New HDTV Checklist

Daunted by the sheer numbers of available HDTVs? Finding it hard to decide what features are worth the extra money, and which aren’t?

With our New HDTV Buying Checklist, we’ll go through what you should look for, what’s worth spending on, and what’s worth skipping.

Click through for the list, ranked from most important, to least important, on what you should consider when buying an HDTV.

1) Screen Size

If you’re torn between an two TVs of the same price, but one is a smaller TV with lots of features and the other is a large TV but with fewer features, get the larger TV. “My TV is too big” is not something ever uttered by anyone, anywhere. Many of the new features included with TVs (which we’ll discuss in a moment) are available separately, many in inexpensive Blu-ray players.

How big a TV can you get? Check out our HDTV Seating Distance Chart.

2) Technology

Right now there are two basic TV technologies that come in three flavors: Plasma, LCD, and the latter’s subset, LED LCDs. For the most part, plasma TVs have better contrast ratios and black levels than LCDs. For watching TV at night, plasmas are going to look better. They also have wider viewing angles. So if you have a large room, a wide sofa, plasma is a better option.

However, if you watch a lot of TV during the day, and your room has a lot of windows, the added brightness of LCDs, especially LED LCDs, is huge. Along the lines of the size consideration above, if you have a smaller room, LCDs are the only option below 42-inches.

On the horizon is OLED, or Organic Light-Emitting Diode TVs. These will offer even better contrast ratios and black levels than plasma, while being even more efficient and thinner than LED LCDs. They’ll also be really expensive, but the price will come down.

3) Price

You might be surprised that price is our third most important consideration. I’m sure for some of you, it’s #1, and that’s fine. What we’re saying is it’s worth paying a little more for a larger screen size, and to get the technology you want. It’s worth noting that for a given screen size, plasmas are often cheaper than LED LCDs.

Price also ties in to where you buy the TV. Online retailers almost always have lower prices than brick and mortar stores. Just make sure you buy from a reputable online retailer.

4) Contrast Ratio

When it comes to picture quality, contrast ratio is the most important factor. A TV with an excellent contrast ratio has a more natural picture, seems more detailed, and has a realistic “depth” separate from any potential 3D capabilities.

Why is it number 4 on our list? Two reasons. The first is that when it comes to the name-brand TVs, the contrast ratios are pretty good. Some are certainly better than others, but the lower performing TVs from the main brands look pretty good.

The last reason, is you can’t check contrast ratio. All manufacturers lie about their contrast ratio specs and it’s impossible to compare contrast ratios in stores. The only way is to read reviews online, and not all measure contrast ratio.

So while it’s a vital statistic, it’s often pretty good on most top tier televisions, and you can’t really judge what it looks like in a store. If this were a question of picture quality alone, this would be #1, but it’s about the entire TV so it’s #4. For more info, check out my Contrast ratio (or how every TV manufacturer lies to you) article.

Save On The Best Selling HDTVs

Blu-ray Deals

Big Markdowns on 3D TVs

Deals On New 2012 HDTV Models

5) Other Features

One of the most touted and advertised features in current TVs is Internet streaming. This includes Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU and others that expand the total amount of content available on the TV. These services are fantastic but… you don’t need them in the TV. An external box like an Apple TV or Roku have all the same services, and are $100 or less. The same with nearly every Blu-ray player, and they start around $100. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have Internet streaming features in your TV, but there’s no need to pay extra for it.

However, two Internet features that are easier to find in TVs and not in an external box are Skype and a web browser. If you use Skype, look for a TV (like many Panasonic and Samsung models) with Skype built-in. Most models will require an external camera, but some new models even have that built in (for better or worse). Some new TVs also have a web browser built in. Don’t go ditching your laptop just yet. These browsers are slower than those on a computer, and unless the TV lets you plug in a keyboard, they’re a lot harder to navigate. Still, it’s a cool feature if you don’t have something to surf the web on in your TV room.

With LCD models, 120 Hz refresh or higher is vital. All LCDs exhibit a blurring with objects in motion, and higher refresh rates help combat this. It’s worth checking out Beware Of Phony LCD HDTV Refresh Rates

If you’re curious what other features and specs matter, check out Which HDTV Specs Matter? Meaningful and Meaningless Numbers

6) Reliability

Generally speaking, LCD and plasma HDTVs are quite reliable. That’s not to say, though, that they’re all equally reliable. Gary has found that manufacturers that make their own TVs, and are therefore directly on the hook to repair them, generally more reliable TVs. They also know the importance of brand loyalty. They want you as a return customer. A no-name brand that exists merely to import no-name TVs doesn’t care if you hate their product and will never buy from them again. They won’t be around long enough for you to buy from them again, which brings us to…

7) Service

If something does go wrong, how can you get it repaired. Returning it to the store isn’t always an option (not least because if you got it online, there isn’t a store). Check the return and repair policies of the store and the brand before you buy. Do you have to ship it back yourself, or will the store/brand take care of it. Do they offer in-home service?

7-up, 7-down (Conclusion)

Of course there are other factors that determine the best TV for you, but these seven are the most important. Sort these out, and you’ll get an amazing television.


Geoff Morrison @TechWriterGeoff
Geoff’s book is now in paperback


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