HD Television Buying Guide

LED vs LCD vs Plasma
Probably the most commonly asked question buyers ask is “What’s the difference between LED, LCD, and Plasma, and which is the best?” The simple answer is, none of them is the “best,” but each does have qualities that could appeal to different types of customers. The best one for you will really be about preference.

Plasma displays are essentially made up of tiny cells of ionized gas that when electrically charged, form an image. Because each cell only illuminates when there’s something to display, plasmas often produce the deepest blacks of any HD TV type, and thus the best contrast. These high levels of contrast can result in absolutely stunning picture quality, especially in higher end plasmas. Plasma displays tend to be thicker, much heavier, and more fragile than their counterparts though, so keep that in mind. Burn in, a concern with older model plasmas, is much less of a concern with today’s models.

LCD displays use the same technology as alarm clocks and calculators, displaying an image using tiny pixels of liquid crystals with some type of light source behind. LCDs tend to be lighter, brighter, and more power efficient than plasmas but cannot replicate the deep blacks and higher contrasts. LCDs are known to struggle in off-angle viewing and sometimes suffer from a lack of image conformity, especially along with edges of the display, as a result of poor backlighting.

Now, LEDs are actually a type of LCD referring to the backlight technology, rather than a separate display class entirely. Where traditional LCDs use fluorescent tubes called CCFLs to create light, LEDs use light emitting diodes instead, which allow them to be much thinner than any other display on the market. These diodes create tons of light, making LEDs the brightest displays too. They do however suffer from some of the same issues as traditional LCDs – poor off-angle viewing, image conformity, and less contract than plasmas. Up until recently, they were also the most expensive display type by a large margin, although prices have come down quite a bit over the past six months.

How big is too big
Is bigger better? For the most part, yes, but make sure you consider the size of the room and the distance from which you’ll be viewing before deciding. If you choose too big a screen for too small a room, you may be disappointed by a lack of crispness. This is because with bigger screens, the same number of pixels are getting stretched across more real estate, degrading the quality if viewing too closely.

Brand Matters… Sort Of
Let us blow your mind for a second – the vast majority of electronics, no matter the brand name on the front, are made in the same handful of factories in China, often just feet from each other on side-by-side assembly lines. So brand doesn’t matter then, right? Not exactly. Though they may be assembled alongside each other, the quality of parts and technology being used can differ vastly from brand to brand and model to model. As a general rule (VERY general) the more expensive brands are such because they use superior quality parts and are thus more reliable. This doesn’t mean that budget brands are never worth buying, however. Just approach the purchase with a little more caution, and be sure to do your research (or just take our recommendations!)

Specs to look for, and what they mean
Resolution – Almost all TVs these days are at a full 1080p resolution, meaning they have a 1920×1080 resolution and use a progressive/non-interlacing scan to transition images. Smaller TVs still offer an exceptional picture with a 720p (1280×720) resolution because the pixel density is similar to their larger 1080p counterparts.

Contrast Ratio – Essentially the difference between the blackest black and the brightest white.The higher the ratio the better, although with no real standard on the market to measure this by, the number should be taken with a grain of salt.

Refresh Rate – This is the speed at which the still image is refreshed on the screen to create motion. The higher the refresh rate, the smoother the picture and lower the amount of “motion blur” when watching high velocity programing like sports. The spec is really only relevant with LED/LCDs since even the worst plasmas have a higher refresh rate than your eye can see. Invest in at least 120Hz refresh rate to ensure the smoothest picture possible.

Features to consider

The last thing you want is to get home with your new TV and realize you don’t have the correct inputs to hook up your home theater devices. Know what you need first and consider devices you could add in the future. We recommend at least three HDMI ports, preferably four, in addition to the standard analog and PC inputs.

Smart or dumb
Smart TVs come with internet apps like YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, etc. These apps and the appstores they come from are often proprietary to that particular brand, which means the Netflix app on a Sony TV will be different than on a Panasonic or Vizio. You’ll pay a small premium for a smart TV, but unless you’re a total technophobe, we recommend you make that investment.

3D TVs are still struggling to find their way into the mainstream and 3D content is still way behind where it will need to be for that to happen. Even with that said though, if future-proofing is a concern of yours, you may want to consider going 3D. Yes, it’s a fad, but it’s a really cool fad. Again, you’ll pay a premium here, so consider if it’s a feature you’ll ever actually use.

Let’s face it, you’ll be staring at your new TV. A lot. And your new TV will be an important part of your living room. So make sure you consider style and design when making your choice. Our editors tend to prefer thin displays with the smallest bezel possible, but your own preferences may be different.

Gesture/Voice Controls
One of the coolest recent innovations in TV technology is the ability to use voice and gestures to control the set itself, most notably featured in Samsung’s new Smart TV lineup. TVs with this feature literally respond to your audio commands – crazy Star Trek stuff we know – but really neat. The technology is still fairly new and a bit of a novelty, so you will pay a pretty decent premium. Consider whether the cool factor is worth the extra price to you.

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