The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Buying An HDTV

August 10th, 2011 · 14 Comments · 3D HDTV, Connected TVs, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, Plasma

 

Choosing the best HDTV is harder than you may think. Using reader feedback, along with having written, tested, and researched the subject since 1998, we’ve compiled a list of the most common buying mistakes when choosing an HDTV. By being aware of the pitfalls of HDTV buying, you can end up with a better experience, a better TV, and without the grief others have experienced.

1) Buying The Wrong Size Set

The most common eye-to-TV distance, called the “Lechner Distance ” is 9 feet. Based on screen resolution, to see all the details in a Full HD picture (1080p) at 9 feet you need a 69-inch screen. As 32-inches is the largest selling screen size, clearly there’s a disconnect here. Often people choose a TV that’s too small due to budget, lack of knowledge, or the use of existing TV furniture designed for older 4:3 TVs (instead of the HDTV standard of 16:9).

The solutions: move up to a larger screen size, sit closer, or consider a less expensive 720p set. Being lower resolution, a 720p TV of the 46-inch screen size will allow you to see all the detail at the 9-foot viewing distance.

In other words, you can get a MUCH larger TV than you probably thing, presuming you can fit it/afford it.

 

2) Replacing Your Old 4:3 TV With A New TV From The Same Brand Name

So you’ve owned your CRT TV for 15 years, it’s given you great service, so you figure you’ll buy the same brand you know and love. You may be surprised to learn that brand is a name only, and not the same company (link). For example RCA TVs were once made in the USA by the RCA you knew. There is no RCA today; the company has changed hands a number of times and now the name is licensed to On Corp for RCA flat screen TV sales. Today’s RCAs flat screens are made in China and require shipping the sets back to On Corp for warranty service (if the screen size is below 37″). TVs by Westinghouse, Philips and Polaroid are not made by the original companies either.

JVC  is another brand of HDTV that are no longer made by the parent company.  JVC,  the creators of the VHS video tape format (remember that) decided to withdraw from TV manufacturing this year.  Its sets   are now produced by original design manufacturer, Amtran out of Taiwan. Amtran also makes the HDTVs sold under the Vizio brand.

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3) Picking an LED Because You Were Told It Has The Best Picture and Latest TV Technology

The most expensive TVs available today are called by their makers “LED HDTVs.”  We’ve heard salespeople tell customers this is a new TV display technology better than plasma and LCD. This is not true on several levels. First all LED TVs are really LCDs, merely with light emitting diode lighting (LED) instead of cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) used in “regular” LCD TVs. Except for energy efficiency, there are no inherent advantages to LED lights over CCFL (unless it includes local dimming backlight).

There are two types. One is called “edge lighting,” meaning the LEDs are located along the edge of the TV. They can be along the top and bottom, the left and right, or all four edges. Often TV manufacturers don’t disclose the placement. Local dimming is the ability for the TV to dim some LEDs while keeping others fully lit. This provides the ability to get blacker blacks. The edge-lit designs found in most LED LCDs can only dim strips of the image .

To dim a specific section of the screen (such as one box in a grid of boxes) requires LEDs placed behind the screen. These are often called “full array” LED backlights. In 2011, the only companies currently offering this feature are Sharp’s New Elite 60 and 70-inch TVs (link) and the top of the line Sony HX929 series sets. LG will be introducing its local dimming LED backlit, FPR passive 3D, called “Nano” TVs, next month (link). All these TV represent the most expensive sets in the given companies product lines.

Edge lit LED LCDs often have brightness uniformity issues. Check out Geoff’s article on the topic over at CNET.  Edge lit LED LCDs (and CCFL LCDs) tend to have viewing angle issues as well, which we’ll elaborate on next.

 

4) Thinking Viewing Angles Are The Same As Your Old Bulky CRT

CRTs (cathode ray tube) TVs have very consistent color, brightness and uniformity whether you view straight-on or from the side,  above, or below. The same holds true for plasma TVs.  LCDs and LED-LCDs tend to exhibit shifts in color and/or brightness and contrast as one moves off-center. This tendency varies depending on a number of factors based on the technology used to make the TV . If only one or two viewers will be watching the TV, and they’ll be sitting near center (height-wise and side-wise) there won’t be much difference.

 

However if you have a wide viewing area (like a big sofa), or you plan on mounting the TV above you (like over a fireplace), the picture quality with most LCD TVs is going to be significantly worse for those not sitting directly in front of it. One should consider this while looking at a potential TV,  and consider plasma as an alternative.

 

5) Are the TVs Built-in Speakers Adequate?

As TV got thinner, the speakers got smaller and thinner as well. Most of today’s flat panels, regardless of technology, use small downward firing speakers. This causes poor high frequency response and lower maximum volume. In a large room, or for viewers with high frequency hearing loss, there may be insufficient volume. The alternative is either external speaker system, a sound bar or a surround sound system (link)

 

6) Choosing 240 Hz TV

HDTVs using LCD panels at 60 Hz suffer from resolution loss called motion blur. If you watch fast action or sports, you may notice this phenomenon when a player is running down the field in the form of blurry legs (to name one such example). To improve motion resolution, LCD and LED LCD TV makers increased the frame rate from 60Hz to 120 Hz or 240 Hz (some advertise 480 Hz but they are really 240 Hz with a scanning (strobing) backlight.

This increase is done with a circuit called Motion Estimation/Motion Compensation. Unfortunately these circuits all introduce an artifact that causes film based content (movies, and some TV shows) to look like video (also called the Soap Opera Effect link). While some viewers like it, others hate it. Most TVs can shut off the ME/MC circuit, however the motion blur will return. The effect is worst with 240 Hz sets, and potential buyers should see if it bothers them. Plasma TVs have high motion resolution without needing this circuit or a higher refresh rate.

 

7) Buying a thinner TV for the Best Overall Picture Quality

TV thinness has no positive effect on picture quality, and can actually create image issues that thicker LCD or LED sets don’t exhibit. This can be in the form of brightness uniformity, either with dark scenes, bright scenes, or both (check out the CNET link posted above). If you plan to keep the TV on a table stand, why pay more for thinner when the stand is going to be at least 9-inches deep?

 

8) Buying An Expensive Extended Warranty

Today’s HDTVs are very reliable. Most problems, if any, occur within the first year. This period is covered by most manufacturers’ warranties. Extended warranties add 10% to 25% to the cost of a new set. At HD Guru we do not recommend them as we believe they are a bad value. An alternative, using the right credit card will get you another full year warranty for free. For detail see our Extended Warranty article here.

 

9) Not Getting The Right Features

Today’s HDTVs have more features than ever. In addition to the backlighting and higher refresh rates (120, 240 Hz) mentioned above, the most common new features are 3D capability and Internet content streaming. 3D cannot be added on with an accessory later, it must be built into the set. Today’s HDTVs with the best 2D picture also happen to have 3D capability.

Internet connectivity for streaming movies, TV programs, and numerous new applications can be a built-in feature or adding in the future with a “Smart TV” add-on like the Apple TV,  Roku, LG Smart TV Upgrader, or Logitech Revue.

 

 

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • Jay

    less than 18 POUNDS, that is.

  • Jay

    I disagree that anyone needs a TV greater than 32 inches if viewing at 9 feet. My philosophy is STFU about my needing bigger TVS unless you will volunteer to help me carry it home when purchasing it and also help me carry it out when it needs to be repaired or replaced. If you are not going to agree to that, then I’ll stick with my 32 inch LED/LCD TV that weighs less than 18 points. Ha!

  • toby

    thanks so much! I hate the Soap Opera Effect Video vs. Film quality on the new LED TVs. I have to buy a new TV because my 36 inch JVC tube TV died after 16 years. Will go with a Panasonic Plasma.

  • Bette

    And though PCTV cards will work with both dial-up and broadband Internet connection, the latter is
    far a lot more beneficial merely simply because the higher speeds deliver better high quality of picture and a smoother transmission.
    Go where everyone else goes. So, when we are using Vo – IP, we need
    to ensure that not only we have the bandwidth, but also that we have
    enough priority network packets assigned to our Vo – IP line
    to get rid of any Vo – IP immediately, and dropped calls.

  • Jeremy Anderson

    “Except for energy efficiency, there are no inherent advantages to LED lights over CCFL (unless it includes local dimming backlight).”

    Incorrect. The biggest advantage of using LED in LCD sets for enthusiasts is 1) more accurate white balance (i.e. closer to the ISF standard of 6500k), and 2) better color reproduction due to point 1. Dynamic RGB LED sets can also reproduce a far larger color gamut than CCFL backlit sets. It also doesn’t hurt that the mean time before failure of LED is typically twice that of CCFL (30,000 hours vs. 60,000). Cold cathode fluorescent also changes color and slightly over its lifespan, which can gradually alter white balance, whereas LEDs are far more consistent as they age.

    Again, these things may only be important to the serious enthusiast who is going to tweak his TV to Hollywood standards (i.e. D65 white balance and REC. 709 color space), but out of the box, LED backlit sets are far closer to the standards set by the ISF than CCFL sets can be. CCFL sets can have wildly varying color accuracy (as low as 72% and 92% at their best), whereas LED is typically 85% or better, even in budget sets.

    Just sayin’… There’s more to LED than just saving energy.

  • Darco

    Choosing 240 Hz TV – this, along with any 100/120Hz or more TV is a mistake unless de-blur and de-judder components are not separated and can be controlled separately. So you can get better motion resolution without watching soap-opera effect if you turn de-judder completely and just increase de-blur.

  • Dan S

    I’d like to get my hands on an older CRT HDTV-I’ve heard their pictures can be better than current LCD sets as far as black level goes

  • cbono

    It may now seem obvious to anyone who has already owned a panel TV for a while, but anyone upgrading a high quality CRT TV to any of today’s HDTV panels will likely be disappointed with their new set’s contrast and black level – especially when they turn out all the lights.

  • Pete

    “In 2011, the only companies currently offering this [local dimming] feature are Sharp’s New Elite 60 and 70-inch TVs (link) and the top of the line Sony HX929 series sets.”

    I believe Vizio has sets (the XVT series) with local dimming, but they call it Smart Dimming.
    From Vizio’s (horrible) website –

    “This direct type, backlit HDTV is comprised of 960 LEDs divided into 80 control blocks and utilities Smart Dimmingâ„¢ to intelligently control these blocks turning them on and completely off based on the content you’re watching.”

    We cannot find any dealer including Amazon that are carrying the 2011 local dimming Vizios (we continue to look). It appears its 2011 local dimming models are not yet available, hence their exclusion on our list. Vizio in the past has dropped select announced models prior to shipping.

    If and when we determine availability we will update the post.

    HD Guru

  • Tommy Karlsson

    “2.Plasma does draw little on dark scenes and much on bright scenes.”
    Should be.
    2.Plasma does draw little on dark scenes and more the brighter the overal picture gets the stated wattage will ONLY be drawn on 100% white picture

  • Tommy Karlsson

    One more mistake that could,needs to be added is.
    How much power does the tv consume.
    Never buy a plasma because they draw much,much,much more then LED,LCD.

    This is a very big lie that the salesperson tell to sell the led that they make more $$$ on.

    An lcd does draw almost the same power for a black and white picture,
    led with local dimming do draw very little in a 100% black picture but what about a very dark grey picture then it is back up in the same as a white picture because then local dimming does not work.

    Plasma however does not draw very much at all on a black or dark grey picture but it does draw more then LED,LCD on a white picture.

    And at least all tv,movie i watch is not 98% black or white but a large mix of all colors and light from 100% black to 100% white.

    So what can we conclude about this?
    1.LED,LCD tv do draw the stated wattage on 99% off all watched content.
    2.Plasma does draw little on dark scenes and much on bright scenes.

    So unless your watching icehockey with brightness to the max and all players do not have white clothes then LED,LCD,plasma does indeed draw about the same over time.

  • MC

    I have to disagree with your statement about the 120/240Hz refresh rate LCD/LED sets. It’s a common misconception that in order to benefit from these refresh rates, you have to deal with frame interpolation, the dreaded “soap opera” effect. Most good sets nowadays offer independent adjustments for anti-blur anti-judder modes. I get good results turning “Fine Motion Enhanced (Blur reduction)” to ON on my Sharp set, and turn Film Mode (Frame Interpolation) OFF. Blur reduction and the soap opera effect are NOT mutually exclusive.

  • J Asselmeier

    Are there any mfgers who are moving to IPS panels and if so how can one determine if the mfger has incorporated the IPS technology into a particular set?

  • Ken H

    As always, very good info from the Guru. I would only add Internet connectivity is also available from most Blu-ray players these days.

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