How to Choose an HD Flat Screen TV
By: Julie Day
If you’ve been to the electronics store recently, you’ve probably been boggled and intrigued with all the choices in HD (high definition) flat panel (flat screen) TVs these days. This guide will help you sift through the numbers and bring home the best TV for your needs.
LCD vs. LED vs. Plasma HDTVs
The basic technology of how flat screen HDTVs work falls into three categories, each of which have the pros and cons:
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) HDTVs:
LCD televisions work by shining light through a thin layer of liquid. The electrically-charged liquid crystals bend and twist to refract or block the light and create the screen picture. In a standard LCD HDTV, the backlight is provided by fluorescent bulbs. LCD HDTVs have some pros and cons:
- Super Sharp: LCD technology creates a very sharp digital image that is more highly defined than plasma, but also less natural looking.
- Brightness: Compared with plasmas, LCD TVs are brighter overall, making them easier to view in a lighted room. They also have less screen glare than plasmas, although different brands have different screen coatings.
- Thin and Lightweight: At just a few inches thick, LCD TVs are easily wall-mounted. They also come in the smallest sizes, with a range from 19” to 65” inches measured diagonally.
- Energy Saving: LCDs are more energy-efficient than plasma.
- Viewing Angle: LCD TVs are a little more difficult to watch at an angle. The color or sharpness can distort if you’re looking at it from the side.
LED (Light Emitting Diode) HDTVs:
The newest game in town, LED HDTVs are actually just LCD TVs that are back-lit with LED bulbs instead of fluorescent. They boast:
- High Brilliance: LED TVs usually have sharper color and contrast than LCD or plasma TVs.
- Most Energy Saving: LED TVs are the most energy efficient of any TV.
- Very Thin and Lightweight: LED TVs are also thinner and lighter than LCD or plasma TVs.
- Longer Lifespan: LED TVs tend to last longer than LCD TVs.
Plasma HDTVs work by electrically stimulating a thin layer of gas-filled chambers. Unlike LCDs that work by blocking or refracting light, the gases in plasma TVs actually light up in various colors, creating each pixel of the screen. Their main features are:
- Larger Size: Plasma TVs have the largest screen sizes, starting at 42 inches. They’re also thicker than LCD TVs.
- Richer Colors and Deeper Blacks: While LCD TVs are brighter, plasmas have richer colors and deeper blacks, making them easier to view in a darkened room.
- Smoother Motion: Movement on screen is smoother with plasma TVs than LCDs. Plasma TVs are often described as more “film like,” often making them the first choice for home theater rooms and sports viewing.
- Wider Viewing Angle: Plasma screens have a wider viewing angle than LCD and LED TVs, so they’re good for viewing from the sides or from below.
- Use More Power: Plasma TVs consume more electricity than LCDs or LEDs.
Flat Screen HDTV Specs
Once you have a general idea of the type and size of TV you want, there are different levels of quality to choose from based on:
- Contrast Ratio: The contrast ratio tells you the whitest white and the blackest black that the TV can display. Static contrast numbers tell you the ratio the TV can display at the same time, while dynamic contrast gives the range the TV can produce. A higher contrast ratio is better, so 4,000,000:1 is better than 120,000:1. Measurements of contrast ratio aren’t standardized, making it hard to compare numbers.
Flat Screen HDTV Features
Newer HDTVs have many available features, including:
- Screen Finish: Some HDTVs offer an optional matte screen finish that cuts down on glare and reflections.
- TV Buying Guide (cnet.com)
- LCD vs. Plasma (crutchfield.com)
- DIY Home Theater Installation (article)
- Should You Install a TV over a Fireplace? (article)
- How to Run Wires in Existing Walls and Floors (article)
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