TV Buying Guide
Buying a TV these days can be quite confusing. When you walk into a store or find a TV online, they all look similar, but how good are they really? Unfortunately, what you see is not necessarily what you get. The TV in the store with the (apparently) best picture doesn't necessarily equate to the TV that's going to give you the best viewing experience when you get it home. Also, not all salespeople know enough about the technology they are selling (especially those stores that don't just specialise in TV's).
Follow our TV buying guide below to arm yourself with the information to get the best for TV for you, at the best price.
Forget all the jargon and sales-speak, the 5 most important items to consider are when purchasing a TV are:
- What picture quality do you need?
- Where do you want to put your TV?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What other devices are you going to connect to your TV?
- How are you going to get your new TV home?
Once you have this figured out, you can start on the detailed questions:
- Standard vs. Widescreen?
- Plasma vs. LCD?
- Warranty/Extended Service?
- Ease of Use (including the remote control)?
TV's basically fall into three different categories of picture quality:
- Standard definition
- HD-Ready (High Definition Ready)
- High Definition
Just because you have a high definition capable TV doesn't mean that what you watch is always in high definition.
The type of content you watch is a good guide for the level of picture quality you really need. For instance, DVD's are recorded in standard definition, and a High Definition TV isn't going to look much better compared to a Standard Definition TV. Also, the inputs used to connect your TV to the source play a big role in the picture quality you see on the screen. Digital TV through a low quality television can still look better than a bad antenna connection through a HDTV. So, it is important to use the best input type your TV has if you want to improve the picture quality. For more information about TV inputs and their effect on picture quality see here.
See table below for some advice on the necessary features of a TV for the type of TV you watch:
|Type of TV you watch||Necessary Features|
|Free To Air Standard TV||
|Free To Air Digital TV||
|Cable - Standard TV||
|Cable - Digital TV||
|Blu-ray or HD-DVD|
Other things that can impact picture quality is the way the TV is set up and this makes it hard to pick the TV with the best picture quality from the store. Not only do many of the televisions you see on display share one video cable that is split between all the TVs, the input connector they use is generally composite which is not the best input the TV can use. When you are in the store there are some things you can try to help compare the picture quality between TVs. These are:
- Bring your own DVD - bring a DVD that you like to watch and compare it on a number of different TVs. I like to bring Star Wars Episode 3 as it has lots of black so I can compare the contrast levels. DVDs provide the best picture without having a digital signal which is something the store may not have.
- Brightness settings - When you are in the store check the brightness settings on the TV. In a lot of stores all the TVs brightness levels are set to the highest setting so they can look best in a brightly lit room. See if you can reduce the brightness setting on the TVs you are comparing to get a more accurate comparison. As a note the brightness, contrast and colour settings should all be roughly equal.
- Screen flatness - when buying a CRT TV (plasma, LCDs and rear-projection are already flat) it is worth considering a flat tube or flat screen TV. This is important because the flatter the tube the less object shape distortion you will see on the screen, as well as the less glare you will get from sunlight and overhead lights.
- Comb filter - The comb filter is used to separate luminance and color information from an analogue video signal. This step is helpful for converting to digital for further processing and/or transmission through a Home Theater system. Comb filtering is irrelevant when the video source is digital (e.g. DVI-D) or transmitted from a video source that has already separated luminance from color (e.g. an S-Video cable). Look for the presence of a comb filter, especially on larger screen TVs if you are not using a digital source or S-Video connector as fuzziness around the edges of images can appear. The are different types of comb filters which include in order of increasing quality two-line, three-line, digital, and 3D YC.
- Progressive scan - Check if the TV has progressive scan this will make the picture look clearer than those without it. Progressive scan is usually associated with DVD players that have component video outputs. All scan lines are created simultaneously by a progressive scan player so that TV's (such as HDTV or EDTV) can display the progressive video signal expressed as 480p as opposed to the NTSC standard of 480i which a video component without progressive scan will produce.
One of the most important things to consider when buying a TV is where are you going to put it. This decision alone could tell you which TV type you should be looking for. The size of the TV, the distance between the TV and the couch and how much sunlight will stream across the room all play an important role.
- Decide where you want your TV to go and determine how much sunlight will stream across the screen. Glare from the sunlight will cause the picture on some TV types to appear washed out and difficult to see. Though plasma and LCD TVs are not really affected by this, it is still not a good idea to put them in direct sunlight. If there is a lot of sunlight hitting the screen and there are no blinds that can be drawn, try putting the TV in a different position or swapping the TV and the couch.
- Measure the distance between where you want to put your TV and the couch. The bigger the TV the more distance that is required between the couch and the TV. This measurement will help decide the size of the TV you are looking for. Remember, that if you are thinking about a regular CRT or rear-projection TV the bigger they get, the deeper they get, so keep this in mind when estimating the distance. As a rule of thumb you should sit 2 times the diagonal screen width of the TV for TVs less than 106cm and 3 times the diagonal screen width for TVs larger than this.
|36 cm (14 inches)||72 cm|
|51 cm (20 inches)||102 cm|
|68 cm (27 inches)||136 cm|
|80 cm (32 inches)||160 cm|
|93 cm (37 inches)||186 cm|
|106 cm (42 inches)||318 cm|
|119 cm (47 inches)||357 cm|
|140 cm (55 inches)||420 cm|
|155 cm (61 inches)||465 cm|
|165 cm (65 inches)||495 cm|
- Now that you know the distance between the TV and the couch you can work out the approximate size of the TV you are looking for. I know it is tempting to buy the biggest TV you can afford but this could make TV watching uncomfortable if you are forced to sit too close to the TV. Also, sitting too close to a standard definition TV will mean that you will start to notice flaws in the picture quality, thus the farther away you sit the better it will look. Conversely, squinting at a TV that is too small for the room means can cause eyestrain.
- Once you have an idea of the TV size you want remember to measure the existing TV stand, cabinet or wall space to ensure it is big enough to hold your new TV. Is there enough room for the TV cables to be plugged in behind the TV, and is there enough room behind the TV for ventilation?
We would all like to be in the situation where money is no object, and we could just the buy the best TV on the market, but for the rest of us, our ultimate buying decision is going to be controlled by our budget. We have provided a guide (see below) to the best types of TV for your budget. Remember, prices change all the time and specials or bargaining with a salesperson can make a big difference to what you may see here. The point to remember, is that you generally get what you pay for. That bargain priced TV you see may be cheaper because it's based on older or inferior technology, have a lower resolution, or not have the required inputs for the accessories you use.
|What you can get|
|$250 - $500||
|$500 - $1000||
|$1000 - $1500||
|$1500 - $2000||
|$2000 - $3000||
|$3000 - $4000||
Most TV's today are not used in isolation. With more and more people enjoying the benefits of home theatre and using their TV as a computer monitor, it is worth looking taking a look round the back to see what connectors you get with it. Modern TV's now come with a bewildering array of audio and video inputs supporting various technologies. See here for our guide of what they look like and what they all do.
When deciding which inputs you require your TV to have it is worth looking at the items you are going to connect to your TV. Not just now but potentially in the future. Do you have or are you planning to have a receiver/amplifier, camcorder, PS2, PS3, XBox, Game Cube, DVD player, video recorder, MP3 player, Blu-ray player or an entertainment PC that you will use with your TV? If so, you need to understand which inputs these components have so that the TV you purchase can accommodate these. If you want a TV that will last a little way into the future it is worth paying the little extra for a TV with a DVI or HDMI inputs so that you are equipped when HD (high definition) components are more readily available.
OK, so you have just completed the purchase of your shiny new TV, but have you thought through how you are going to get it home? With some TV's and their packaging taking up a large amount of space, getting it home can prove a challenge. It is not uncommon for someone to ask the nice salesperson to help them get their new purchase into their car only to realise that it doesn't fit. Or, having got it home, realising that they can't get it inside without help. To avoid these delivery dramas, keep these points in mind:
TVs are heavy and bulky, even the latest Plasma and LCD TV's. Moving a TV is generally a two person job so plan for it. Don't try and move it by yourself, as dropping your new purchase also wouldn't be much fun.
Do not lie a Plasma or LCD TV screen flat. Keep it upright at all times - even in the car on the way home.
If you are going to transport your new TV yourself, make sure your vehicle is large enough to fit the TV. Most small to medium sized cars cannot fit a TV larger than 50cm to 68cm in the front seat (there is a lot of room inside the car, it's getting it through the door that is usually the problem) or the boot (even opened with a tie-down). If you have a 4WD, SUV or large hatchback, you should be able to accommodate an 81 cm TV without too much trouble. Resist the urge to take the TV out of its packaging to get it into the car - the packaging is there to ensure that your TV makes it home undamaged.
Even if your car is large enough to transport your new TV, it is worth asking about free delivery. If the store offers a delivery service, resist the urge to get your new purchase home as fast as possible, and take advantage of their experience (and insurance). Plasma and LCD TV's, with their narrow profile and large thin glass area are fragile - and your warranty won't cover you for damage caused by you while in transit.
TV's today come in two formats:
- Standard - also known as 4:3, i.e. four cm of width for every 3 cm of height.
- Widescreen - generally 16:9, i.e. 16 cm of width for every 9 inches of height.
There is a huge back-catalog of TV shows recorded in 4:3 format. But with the increasing number widescreen TV's being sold (almost all large screen plasma, LCD and rear-projection TV's are widescreen), there is a strong shift towards widescreen format for newly recorded shows. Also, the majority of modern era DVD movies and Blu-ray discs are in widescreen format.
So, what happens when you view a 4:3 formatted picture on a 16:9 screen and vice versa? If you are watching a standard TV picture on a widescreen TV there will be window-box bars placed on either side of the image. Most widescreen TV's have the ability to zoom or stretch the image to remove the bars - though this will cause the picture to be slightly distorted (everyone on the TV will look fatter and shorter). Whereas if you watch a 16:9 picture on a 4:3 TV then you will have black bars appearing above and below the image, also known as letterbox format.
See our Plasma vs. LCD guide.
TV's capable of displaying more that 720 horizontal lines (e.g. 720p, 1080i and 1080p) are described as high definition. Resolutions falling below 720p are described as either Standard Definition or Enhanced Definition TV. The number of lines on the screen are doubled so the spaces between the lines are effectively closed appearing as one clear picture. For more information see our display resolutions page.
1080p TV's are more common these days, with the majority of TVs out on the market now HDTV Ready which means they can accept a high definition signal but downscale it to the resolution the TV can display. To view high definition broadcasts you will require a high definition tuner or a high definition set-top box. These are of course more expensive than the equivalent standard definition models but are reducing in price all the time.
Many people want to buy a HDTV for a better home theatre experience when watching DVDs. This is a myth as DVDs are actually recorded in standard definition thus sometimes watching a DVD through a HDTV will look worse as you can see all the flaws in the recording. To make the most of your HDTV you will need to purchase HD-DVDs or Blu-ray discs.
When buying a TV it is a good idea to check how long the TV is under warranty for and what the warranty covers. Some manufactures have a warranty for 3 years whilst others are only for 1 year. Sometimes the store from which you buy the TV from may offer an extended warranty above the manufacturers warranty but this is usually at a cost. It is worth paying for the extended warranty if the TV you are purchasing is greater than $1,000. This is especially true for LCD and Plasma TVs as these are one, integrated piece that if something malfunctions most commonly the whole unit needs replacing. Usually the extended warranty covers replacement of the TV if it can't be fixed, a home servicing option and a pick-up and delivery option if the TV needs replacing. Some also offer a loan TV whilst your television is being repaired.
The extended warranty offered by stores is on occasion outsourced to another company. This is not an issue though it may be worth knowing who is actually responsible for providing the service should anything go wrong. Also, be mindful when purchasing TVs off the internet or on auction sites, though warranties are promised these aren't always followed through.
After buying your TV remember to think about any additional accessories you may need to set up your new television. There is nothing worse than finally getting your TV home and not being able to play with it. Some items you may need are cables for audio and video (e.g. component cables, S-Video, DVI), cable ties to keep all the cables neat and tidy or a power board with surge protection. Check the contents of the box to determine which cables your TV actually comes with as some come with a variety of cables depending on the inputs of the TV. Other items to consider are mounting brackets for LCD and Plasma TVs, TV stands or cabinets or a universal remote control (for when the number of remote controls on your coffee table gets out of control).
Though it may not be the most important thing to consider when buying a TV, how easy it is to use the TV still should be given some thought. When deciding which TV to buy it is worth looking at the menu structure of the TV and how easy it is to change options and settings. Items like changing inputs, changing brightness and contrast, how to view picture-in-picture or teletext (if you TV supports these features) are good items to test whilst in the store.
The TV's remote control is another item to help you assess how easy it is to operate the TV. Test the features of the TV by using the remote and see how intuitive it is. Ask the salesperson for some help if you are unsure what some of the buttons do. Also, check to see if the same functions offered on the remote control are also available on the TV itself - this is useful if the remote is misplaced.