contrast ratio” spec.
Most big-brand HDTVs can connect to your home network’s router (through a cable or wirelessly) so you can view content from computers on your network, and access content from the internet if you have broadband service. Different sets may support Quickflix or YouTube; if you want a particular service, make sure it’s included before you buy — or find a Blu-ray player or streaming set-top box that has the service you want.
The major TV manufacturers have a fairly wide range of 3D TVs on the market at various price levels. But as yet, available 3D content is rather sparse.
Sony 46HX750 smart TV, with active 3D
Choose an HDTV that meets your viewing needs. If it’s too small, you may find yourself shopping for a bigger set all too soon. If the TV is too big for your room, standard-definition programs will look like a mess, and you may see lines of resolution if you sit too close. Also take into account your living-room seating: the farther your couch or armchair is from the set, the bigger the HDTV you’ll need. If you require a wide range of viewing angles, a plasma HDTV may be best.
Most HDTVs these days are 3D-ready. Even if you don’t currently plan on watching 3D content, you may want to invest in an LED 3D set if you like watching sports or fast action in 2D: 3D-ready sets typically support high refresh rates of 240Hz or 120Hz, which means on-screen motion should look very smooth.
Picking a set that has top-notch blacks is the key to getting good colours and great contrast. In general, plasma sets have deeper black levels than edge-lit LED sets. Full-array (backlit) LED sets with local-dimming technology and OLED sets have deep blacks, too, but those types of HDTVs are very expensive compared with a plasma, especially at large screen sizes.
If the store will let you, use a Blu-ray or DVD disc to test the set you think is the best. You can buy one of several test discs that will run the HDTV through a video obstacle course to help identify the set’s strengths and weaknesses. Alternatively, test it with a live-action movie that has plenty of dark scenes. Computer-animated movies are “too perfect” and won’t show you the subtleties found in live-action movies. Look for problems with scaling standard-definition content from a regular DVD. Check out the HDTV’s configuration settings to see how easy or hard the set is to fine-tune (and to reset to its factory defaults). Consider testing the set’s ‘Cinema’ mode, which is usually the best preconfigured setting for watching movies.
Built-in internet-connected features are great, but you can always add them later, and usually for much less money. Many of the same channels and apps are accessible with an internet-connected Blu-ray player or a media streamer. Unless you’re drawn to manufacturer-exclusive features, a custom remote control, or the ability to stream media without visiting the set’s auxiliary menu, you can obtain the same results from a less-expensive set and a media streamer.
Four HDMI connections is enough to handle a set-top box, a Blu-ray player, a computer or gaming console, and a network device. Make sure that you have plenty of connections for your future needs.
Resist buying everything at the store, to avoid spending more than you need to. In our testing, a $12 cable off the internet performed just as well as a $120 cable from the store. Save your money to pay for a Blu-ray player or to upgrade your television service to get more HD content.
You will probably spend a lot of time with your new TV, so don’t be swept away on the first date. Though you can find third-party alternatives that will help make up for many possible shortcomings, it’s better to get what you want from the start. For example, is the remote control easy to read and to use? Does it have lighted buttons? Will it also control your other devices, such as a DVD player? Will you really use price-inflating features such
as gesture control, voice control, and a built-in web browser? Is the set’s sound quality good enough to satisfy your tastes, or will you need to add a home-theatre surround-sound system to bring audio up to snuff? Will you be able to connect cables easily if you mount the set on the wall, and how will you hide them (or at least make them somewhat neat and tidy)? Little things can mean a lot in the long run.
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