A decade back if someone had told me that your average middle-class Indian wouldn't mind paying the price of a premium motorcycle for a TV set, I would have laughed him right out the room. The fact is that these days it's not uncommon to splurge 60-70 grand on a 42″ or 46″ TV. One would assume that the dramatically higher investment must have mobilised the consumer into making prudent and well-researched decisions. Unfortunately, that's far from the truth. The influx of new display technologies and the resultant technical mumbo-jumbo has only furthered the consumers' confusion and ignorance towards the subject. Don't worry though, because tech2's here to simplify TV shopping and explain what you must consider before choosing the right one for your needs and budget.
Choosing the Right Size
Like they say, size does matter. This is especially true when the price you pay rises at a geometric progression with every increasing inch of the display panel's diagonal size. The idea is to buy a TV that's appropriate for the size of your room. The best measure for this is how far away is the ideal viewing position (aka the couch) located from your would-be TV set. The viewing distance is of utmost importance because a TV that's too small will make you squint and strain to focus on the details, whereas one that's too large for the room is equally uncomfortable to view. A display of the right size will fill your field of vision without being too small or large to be comfortable.
If the remote doesn't work, you're probably too far away from the TV. Either that, or you need new batteries (Credit: Getty Images)
Thankfully, there's an easy way to gauge the right display dimensions. The good people at THX have devised a handy formula to calculate the ideal size from the viewing distance. Simply multiply the distance between the TV and the seating position (in inches) by 0.84 and you'll get the ideal screen dimensions (diagonal size in inches, of course) when you round off the figure. For example, if the viewing distance is 4 feet away (50″, approx) the ideal TV size is 42″, whereas a TV set placed 6.5 feet away (77″, approx) needs to be 65″ diagonally. What you should take away from this is the sheer amount of money you stand to save if you simply move your couch a bit closer to the screen.
If you are too lazy to calculate, you may want to check out this handy THX-recommended cheat sheet:
- 35″ class TV: 3.5-5 feet away
- 40″ class TV: 4-6 feet away
- 50″ class TV: 5-7.5 feet away
- 60″ class TV: 6-9 feet way
Don't Fall for the Showroom Glitz
The worst thing you can possibly do is head over to your local electronics showroom and make up your mind by visually inspecting the huge array of TV sets on display. Make no mistake; the apparent performance of a TV set in the showroom has no bearing on its actual visual fidelity. A TV that seems brilliant in the shop may just turn out to be the worst one of the lot, and vice versa. This is simply because lighting conditions in a showroom vastly differ from those in an average living room. Manufacturers therefore crank the brightness and contrast settings to chronically high levels to overcome such aggressive lighting.
Whether it's relationships or the sales pitch of a TV salesman, they're all full of lies (Credit: Getty Images)
Needless to say, there is absolutely no way to gauge the TV's performance in a showroom, so don't base your judgment on shop displays where the colour, brightness and contrast levels are overly sexed up to stand out from the crowd. It is of utmost importance to manually calibrate your TV, because the default viewing modes possess exaggerated showroom-optimised settings that are just downright horrible and inaccurate to watch on a daily basis.
LCD or Plasma
I am well aware of the sun setting on plasma technology, with many manufacturers having already pulled out and others being keen on following suit. The fact, however, remains that it is vastly superior to LCD tech in all the parameters that matter. For starters, being an emissive display type (where the pixels themselves emit light) plasma technology has none of the bleeding or flickering issues associated with LCD backlighting. The colours are considerably richer than its LCD rivals, and it's much better at generating pure blacks as well. The all important viewing angles too are wider than its LCD counterparts, and they show no sign of ghosting or slow response times suffered by LCD panels either. In fact, modern LCDs have just begun to catch up with plasma TVs in terms of picture quality.
On the flip side, plasma displays consume a lot of energy and aren't ideal for really bright rooms, whereas the burn in (image retention) issue has largely been addressed in newer models. You might ask why they aren't nearly as popular as their LCD counterparts then. Well, that's because life isn't fair and excellence rarely translates into success. If you are a stickler for image quality, you might want to opt for a plasma panel. However, LCD displays are the ones to go for if you are more concerned about electricity bills.
Modern plasma TVs have addressed image retention issues. I mean, you sure don't want THIS burned in permanently on your TV.
Resolution and Other Display Considerations
Flat panel TV sets are widely available in HD and Full HD variants with pixel dimensions of 1280×720 (HD) and 1920×1080 (Full HD) differentiating the two. As a thumb rule, the greater the number of pixels, the better is the sharpness and detail afforded by the display. That's why a 32″ TV sporting a 1080p panel will have a much higher resolution than the same TV with a 720p panel. Considering the negligible price difference between HD and Full HD TVs, and the fact that anything larger than 40″ bears a Full HD panel these days, it's better to opt for a TV that natively supports the Full HD standard.
If you opt for an LCD TV, you are further spoiled for choice in terms of different backlight technologies. Plain vanilla CCFL-backlit (your average fluorescent lamp) LCD panels are less durable and consume a bit more electricity than the new-fangled LED-backlit LCDs, which come in edge-lit and full-array backlit variants. Edge-lit models have LED lighting only along the edges, whereas their full-array counterparts cover the middle of the screen as well for more uniform lighting and sometimes even localised backlight control. You'd be surprised to know that despite the massive difference in price between regular CCFL-backlit and LED-backlit LCD TV sets, there isn't any real difference in picture quality between the two variants. It is only when you move to the prohibitively more expensive full-array LED-backlit panels that you get some palpable benefit. These displays feature local dimming of the LED diodes, which allows the display to reproduce richer blacks and save even more electricity.
The 3D TV technology make all this and chronic headaches possible
All types of panels either come in glossy (mostly plasma TVs) or matte variants. Glossy displays are ideal to preserve the integrity of blacks and also make the colours pop out unhindered. On the down side, these panels tend to be extremely susceptible to glare and reflections. Modern glossy plasma panels compensate by employing high-tech anti-reflective and anti-glare coatings, though. Matte displays, on the other hand, may reduce glare and reflections, but an aggressive matte coating can affect sharpness and diminish the integrity of whites, as well as hinder black levels. It's wiser to opt for glossy displays if you have ideal lighting conditions and no instances of glare and reflections.
To 3D or Not to 3D
There's absolutely no final verdict on this issue, so it's all down to your subjective preferences. I personally won't be caught dead with a 3D TV set, because it's extremely disorienting and gives me headaches. In addition to the relative dearth of 3D source material, picture quality is compromised with reduced sharpness, brightness, and colour accuracy—all due to the complicated nature of 3D display technology, where discrete images need to be relayed to either eye. Since this sort of stereoscopy is unnatural, the human brain perceives the relayed 3D image as an anomaly and actively tries to correct it. This is a major cause of headaches as a consequence. Moreover, doctors even advise against letting children view 3D programming, as their brain is still in the learning stages and confusing it with 3D imagery can prove detrimental.
If you still want to partake in the 3D fad, it is worthwhile to take a look at the two major 3D delivery methods. Polarised glasses (passive 3D) and those with LCD shutters (active 3D) are the current 3D systems of choice. The former is relatively low tech, but tends to consistently deliver a more stable and fatigue-free (relatively, of course) 3D experience. LCD shutter technology, however, may exhibit flickering and cause more headaches despite being complicated and expensive as well. Having said that, don't forget that a poorly implemented polarisation-based 3D solution just might not compare favourably with a well done active shutter LCD alternative. Make sure you audition the 3D TV before putting your money down for it.
Make sure your TV has at least three HDMI inputs
Connectivity, Refresh Rate, and Smart TV
HDMI is the de facto standard and therefore you need at least three of those inputs at the bare minimum for your set-top box, DVD/Blu-ray player, and video game console. If you plan to hook up your PC as well, and it's perfectly alright to do so, you may want to check out the superior DVI-D, and in some rare cases, Display Port inputs as well. These are foolproof means to get signal from your PC because the DRM-addled nature of the HDMI standard means that certain TVs (those made by Panasonic, for example) will not let you hook up a PC through the HDMI interconnect.
Additional features such as digital audio outputs and TRS stereo/headphone outputs come in handy to get a clean digital audio signal out of the TV or to connect headphones. Most modern TVs ship with USB inputs, which allow playback of various video formats. This is a boon for those who want to watch photos or downloaded movies, but don't expect them to deliver the performance and the file support of standalone devices specifically meant for the purpose.
Smart TVs generally tend to be quite expensive, so you might want to reconsider paying extra just for this feature when you can buy aftermarket boxes (or even certain Blu-ray players) that allow you to convert any regular TV set into a smart TV. These TVs incorporate Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity and support inbuilt apps to access streaming video services. At any rate, just don't expect the same level of usability and speed as your PC or smartphone and you won't be disappointed.
Smart TVs, for those who aren't smart enough to buy an outboard Smart TV box for much cheaper
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