Entertainment &Hardware Steven Kippel on 31 Jan 2009

The single most important feature to look for in a new TV

The single most important feature to look for in a new TV

If you were to read around the internets while shopping for a new HDTV, or even if you go visit an electronics store, you might be under the impression that the most important feature in a TV is the resolution (got to be 1080p), contrast ratio (3,000,000:1), or some other such number. Don’t be fooled, the most important feature is the TV’s size.

Let’s be realistic – we are all on a budget this year. But even before the economic distress only a few of us had the dough to swing the best gear. And since we only have so much money, don’t sell yourself short and pack all the latest features into a TV too small to enjoy.

Set a budget

I’ve written before on how to shop on a budget, so I’ll only briefly touch on this point. Your budget needs to include your whole system, not just your TV. I suggest putting as much into your sound system as you do in your display, but I’ll leave your preferences up to you. (I just think the audio makes as much of an impact as the video, or more!)

Figure out how much you’re going to spend. Cut this amount in half and that’s how much you have for your TV. If you are only upgrading one piece of your system, then ignore this step.

How big should my TV be?

The general rule of thumb says the seating distance should be 1.5x to 2x the size of your screen’s diagonal. This means you should sit about 6-8 feet away from a 50″ display. You can do the math to figure out how big your display should be for your existing seating distance. I sit about 10-11 feet from my 50″ display, and I consider it too small.

Theater on a budgetThis is the rule for home theater. Some people are more comfortable with a smaller display. That is fine. Visit your local retailer and spend a few minutes in front of various sized TVs at your seating distance for an idea of what it will be like at home.

Consider projection TVs

Rear-projection displays are for the most part history. This is because people fell in love with flat panel TVs, even though they’re about the same depth with on their stand anyway. But there are still some projection sets available from Samsung and Mitsubishi. You can also get a front-projection system for much less (per inch) than an equivalent plasma/LCD.

I only offer this as an option because in my situation a 65″ or larger display is appropriate for my seating distance. However plasmas and LCDs in this size are exceedingly expensive. A 70″ LCD is about $15,000. (Although I did see a Sharp 65″ LCD at Costco over the weekend for $3298.)

Now consider the Optima 720p front projector I recently saw at Circuit City which retailed for $999 (liquidation sale takes 20% off now, so it would be closer to $799). You can add a decent screen for a couple hundred dollars and have an 80″ HDTV for about the same price as a 50″ plasma.

You do have to take light situations into consideration with front-projection systems, but most of us do our movie watching at night anyway.

Final step

When you find the size TV you want, you can now look for other features while staying in your budget. Black levels and color accuracy are the most important followed by resolution.

I hope this helps you buy that new TV. Tomorrow is the Super Bowl where I know you’ll all be wishing you had a bigger TV and a better surround sound system to really put you in the action. (Go Cardinals!)

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