What are Flat Screen TV Classes

If you're shopping for a flat screen TV, you've probably noticed the word "class" popping up at retail, usually next to the screens measurement, as in "40-inch class." What is class and what does it mean to you?

It helps to know that TV screen sizes are measured diagonally and that the measurements aren't absolute. Variations in the display technology and the bezel that encases the screen allow some manufacturers to utilize more of an LCD or plasma panel than others. What's advertised as a 32" HDTV may only have a useful screen area of 30.5 inches, or it could have a screen of 32.5 inches.

The word "class" is used to group screens into similar sizes to make it easier to compare prices. As a general rule, you won't find significant differences in most class sizes, although the narrow range between 40" and 42" screens should be carefully considered. In some cases, you may find a good 40" display that's close in viewable area to a 42" screen for a few hundred dollars less.

The best way to sort out screen sizes is to bring along a tape measure and measure diagonally from the lower corner of the display panel, not the bezel, to the opposite upper corner (lower left to upper right, for example. Use a gentle touch with LCDs to avoid damaging the screen. If the viewable area of the screen is two inches or more less than its class size, it means that either the manufacturer or the retailer is including the bezel in the diagonal measurement. Since there's no image in the bezel, it's not necessarily a good deal.

Some HDTVs will appear to have a larger display than others in the store. Sometimes this is due to a slightly larger display panel, but it could also be due to a thinner bezel or a lighter bezel color, both of which trick the eye into thinking the screen is larger than it really is.

When you're shopping, start out by picking a screen class, then stick to it and look for image quality, not display size. Remember that your HDTV won't be competing with a sea of other sets in your home, and find the one that looks best to your eye and your budget.

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