What’s Important and What’s Not Important When You’re Buying an HDTV

April 7th, 2011 · 7 Comments · 3D HDTV, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, OLED, Plasma, Reference Materials

What's Important and What's Not Important

There’s a lot to consider when you’re buying an HDTV. Pros and cons to weigh and options to think about, all of which can end up being pretty confusing.

So we at HDGuru.com want to help you prioritize all these different aspects so you can get the best TV possible.

What’s Important

1) Screen Size

It’s easy for us to say “get the biggest TV you can afford,” but the reality is most people get far smaller TVs than their room could support. The problem is, in a store the TVs often look huge, but once you get it in your house, it often looks a lot smaller. The easiest way to overcome this is by measuring how far you’re sitting from your TV, and stand that distance away from the TV in the store (if possible).

If you’re upgrading from a CRT, remember that standard definition tube TVs are roughly square (4×3), while all HDTVs are wider, 16×9. This means that a 42-inch TV is smaller than a 36-inch CRT when displaying 4×3 material (though obviously wider on HD content).

If you’re sitting 10-feet away from a TV – and most people are - then a 65-inch diagonal set is commonly recommended. Even if you go bigger than that with projection, 1080p is high enough resolution that you won’t likely see pixels.

Here is a link to our exclusive HD Guru optimum viewing distance chart that shows the furthest distance from the TV where you will see all the detail in the picture for a given screen size and resolution (720p or 1080p). You may sit further back but you will not be able to perceive all the fine detail.

2) Viewing Angle

Take a look at your current room setup. Where do people sit? If you’ve got a long narrow room, and everyone is fairly close to the center, than any technology TV will work.

If you’ve got a wide room or a wide couch with people seated off to the side, you shouldn’t get an LCD. This is because despite the marketing, the picture quality of all LCDs drops off significantly when you move “off axis” or away from center. Some (IPS designs) are better than others. If you have a wide setup, make sure you stand at these angles when you’re looking at the TV in the store. It’s not hard to miss, the contrast ratio decreases, and often colors get washed out.

Samsung Apps3) Connectivity

Make sure the TV has enough HDMI inputs for all your HD devices. If not, we recommend an A/V receiver to do your HDMI switching (and, you know, for decent sound).

The current trend in HDTVs and Blu-ray players is Internet connectivity. This gets you access to “Apps” that bring all sorts of new content to your TV. Netflix is the most ubiquitous, though VUDU and Amazon Video on Demand are quite popular as well. Samsung, Sony, VIZIO , and Panasonic are leading the way with a wide array of content. LG is making a big push with their LG
Smart TV Upgrader“.

This year promises more open platforms (like Panasonic’s Viera Connect) which means apps written by 3rd party developers. We expect the explosive growth of on line content to really  take off.

4) Black Level/Light Output/Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio is by far the most important aspect of a televisions picture quality. The problem is, there is no standard how to measure it. This is why you see manufacturers claim 1,000,000,000:1 and other meaningless numbers. They’re not lying, per se, but they’re not being honest either.

The fact is, when you’re watching the TV, at home, plasmas will have a better contrast ratio than LCDs. What makes this difficult to accept for some (namely, LCD TV owners) is that in the store, the opposite appears to be true. LCDs are better at combating ambient light. So on a brightly lit show floor (like Best Buy or Costco), LCDs will look better. At home, where almost everyone has MUCH lower light conditions, the plasma will look better.

BUT, and this is key, LCDs are brighter. If you do most of your TV watching during the day with no shades on your windows, then an LCD – especially the new LED LCD models - will be a better choice. Keep in mind high ambient light levels degrade the viewing experience and no TV con hand direct sunlight.

If you watch movies and TV at night, with only some viewing during the day, plasmas will look better. Plasmas are not “dim” by any stretch of the imagination, they just aren’t as insanely bright as the new LED LCDs (which are often too bright in their stock settings).

This is true even of the now-rare local dimming LED models.

What’s Sort-of Important

1) Energy Efficiency

There are two mindsets here. If your goal is to be as green as possible, without concerns for purchase cost, then the new LED LCD models are extremely energy efficient and don’t contain the mercury of “regular” LCDs.

If you think buying an LED LCD will save you money on energy costs, making it a more economical choice, there’s no way. Even if you live in an area with extremely high energy costs, the price premium you have to pay for an LED LCD will never be offset by its lower operating costs.

2) Anti-glare/anti-reflective LCD screens

Chances are you’re going to have light in the room where you watch TV. Anti-glare screens (matte looking) do a great job at minimizing the glare from room light. The problem is that it will have a lower contrast ratio overall, regardless of ambient light. Anti-reflective (glossy/shiny) have a better overall contrast ratio, but if you have a light on behind you when you’re watching TV, you’re going to see it.

The fact is, you should try to minimize the light in the room regardless of technology, as the TV will look a lot better as result.

The up-model plasmas will have some sort of anti-glare or anti-reflective coating to make it better in rooms with ambient light. If you’re worried about  overhead lamp fixture reflections, make sure your plasma has one of these coatings. They can be found on the Samsung PND7000 and PND8000 plasma series  and the ST30, GT30 and VT30 Panasonic plasmas. Generally, though, anti-glare coated  LCDs  (as found on the LG LW
series HDTVs) will perform better against light sources that are visible on the screen, no matter what the technology.

3) Depth

There’s a price premium on ultra-thin LCD and plasma models. They’re stylish, and undeniably cool. The thing is, most people never mount their TVs. So if the TV is 1.5-inches or 3.5-inches, who’s going around back to check? A thin bezel on the other hand…

Samsung-LED70004) Thin Bezels

A big push this year is for ultra-thin bezels, some less than a half an inch. These look cool from all angles, and in our minds worth the premium if style is your thing. The TVs have a certain “floating in air” look that is really badass.

5) 3D

3D is just a feature, nothing more. Current 3D TVs are often the best performing 2D models as well. There is more and more content coming out, but it’s still not a lot. Is 3D worth the premium? That’s up to you. But when you can get a great 3D TV for under $1,200, there’s not much of a case for not getting a 3D set, cause why not?

Not at All Important

1) Sound Quality

All TVs sound like crap. All. A few models are shipping with separate soundbars, but most of these are being discontinued. If you want good sound, get an HTIB or a small audio system. They don’t cost a lot, and will sound MUCH better than the speakers in the TV.

2) Technology

Despite the marketing, the only picture quality advantage LED LCDs have over plasma and regular LCDs is extreme brightness. In all cases, this is like having a car that can do 190mph. Sure, that’s great, but you’ll never use it. LED LCDs are more efficient (see “Energy Efficiency” above). It’s important to note that LED LCDs are not a new TV technology, merely a new way to light TVs. There is no such thing as an LED TV, at least not in the home.

Technology is less important than how you intend on using the TV. For that, see all the Important stuff above.

3) Reliability

Independent testing has found that LCDs and plasmas are exceptionally reliable, with little difference between the two in this regard.


Geoff Morrison

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Cheap Flat Screen TV

    I don’t think TV looking bigger in the store and smaller at home should be an issue. We should understand what the guy is trying to say, most likely imaginations and the presence of other TV and stuff in the store might make the TV bigger. And if you place a big TV in a large home, the TV will look smaller than i was in the store. What matter is the size remain the same just the way it was picked from the store.

  • ayat

    Of course a typical edge-lit LED can has severe screen uniformity issues! My comment specifically addressed backlit LED and newer local dimming technologies. There is NO WAY a common CCFL LCD offers equal or better screen uniformity. You may consider this “Not at All Important” but I disagree.

  • ayat

    Also brightness is NOT THE ONLY advantage of an LED over a regular LCD. Backlit LED, LED dimming technologies reduce screen uniformity issues, for starters. No offense, but this is one the worst “advice articles” on HDGURU ever.

    Geoff: Most of the time LED LCDs have significantly worse uniformity issues than CCFL LCDs. Edge-lit LEDs are the worst offenders of this. There are very few backlit LEDs on the market today, and while they can have good uniformity, they aren’t inherently better in this regard than CCFL. No offense, but this is one of the worst “comments” on HDGURU ever.

  • ayat

    I’ve NEVER heard anyone say TV’s look bigger in the store and smaller at home. Over time a larger TV is better because you’ll adapt but that’s a different issue.

  • Bob Stone

    Opps – a correction to my last post – if one wishes to attain a 36 degree angle of view (THX recommended for viewing movies in a commercial theater) and is sitting 10 feet away from the screen – you’d want a screen size of 90″ (measured diagonally) and not 135″ as my previous post listed

  • Bob Stone

    Once again we see the HD GURU recommending his flawed seating distance charts and suggesting that the size of your next HDTV should be based on them.

    I’ve reviewed the HD Guru’s recommendations and these charts are based solely on visual acuity. In other words – the ability of the average person to detect each and every pixel. Forgotten is the fact that broadcasters transmit in BOTH 720p and 1080i and that HDTV is transmitted in a lossy, compressed manner. HDTV signals are far from pixel perfect and all of these signals employ averaging where a lot of detail is thrown away. While these charts have some quasi scientific appeal, they really ignore compression, attendent artifacts, and the variety of signals of differing quality/resolution that we receive.

    A better metric is probably “angle of view” if one wishes SOLELY to replicate what is used in a commercial movie theater. Here we can look to the guidelines as published by THX and SMPTE for commercial theaters. The maximum recommended viewing angles are 30 degrees (SMPTE) or 26 degrees (THX) which equals a seating distance of either 1.6x or 1.9x the diagonal measurement of the screen. And lets remember these are suggestions for MOVIE THEATERS – not television – and represent the very worse seating conditions allowed! In fact, THX recommends a viewing angle of 36 degrees which equals a 1.35x seating distance. So if we use a typical home seating distance of 10 feet – then you’d want a 135″ screen and not a 65″ screen (as recommended by the Guru) to replicate what THX suggests you should have when watching a movie.

    I’d argue for a much more subjective recommendation regarding screen size. I’d certainly dispense witht the HD Guru’s charts since they are based on a very flawed criteria. For hard core movie viewers you probably should stick with the THX or SMPTE criteria of a seating distance between 1.35X and 1,8X the diagional measurementrement of the screen.

    For more general viewing 2x seems near perfect to me. For a very casual viewer anything around 2.5X should fit the bill.

    Of course, all of this is subjective. Questions that have to be asked: How tolerant is a viewer of watching low resolution 4:3 material when viewed closely. How sensitive is a viewer to the artifacts of MPEG compression, artifacts, etc? How much does a viewer wish to replicate what is seen in a commercial theater?

    Most of us watch a variety of programming ranging from the evening news to sitcoms in addition to movies. Do we really want a full cinematic impact on all these programs. Trust me, it is a bit unsettling to watch the evening news at 1.6x let alone 1.35X.

  • Brennan

    I have to disagree with the statement that TVs look larger in the store than they do in a home. I find the opposite to be true due the the fact that stores are large open spaces and the TVs tend to be dwarfed be their surroundings/larger TVs in their proximity. I have a 32″ set in my bedroom which is adequate but this size looks tiny in a store enviorment.

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