Panasonic VIERA TC-P42X3

The 40-42–inch class of HDTVs is currently the most popular size. For most people it offers a small step up in size from their old CRT televisions, while for others it’s a cost effective entry into the HD world.

If you’re in the market for a TV in this size, the following guide will help you narrow down your choices to get the best TV for you.


The first question you should ask yourself is if a 40-inch TV is enough. Most people sit about 10 feet from their TV, and at that distance even a 50-inch TV can be considered small. The beauty of HD is that you can get a much larger television and not see the scan lines so visible on CRTs (because there aren’t any). At 10 feet, you’d need a TV larger than 65-inches before you’d even start to see a difference between a 720p and 1080p TV, as far as pixels are concerned.

It’s up to you, of course, just know you can definitely go bigger. Check out this chart (PDF) for more info.

720p v. 1080p

Along the same lines, you can save some money getting a 720p set still, which will display all HD content just fine. In large sizes, or if you’re sitting close, a 1080p TV will have more detail. At 10-feet and 40-inches or so, 720p will work just fine.


The two types of HDTVs in this size are Plasma and LCD. The latter can be broken down further into CCFL and LED.  CCFL, or Cold Cathode Florescent Lamps, is the older technology similar to the florescent lamps you can buy for your home. These are usually cheaper than the newer LED models. LED, or Light Emitting Diode, is the latest LCD backlight technology. They are extremely bright (though few modern televisions are “dim”), and offer potential energy savings over plasma and CCFL models.

Energy savings are a laudable goal, just know that the added price of LED models mean that you’ll likely never recoup the difference over CCFL/plasma models. If green is your thing, know that all CCFL models contain mercury.

A general rule of thumb is that plasmas will look better in a dark room or at night due to their superior contrast ratio and black levels. LCDs, on the other hand, will look better in a very bright room or during the day due to their higher brightness and better ambient light rejection (some models).

The other major difference is that plasmas will have significantly better resolution with motion than LCDs. If you watch a lot of sports, this is a big deal. The only way LCDs are capable of decent motion resolution is with 120Hz, 240Hz and so on higher refresh rates. With sports, these methods are fine, and offer motion resolution similar to plasmas. With film-based content, though, like movies and most TV shows, the motion interpolation that takes advantage of the higher refresh can cause the dreaded “soap opera effect” that makes everything look like it’s on a reality show/soap opera. Some people don’t mind this. Personally, I hate it.

Black Level/Contrast ratio

Speaking of black levels, many people only watch TV at night, where a better black level (and the corresponding high contrast ratio) will make the image appear to have more depth and realism. Plasmas are still the best for this, though many new LED LCDs have backlight dimming technologies that help in an area where LCDs have historically been deficient. VA LCD panels, like those from Samsung, Sharp, AOU and some others offer a better contrast ratio than the IPS panels from LG, Panasonic, and others.  IPS has other benefits though, which leads us to…

Viewing Angle

If you have a large room, or the room is set up in such a way that you or members of your family will be sitting at an angle to the television (known as “off axis”), you have an additional concern. Many LCD televisions have drastically worse picture quality when viewed at an angle, either side to side or above/below (think mounting a television above your seated line of sight).

If this is the case for you, plasma is the easiest option, as they’ll look the same at any angle. The next option is IPS-based LCDs which offer excellent off-axis performance, though not quite as good as plasma. VA panels, on the other hand, have varying degrees of unpleasantness in this regard. I have reviewed some models that are nearly unwatchable just a few degrees above or below. Others replace black with blue just a few seats off center. It’s something you can easily check in a store.

3rd Tier

It’s tempting to save money and buy a no-name brand LCD. It’s worth noting that the performance of these cheap televisions is going to be sub-par compared to the name brands. Black levels will be worse, there will likely be extensive uniformity problems (light leakage), colors probably aren’t accurate, and so on.

Also, they’re not necessarily backed up by any real company.


The two biggest features right now are 3D and “connected TVs” that allow streaming content from the Internet. There isn’t a ton of 3D content right now, but it’s growing. If you like 3D in the theater and want it at home, this feature is for you. For everyone else, it’s just a feature; you can use it or not.

Connected TVs have streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that expands your content opportunities immensely. We did an article a few months ago on these.



—Geoff Morrison – Follow me on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff

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