My Dad is very proud of the fact that one of the TVs he has is 32 years old. It's a push button Hitachi with 8 Channel buttons across the front and a dial for colour and contrast. At 21", it wasn't a bad sized screen for the time and the tube warmed up really quickly so the snowy picture was ready to watch within the time it takes to make a cup of tea!
Now, although 32 years is pretty impressive, Dad ignores two things. One, it only gets watched once per year (Eastenders on Christmas Day) and two, he'd dearly love for it to blow up so he can replace it with a nice flatscreen.
Flat screen TVs have been around for a while now, but popular since 2003 and the market exploded in about 2007. A lot of us were quite happy not to wait for our big boxy TVs to blow up; we wanted that lovely big 40" flatscreen right now!
For those who have been patient and waited until now, they are rewarded with cheaper prices and much improved technology over what went before. A good 32" flatscreen in 2005 sold for about £800. Now that same set, with a few improvements can be found for £300 and £1000 buys a really lovely set.
Like all electronics these days, there are a lot of acronyms and technical terms being thrown around which the high street sales guy will enjoy confusing their customers with, but the good news is, with just a little bit of jargon learned, buying the best TV for you shouldn't be all that hard.
Now if you don't have a flatscreen yet, like I said before, your patience has been rewarded. It's now possible to buy a 32" television for under £300. Not a rubbish one either, something branded that won't break. Want something bigger? Well, entry level 40" screens can be had for under £500 now and 42" to 50" screens are not much more! Yes, the really big stuff is still quite pricey, but if you can afford that enormous living room, you can afford the screen, right?
So how big should you go? Well, in the big showrooms, a 40" TV can actually look quite small - what you need to do is imagine it in your living room. Perhaps measure the distance between your sofa and the TV table and then try to position yourself a similar distance away from the screen in the store, then check that the screen doesn't feel too far away or that it might be too big.
What you want is for the viewing to be immersive, but comfortable. If you find you have to move your eyes around to take in the whole screen, then you may find prolonged viewing uncomfortable. Likewise if you find you have to squint.
For a lot of us in the UK, our houses were built before anyone knew we'd all have a cinema in our front rooms, so simply taking some measurements to make sure the screen will fit where it's intended will be a good start.
HD Ready, Full HD, 1080p, 720p
The big selling point of flatscreens for the last few years has been 'HD' or 'High Definition'.
What is high definition? Put simply, it's a sharper picture allowing for more detailed colourful viewing (if you're into surround-sound, there are advantages there too, but that's another article).
So what on Earth is the above jargon all about?!
If you buy a TV labelled with any of the above, then your new TV will be capable of displaying high definition pictures. If you buy one labelled 'HD Ready' or 'Full HD', then they conform to the UK's standards for connecting to HD video sources (which we'll talk about in the moment).
1080p and 720p are different standards referring to the number of horizontal lines used to make up the picture that you're watching. 1080p used to be a lot more expensive, but the gap has closed now and certainly above 37" screens, it's hard to buy a 720p screen now.
Now, if this were an article for geeky types, there is loads more detail we could go into on these HD standards - however the important thing to note when you're buying a TV is it should be labelled either 'HD Ready' or 'Full HD'. If you're buying a TV 37" or greater, I recommend getting one labelled 'Full HD 1080p', but any size less than that, 720p is absolutely fine and you'd be hard pushed to spot the difference.
Am I Watching HD now?
I read somewhere that 65% of people in the UK who own HD televisions believe that they are watching high definition television. Not true I'm afraid.
All TV models in the UK come with a built in 'Freeview' tuner to watch digital television. This is standard definition (which if we're talking numbers is 480p or 576p for DVD players).
Standard definition TV looks fine on most TVs. However, those who can't afford a lovely 60" screen will be pleased to note that their 32" makes a much better job of it - big TVs show up all the flaws in a standard picture and if you fill your tiny box room with a 50" TV, you'll find it's like watching legovision. Another reason to get that screen size right.
When you're in the store, check out their demos of High Definition. Done well, it's truely stunning. I love watching Nature Documentaries like 'Earth' in HD and sports and movies can look pretty awesome as well. The only way to watch HD though, is to have an HD source. I'll look at these in future, but here's a few common sources:
- Sky HD
- Virgin V+
- BluRay Players
- Freeview HD (limited service across the UK)
- FreeSat HD
60hz, 100hz, 200hz, 600hz!!!
Okay, the last bit of jargon you need to know in order to stand up to the salesman.
The title above, when it comes to advertising, is referring to the quality of the moving picture. However, it is almost deliberately confusing. In 2008 when I bought my television, you could buy the standard model and the 100hz version (hz = hertz). There was quite a price difference and I spent weeks reading the expert opinions on each of the TVs to find out if it was worth paying the difference. Eventually in frustration I spent an hour in the store watching one with 100hz and one without, couldn't tell the difference and went without. 2 years down the line, all my friends have 100hz models and although in some cases I can see it, I'm really not that bothered. What I'm trying to say is, a lot of fuss is made, but the differences are minor.
I would suggest that if you're looking to buy a TV on a budget (say a 32" around £300 or a 40" around £500, don't worry if 100hz isn't mentioned, but if it is, bonus!).
For those who are interested, it's all about how fast the TV is drawing the picture. The faster it draws, the smoother it looks and also the blur that older models used to suffer is reduced. Certainly I'm told it works well for sports like football. If you just watch soap operas, you'll never notice.
Don't fall for the 600hz thing though. It's using a completely different measurement to the 100hz and 200hz and the marketing types have jumped on it. Might as well compare a car to a cooker.
LCD, Plasma, LED
There are two common types of flatscreen TV. By far the most popular is LCD. In fact, if you're sticking under the £1000 mark, you can almost skip this paragraph. LCD is the simplest choice.
Plasma screens used to appeal to technical types because it does deeper blacks and is also more naturally capable when it comes to moving pictures. However, LCD caught up and when it comes to all but the biggest screens, I would choose LCD. If anyone in the family plays video games, definitely choose LCD, otherwise you could find that 'Paused' screen burned into your TV after you turn it off!
Televisions advertised as LED are actually referring to the light behind (or around) the screen. LED sets tend to use less electricity and weigh a lot less as they use tiny LEDs all the way round the screen, or arrays of hundreds across the whole back of the screen to provide the light. Non-LED ones use lights similar to a traditional fluorescent light.
The advantages of LED are that they're cheaper to run, the TVs are thinner and lighter (more suited to wall mounting) and in the case of the 'Full LED' ones, the pictures are incredible, as dark parts of a picture can be dimmed individually.
If you have £1000 (UPDATE: Prices are falling, these are around £800 now! Oct 2010) to play with, definitely check out Samsung's 40" LED offerings. Yes, £1000 will buy you a bigger screen, but 40" is not tiny and it really is a step up in picture quality.
So with all that in mind, here's a checklist to keep with you when braving the sales people!
Screen Size: Measure the TVs dimensions and your sofa's distance from it
HD: Make sure your chosen unit is labelled 'HD Ready' or 'Full HD' - even if you dont' intend on using HD just yet.
100hz/200hz - Spending over £1000? Check out the difference yourself between 100hz and 200hz
LCD or Plasma - Keep it simple if you're not sure - LCD is the market leader and available in all sizes
Brands: Brand leaders are currently Sony, Samsung and Toshiba. All do TVs in all price points.
Hope this helps!
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Featured image used under 'Creative Commons' license. Thanks to nep.