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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