10 Things to Know Before You Buy a Flat Screen TV

tons of numbers and specifications, many that won't make sense and some that are simply unreliable. Retialers use a number of tricks to get you to spend more, and salespeople are always looking to sell you something extra.

Buying a TV really doesn't need to be that hard. Here's a few truths that retailers would prefer that you didn't know. They'll help you get the best value when you're shopping.

  1. You don't need the biggest set in the place. Go in for a 32" set and they'll try to sell you a 40". Ask for a 40" and they'll show you a 42". It's all about sales, but it's not doing you any favors. Screen size doesn't matter as much as the quality of the picture. Maybe you can get a 40" set for a little more than a 32" one, but if the 32" set has a better picture, you're not getting what you want. Set a budget, stick to it and get the best possible picture you can.
  2. You don't need 1080p. Although the higher 1080p resolution is almost standard in larger screen TVs, it's not a requirement. Apart from some premium satellite channels, nobody broadcasts in 1080p. If you've got a Blu-ray player, you'll squeeze a little extra crispness out of movies, but you likely won't see a difference unless you're looking at screens larger than 42".
  3. Screen class isn't screen size. Flat-screen TVs aren't always the size that a store claims. A 40" TV could have a viewing surface of anywhere from 39" to 41", because of differences in the way manufacturers mount the panels in their sets.
  4. You don't need motion smoothing. While 120hz  refresh rats and anti-judder smoothing can make films look as smooth as computer animation, they don't do much for broadcast television. You'll see a slight improvement in live sports, but unless you're really in love with the effect for movies (and many people hate it), you can save some money by skipping this feature.
  5. Contrast ratio is a nearly meaningless number. Manufacturers love to tout contrast ratios in the tens of thousands. This is the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black on the screen, and higher numbers should provide a sharper image. Unfortunately, there's no industry standard for measuring contrast ratio, which frees manufacturers to test it under ideal conditions that may have no real-world equivalent. Trust your eye rather than numbers when it comes to sharpness.
  6. HDMI cables are overpriced. You don't need to pay $80 or $100 to get good HDMI cables. These are a high-profit item for retailers, so they mark them up aggressively. Look around online, and you'll find quality HDMI cables for less than $20.
  7. Extended warranties can be a good buy. Check the terms on an extended warranty carefully before you decide to pass. Although they're hard to find, replacement warranties are a very good deal. These warranties will provide you with a brand new replacement TV should anything go wrong. Repair warranties should usually be avoided, because you may wind up paying more for the warranty than you would for the repairs themselves.
  8. Calibration isn't necessary. If you value a superb picture above everything else, you might want to spring for professional calibration. Service technicians can access setup menus that are hidden from regular users. As a rule of thumb, however, TVs are built to work properly out of the box. You can get great results simply by using the regular picture adjustment menus.
  9. Retailers crank up the brightness and contrast. Ever wonder why your TV looks better in the store than it does in your home? Retailers often max out the brightness, sharpness and contrast of sets in stores, because the picture needs to look vivid against a background of bright fluorescent lights. You can get the same results at home by making adjustments in the TV's on-screen menus.
  10. Plasmas fade over time. The red, green and blue phosphors in a plasma TV fade rather quickly, and they'll fade faster if you crank up the brightness of the screen. Within a couple of years, the loss of luminescence in a plasma TV is noticeable. If you use your TV for hours on end and love vivid colors, an LCD TV will last longer than a plasma set.
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