TECH NOW: How to buy a TV



You're in the market for a TV. You walk into a store and you're barraged with letters and numbers that read more like the Da Vinci Code than helpful details: HD, LCD, OLED, Plasma, 3D, 4K, 120Hz, 240Hz, 600Hz, CMR, TruMotion, and the list goes on and on. The choices are overwhelming. The jargon is mind-boggling. And the pressure to pay for more than what you really want or need is intense. So here's a basic guide for the average, just help me buy a new TV already, shopper.
Where you plan to put your new television will point you toward what size set you need. For a living room, you'll likely want a larger set — say 46 inches or larger. But if you're putting a TV in a bedroom or kitchen, a smaller set — 32 inches — would be more appropriate. Before you buy, take a look at your available space to figure out how large a television you really want. If in doubt, go a bit larger than you think you need. As a general rule, bigger is better. Going bigger is the easiest way to upgrade without spending too much more money.
Think of best picture quality for the money as the sweet spot in the quest for the perfect TV. What you're after is an image that looks the most real. A good picture can often be boiled down to high contrast.
4K, or Ultra High Definition, is the newest technology — with four times the number of pixels of standard HD. The result? Vivid images, natural shades of color, and pictures so lifelike it's like looking through a window. Here's where budget comes in — the best means you'll pay more — starting around $3,000.
The least expensive are LCDs. These are basic — and ultra-affordable — and make great sets for anyone on a tight budget. The price range on these can be anywhere from $150 on up.
Some LCDs have an LED backlight, and these are often referred to as LEDs. These deliver more contrast and are a great middle ground between very best and the most budget friendly.
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You'll see televisions advertised as 720p, 1080i, 1080p and 4K, which refers to the resolution of their screens. 720p, 1080i and 1080p are all considered HD resolution. As mentioned above, 4K is often called "UltraHD." As a general rule, if you're buying a larger set (32 inches or more), you'll want to look at 1080p or higher.
TV-makers will try to sell you lots of extras, like 3D, smart TV and high-end sound options — but the truth is it's usually best to pare down on the extras. For example, if you enjoy watching streaming media on your television, you probably already have a Roku, Apple TV or other gadget, so you don't need a TV with built-in "smart" features. The only exception here is 3D: If you're interested in watching TV or movies in 3D, you have to buy a 3D set — but bear in mind that there's not a huge selection of 3D content available still, so this is a reasonable corner for budget buyers to cut.
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I just spent a year looking at new TVs for my own family. After exhaustive reviews, countless hours of research and a whole lot of wading through contrary expert advice, I bought a Sony KDL-R520/R550 series set that I absolutely love. My second choice was the Panasonic TC-PST60. When all was said and done, price mattered most, followed by size and picture quality. If money were no object, I would have bought a new Sony 4K TV.
At the end of the day, stats and numbers can only tell you so much about a television — and judging good picture quality can be very subjective. The best way to find a television that will work for you is to take a look at it beforehand to decide whether the picture looks good to you.
But hopefully armed with this information, you're ready to make a smarter shopping decision, especially when TVs go on sale in January, just in time for the Super Bowl.