LCD TV buying guide

Expert advice on buying an LCD TV

Does size matter?

It seems like a basic question but the size of the LCD TV that you decide to buy is very important. The first impulse for many people is to get the biggest TV they can find within their budget. However, you really need to think about the environment you are going to use it in. A massive unit is entirely inappropriate for a small lounge room because not only will it take up a lot of room but chances are the viewer will be sitting too close, making even the slightest image flaw overt. Consider getting a smaller unit for the same price as the larger one. The extra cost will, in most cases, equate to a better quality image.

Currently, LCD TVs range in size from 19in (48cm) through to 70in (178cm) measured diagonally across the panel. However, it seems the majority of units sold tend to be at the 42in (107cm) mark. For an average-sized lounge room, you will want to get a set around the 32in to 42in size. Prices really start to rise above the 46in mark, with 52in models such as Samsung's Series 8 (LA52A850) at least a thousand dollars more expensive than the next cheapest model (at press time).

Is the native resolution really High Definition?

There has always been confusion around defining High Definition, with terms like "HD capable", "HD ready", "True HD" and "Full HD" bandied around carelessly. If you don't know exactly what you want, you may be walking away with an inferior model.

Ask the salesperson what the native resolution of the unit is. The native resolution is the number of pixels on the panel rather than the maximum resolution that the television can accept. This is measured as Width x Height. The native resolution of Blu-ray movies is 1920x1080 pixels — this is the 1080p "Full HD" resolution offered by top-level televisions. If you want to view these movies without any scaling or softening taking place, you will require a television that has this native resolution. You may find it marketed as "1080p", "Full HD" or any other of a range of names depending on the store you are visiting. At the moment, everything from video cameras to games consoles is moving to support the 1080p standard. This means that if you want to have the best quality images on-screen, one of these models is an easy choice.

The next step down in High Definition television sets is 1366x768 — many mid-level LCD televisions use this resolution. This is similar to the 720p High Definition standard and a similar quality image will be displayed.

The lowest High Definition resolution is 1280x720 pixels, commonly known as 720p. Plenty of entry- and mid-level televisions use 720p panels and all Blu-ray players can easily be configured to output video in 720p resolution. This makes a 720p television a good choice if you do not want to buy an expensive 1080p screen.

TVs under the 720 vertical pixel mark are either ‘standard’ or ‘enhanced’ definition and will only be good for watching DVDs or Standard Definition free-to-air television. The confusion lies in the claims made by some manufacturers that these units are HD Capable. However, instead of showing HD content at its original quality the signal is reduced in quality through a scaling (compression) process. As this image is compressed to a lower resolution, many other image problems can be introduced, such as jaggedness and distortion.

Standard Definition televisions are much cheaper than their High Definition counterparts. If you have no interest in watching HD content or Blu-Ray movies and don’t plan to buy a new gaming console, then a Standard Definition TV may be a better choice.

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