The vast majority of televisions sold today are of the high-definition format (HDTV), which is consistent with the latest mandated production and broadcast standards. There are several different styles to choose from, all offering relative advantages and compromises:
LCD Flat Screens
LCD televisions are currently the most popular HDTV format. LCDs come in a full range of sizes, eliminate glare with their matte screens, and have outstanding picture quality that is improving with each new generation of televisions, also they consume a lot less power than plasma. On the other hand, contrast and color saturation may lag slightly behind the plasma format, affecting image quality. They also offer a relatively restricted viewing angle, which may not be appropriate for larger rooms.
LED televisions are actually LCD sets that use LED backlights, not a whole new type of TV. LED-backlit LCDs have been on mainstream store shelves since 2007. LED TVs use slightly less power than LCD with thin panels and some models have improved picture quality. On the other hand, LED TVs are relatively expensive, and most models offer little to no picture quality improvement compared with LCD.
Plasma Flat Screens
Plasma televisions offer several distinct advantages from other HDTV formats. They allow the widest viewing angle, provide an image-quality of theater-style resolution, and offer the best motion resolution. The disadvantages are minor: plasma TVs are bulkier than LCD TVs and are less energy efficient. Also, the glass screens of plasma televisions are highly reflective, and in certain viewing environments glare may be a problem.
Although plasma and LCD televisions are catching up, the rear projection format still gives you the biggest image size at the best price. With the advantage in price comes good image quality and improving viewing angle. However, rear projection TVs are bigger and bulkier than flat screens, are relatively slow (20 seconds or so) to warm up, and require their lamps to be replaced every 5,000 to 8,000 hours (not a hard task, but a new lamp typically costs about $100). Until LCD and plasma televisions offer cheaper models in the 55”-plus range (which may happen sooner rather than later), the rear projection format will still have enthusiasts.
Picture tube televisions are still available, and so they deserve a mention here, but today's new models are the last examples of a dying breed. New CRTs max out at 27” and many do not feature a widescreen aspect ratio, two important reasons for their unpopularity. There is no longer much of a price savings for a CRT television, so the final incentive to buy them has been removed.
3D – Among flat-panel TVs, the capability to display 3D content is only found on the highest-end models of major makers in 2010, so it's expensive to afford. The necessary 3D glasses, in addition to 3D sources and 3D content, can also increase the price.
Screen Size – Everyone's favorite feature! LCDs offer a full range of sizes, plasmas range from 42” to 65+”, and rear screens can go much larger than that. Match the size of the television with the size of the room it will be in – smaller TVs for offices and bedrooms, larger models for the living room or a home theater setting. We recommend a size of at least 32” for a bedroom TV and at least 40” for a living room or home theater TV.
Aspect Ratio – Most televisions sold today are of the widescreen format of 16:9 or 16:10, which provides for optimum viewing of film content and the newer generation of video games. Televisions in the traditional ratio of 4:3 are no longer available at much of a discount, and if you are buying a new television, there is no reason not to make the upgrade to widescreen.
Image Quality – Nearly every TV today is a 1080p model, but the entry models in these categories may feature 720p configuration. This is a specification you don’t need to care a lot, the difference between 720p and 1080p resolutions is nearly impossible to discern, even when watching content on very large screen sizes. As price and size go up, some brands offer additional features that improve apparent dpi and contrast resolution, thereby improving image quality.
Inputs – With any TV, consider the number and type of inputs it has for hooking up devices to your TV. Most larger TVs now have at least three or four HDMI inputs plus two component-video inputs. That should be adequate for most current uses. Smaller sets typically have fewer of each type. Both HDMI and component-video connections are capable of carrying high-definition signals from devices such as cable and satellite boxes, DVRs, and Blu-ray players. 3D-capable models have HDMI 1.4 inputs, necessary to handle 3D signals.
Internet Connectivity – Many new LCD and plasma TVs can access the Internet directly, through a broadband connection, without using a computer. Video services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, audio from Pandora and Rhapsody, photos from Picasa and Flickr, and access to Facebook, Twitter, and even Skype are built into midrange and higher-end TVs. However, before you pay extra for these features, consider that you'll need to either connect an Ethernet cable to the TV or buy a Wi-Fi adapter; most Internet TVs don't have Wi-Fi built-in. Most TVs with access to online content now have onscreen icons, called widgets, that are used to access the various services.
The names should be familiar, since most of these manufacturers have been at it for decades. Sony, Toshiba and Samsung are industry leaders, and they offer televisions of all styles, sizes, and prices. Panasonic televisions are highly rated on many consumer report sites. Off-label brands Insignia and ProScan have won fans with their bargain models.