Television Buying Guide

by Staff Writer

The latest televisions have made some major strides in picture quality, and they're loaded with features. Even better, the prices keep going down a bit more every year, so high-definition technology is more affordable than ever. This television buying guide will give you information on how to choose a TV that's just right for you and your home.

How to Choose a Television:

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  • Screen size:

    TV sizes are based on the diagonal measurement of the screen, and the screens range from about 20 inches up to 80 inches or more. To determine the best screen size, consider the distance between the television screen and viewers, where you'll be placing the TV, and what you like to watch.

Choosing the Right Size TV:

Viewing distance:

The distance between your TV and seating area is the main factor that will help you choose a size. An easy equation is to divide the viewing distance (in inches) in half and that's the smallest screen size that would work well. Here's a chart to help you determine an approximate size.

Viewing Distance Minimum TV Screen Size
5 feet (60 inches) 30 inches
6 feet (72 inches) 36 inches
7 feet (84 inches) 42 inches
8 feet (96 inches) 48 inches
9 feet (108 inches) 54 inches
10 feet (120 inches) 60 inches
12 feet (144 inches) 72 inches

Placement: Will you be using the stand the TV comes with or will you be hanging it on the wall? If you want to place the TV on an entertainment center using the stand, the screen will be lower, and it could be a bit smaller. If you want to hang the TV on a wall, for example above a fireplace, the screen will be higher, so it should be larger.

What you watch: If you're planning to watch Blu-ray movies on your TV, you'll want a larger screen, so you can enjoy a theater-like experience at home. But if you mainly need a television to watch the local news, you could save a bit of money and buy a smaller TV.

  • Number of HDMI ports:

    HDMI is currently the most popular cable type for connecting your TV to other devices, like Blu-ray players, video game consoles, home theater receivers, and many other audio and video sources. HDMI carries both digital audio and video signals. The number of HDMI ports matters if you have several devices to connect, so be sure to consider how many things you have and how many of those you want to use at the same time. Most HDTVs still have ports for connecting your old DVD player or even a VCR through the red-yellow-white composite video cables, S-video cables, and coaxial cables.

  • Screen resolution:

    HDTV screen resolution is listed as the number of pixels in the horizontal dimension. The higher the resolution, the clearer and more detailed the picture.

HDTV Native Resolutions:

720i: Old CRT televisions used to divide the picture into odd and even lines. There wasn't enough bandwidth in an analog signal to broadcast them all at once, so televisions would receive the odd numbered lines first and then the even lines. This is known as "interlacing." A 720i TV, in which the "i" stands for "interlaced," will have the interlace format.

720p: With newer video technology, all the lines in a picture are displayed at once, which is known as "progressive scan." A 720p HDTV uses progressive scan and has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. This is often enough for a smaller TV, but you may be able to see the pixels if you sit close.

1080p: A 1080p HDTV uses progressive scan and has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. You'll notice the higher definition of this resolution on TVs larger than 40 inches. Many devices support 1080p resolution, so check to see if yours will before you buy a TV.

Ultra HD: Also known as 4K, this is the latest in HD technology. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels.

  • Weight:

    If you plan to mount your flat panel TV, note its weight. Different wall mounts have different weight ratings. If you aren't going to mount the TV but you have small children in the house, be sure to secure the television, so children can't pull it down onto themselves.

Types of Televisions:

  • Plasma televisions:

    Plasma TVs have no backlight to illuminate the television screen. The plasma cells themselves glow. These glowing plasma cells make up the pixels for the entire television screen.

Plasma TV Features:

Plasmas use more energy than LCD TVs, and they tend to give off more heat as well.

Plasma televisions feature a high contrast ratio and superior response time, which translates into great color reproduction and less motion-blur or "ghosting" effects in the picture.

Plasma TVs have glass screens, so they tend to be heavier than LCD TVs.

  • LCD TVs:

    LCD TVs use liquid crystal to make up the pixels in the screen.

  • LCD Features:

    LCD televisions are lighter, cooler, and more energy-efficient than plasma TVs of the same size.

    A LCD flat-panel TV uses backlighting, which can affect the picture quality and contrast. LED backlit LCD TVs have better contrast ratios.

    LCDs used to lag behind plasma TVs when it came to response time and motion-blur, but most new LCD TVs correct for these problems and have superior image processing and response time.

    • OLED TVs:

      OLED Organic Light Emitting Diode) televisions are ultra-thin and the picture quality is the best available.

    OLED Features:

    OLED TVs are self-illuminating and do not need backlights.

    They are the most energy efficient TV.

    This new technology comes with a large price tag, so not many people are buying these yet.

    • 3D TVs:

      Like 3D movies, some people enjoy this technology, but not every viewer feels like it's necessary. You may see a few 3D TVs for sale, but they're aren't the most popular. If you're a fan of the technology, however, you'll want to think about these features while you shop.

    3D Features:

    You'll need to wear 3D glasses while you watch TV if you want to actually see things in 3D.

    You can still watch 2D programming on 3D TVs, and it will look incredible.

    3D is often just an added feature on higher end televisions.