How to Choose an LCD TV

LCD TV has emerged as the format of choice for home televisions. That popularity is good news for consumers, as rising demand has led to lower LCD TV prices, making this high-definition television technology the most affordable way to upgrade an existing TV. Buying an LCD TV doesn't require a lot of technical understanding, just a mastery of a few terms and what they mean to you.

LCD TV Advantages
LCD TVs are flat, lighter than plasma TVs and more durable. You'll never need to worry about image burn with an LCD TV, because the technology, which uses liquid crystal display chips, is immune to image burn.

The biggest drawback to LCD TV is that LCDs don't generate any light, so the screen must be backlit for the image to be seen. This means that an LCD TV can't generate true black colors by turning off the tiny pixels that make up the picture. Here is where you'll start to see a real difference between LCD TVs. Look for the contrast ratio, which is the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black in an image. You should look for a minimum of 1000:1 and know that as the numbers go up, the black levels-and the sharpness of the picture-increase.

An LCD TV may not perform well in a bright room, because room lighting can overwhelm the backlight used in the screen. Don't let this discourage you from buying an LCD TV; DLP TVs and projection sets suffer from the same problems and cost a lot more. You'll just need to think about where you'll set up an LCD TV, making sure to keep the screen shaded from direct sunlight and bright room lights.

LCD TV Screen Size
The most popular LCD TV screens are 32", 42" and 46". Thanks to mass production, this is where you'll find the best values. LCD TV screens are measured diagonally, and the widescreen format means that the picture is about 11% smaller than the one on a standard definition TV.

One rule of thumb is to match the height of a standard-definition TV screen to the height of an LCD TV screen to get the same viewing area. If you've got a 32" standard TV at home, you'll want a 40" LCD TV to get the same screen height. For most living rooms, a 42" or 46" LCD TV will be a minimum.

How far you'll sit from the screen is a factor. If you want to get all the detail and immersion that LCD TV can offer, you'll want to sit roughly 3.3 times the height of the screen, measured from bottom to top, from the set. You can shortcut the math by doubling the diagonal measurement of an LCD TV screen and setting that as the maximum viewing distance. For example, the maximum ideal viewing distance for a 32" LCD TV would be 64", or about 5 ½ feet.

Buying a screen that's too big can be a problem, because the pixels and edge correction used in LCD TV screens becomes distracting when you sit too close. The amount of pixilation varies among LCD TV models. Try to watch an LCD TV in a store from the same distance you'll watch it at home. If blur and pixilation are a problem in your desired screen size, consider going one size smaller.

1080p or not 1080p?
Should you spend more for a 1080p LCD TV? It depends. Resolution measures the number of horizontal pixels in an LCD TV display. More pixels mean a better picture and a higher price tag.

The most common LCD TV resolutions are 720p and 1080p. The 1080i resolution is on the endangered species list, as LCD TV manufacturers prefer to charge a premium for 1080p resolution. In practical terms, nobody is broadcasting in 1080p and nobody plans to do so. The only source that will fully tap that 1080p capacity is a Blu-ray DVD player.

A 1080p LCD TV does have a better picture, but you won't notice it on screen sizes below 40". Some people can't tell the difference at all, so again, it pays to look at the pictures on LCD TV screens to see if you notice the difference. If they all look the same to you, you can save the extra money or get a larger 720p screen.

If you're getting your HDTV through cable, it's probably not worth paying extra for 1080p. Because HDTV signals use a lot of data, cable providers compress the signal, which results in a loss of image quality. If you're hooking an antenna or satellite receiver to your LCD TV, this isn't an issue.

Mounting the TV
You've got two choices when it comes to setting up an LCD TV: using the included stand or mounting it on the wall. Using the stand may let you save by getting a smaller LCD TV, since you can set it two feet away from the wall. Wall mounting saves space in your living room but increases the viewing distance and makes it difficult to relocate the LCD TV.

For a freestanding LCD TV, you need a cart or media center that can support its weight. You can check the weight of LCD TVs on Web sites and on the packaging.

If you decide to mount the LCD TV on a wall, hire a professional to do the job. Incorrect mounting will destroy your LCD TV and your home.

HDMI and 120hz
High Definition Multimedia Input (HDMI) is a new connection that passes vast amounts of audio and video data through a single, bundled cable. Look for at least two HDMI inputs on any LCD TV, along with two composite video connections for HD components that lack HDMI.

The latest development is 120hz screen refresh rates. While these don't do much for video, they make a world of difference with DVD movies, which can look as smooth and crisp as a video game.

Until now, TVs had a refresh rate of 60 frames per second, or 60hz. Since films are shot at 24 frames per second, their speed had to be altered to display on televisions, which resulted in jerky motion, particularly during camera moves. The new 120hz rate doubles the number of frames shown per second, but more importantly it's a multiple of 24, allowing films to be shown at their proper speed.

Not everyone is crazy about the new technology. Purists argue that 120hz destroys the filmmaker's intent, while others are immediately hooked by the smooth presentation. This feature will add $200 to $400 to the cost of an LCD, so make sure you'll use it if you decide to get it.

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