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HD TV Buyer's Guide

By SmartHouse Team | Wednesday | 25/10/2006

In the market for a new TV, but not sure where to start? Here are our top 10 tips when shopping for a new screen.

Ready for action
Our top tip is to look for the 'HD Ready' logo. If it's not compatible with high-definition sources, we're not interested.
To be a true high-definition set, the TV must have a native resolution of at least 720 horizontal lines, an HDMI input and a component input. If you see an 'HD Compatible' badge, that means the screen is downscaling HD material to fit so you're not seeing a super-sharp picture.

Plasma or LCD?
When buying a new flatscreen, one of the most important decisions you'll need to make is whether to go with plasma or LCD. Plasma used to be the dominant technology in the market, but in recent times LCD has made up a lot of ground.
Each technology has its strength and weaknesses: for example, plasma excels in terms of contrast, brightness and colour reproduction; while LCD has the upper hand in terms of longeivity, 'burn in' and power consumption.
Generally these days most manufacturers favour LCD, but it will all come down to your personal preference when you test the models in-store.

Love your lag time
Image response time is an important number on an LCD TV's spec sheet, as it
has a profound effect on image quality.
A lag time of more than about 12ms will cause image blur and smearing during motion scenes. Try tuning into the AFL or NRL before you buy - if there's a trace on the ball as it travels, the TVs got a bad response time.
Image lag is not an issue with CRT TV or plasma and it's only recently that LCD panels are fighting back with faster response times.

Size matters
When it comes to screen size, there's no substitute for inches. But assuming you've already decided what size you want, check your resolution. Native resolution is the actual number of pixels the panel can display and is shown as the number of vertical lines multiplied by the number of horizontals eg 1366x768. Obviously, the more the merrier. Some TVs have a resolution of 1080 horizontal lines and can show 1080p, which is great, but for now anything 720 or over is fine.

Vital statistics
Contrast is key to image quality too, but in the shop, claimed contrast ratios are wildly misleading and are best ignored. Each manufacturer has its own way of measuring contrast ratios and they make sure the figure is flattering. Here at Smarthouse, we can measure them independently in a lab and come up with comparable figures, so go to the shop armed with a current issue.

Price war
Price is always going to be the clincher, so be sure of your budget before you go shopping. Bear in mind that brand names command a premium, but are generally better built, while older models will be cheaper, but may well be underspecified.

Personal service
Take a check list of your personal must-have features with you. For us, one of the essentials is a digital TV tuner. If it has an analogue tuner, this will soon be redundant in Australia and you'll find yourself upgrading again.
If you do buy a TV with an analogue tuner and you want to watch digital TV, you'll have to buy a separate set-top box.

Spin me around
Take a look around the back at the connectivity options to make sure it will integrate with your home setup. Most new electronics favour HDMI, so you should look for one that has at least two of these inputs, while Scart is still your best bet for connecting a set-top box.

The wrong impression
TV manufacturers are competing for your attention (and money) in the shop and tend to crank up the colour and contrast. Don't be afraid to grab the remote and reset all the levels to neutral to get a better idea of what the TV looks like.
Most TVs have proprietary image processing too, which can either help or hinder, so try turning it off and then back on again.

Looks are important
Finally, you should take into consideration whether the screen will fit in with the décor of your lounge room, bedroom or wherever else you are thinking of installing it. Not all televisions are created equal when it comes to looks: they are finished in different materials and boast different shapes and designs. You are going to be looking at this screen a fair bit so make sure it appeals to your personal sense of aesthetics and design.

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