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HDTV Buying Guide 2012

posted by Suzanne Kantra on August 09, 2012 in Music and Video, TVs & Video Players, Guides & Reviews, 3DTV :: 5 comments

Woman watching TVIf you're in the market for an HDTV and need help deciding between LCD and Plasma, or aren't sure what's the best screen size for your living room, check out our guide to HDTV Features. Or go straight to our picks for budget friendly, mid-range and high end HDTVs.

And once you make your decision for what to buy, be sure to read our HDTV shopping advice for special considerations on where to buy and whether an extended warranty makes sense.

Our Picks

To determine "Our Picks," we combine research from a wide gamut of leading technical review sources, actual owner experiences from public review forums and our own evaluation, based on decades of reviewing experience, of the products and their features.

Our goal is to select products that we believe will provide you the best ownership experience, with solid underlying functionality, expected long-term reliability and intuitive operation. In other words, we would buy these for ourselves and recommend them to friends.

In general, if we recommend one size of a particular manufacturer and model (e.g., the 50-inch Panasonic VIERA TC-P50UT50, we would also recommend other sizes of that same model line (e.g., the 55-inch Panasonic VIERA TC-P55UT50).

See our HDTV Shopping Advice at the bottom of the article for additional advice when buying through Amazon.

All prices are current as of August 7, 2012.

 

The Best Budget Friendly TVs

Samsung PN51E490Samsung 450 Series Plasma HDTV

This plasma is the best bargain going. The 43" model retails for only $549, and we've seen it below $400 on Amazon. And you won't be sacrificing image quality—it uses the same underlying panel technology that Samsung uses for its higher end plasma models.
Plasma/LCD: Plasma
Panel Resolution: 720p
3D: No
Internet Apps: No
Screen sizes in this line:
43-inch (PN43E450A1F): $549.99 ($419.76 - 24% off on Amazon)
51-inch (PN51E450A1F): $749.99 ($527.99 - 27% off on Amazon)

Panasonic Viera TC-P50XT50Panasonic VIERA XT50 Plasma HDTV

A excellent, basic plasma that gives you 3D and Internet streaming video—Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, Cinema Now—for only slightly more than the Samsung 450 Series. It's wireless ready (requires separate adapter) and you can control it with a smartphone apps.
Plasma/LCD: Plasma
Resolution: 720p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
50-inch (TC-P50XT50): $799.99 ($719.99 - 10% off on Amazon)

Samsung UN50EH5300Samsung 5300 Series LED-LCD HDTV

This high-quality 1080p resolution LCD TV with 120Hz motion technology is ready for just about anything. Samsung Hub provides access to a wide variety of Internet apps, including streamed video from Netflix, ESPN and YouTube, health apps, music and gaming. Built-in WiFi makes setup a snap.
Plasma/LCD: LED-backed LCD
Resolution: 1080p
3D: No
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
32-inch (UN32EH5300): $579.99 ($479.99 - 17% off on Amazon)
40-inch (UN40EH5300): $799.99 ($647.99 - 19% off on Amazon)
46-inch (UN46EH5300): $1,019.99 ($847.05 - 17% off on Amazon)
50-inch (UN50EH5300): $1,199.99 ($949.98 - 21% off on Amazon)
 

Panasonic Viera TC-P50UT50Panasonic VIERA UT50 Plasma HDTV

This plasma has great black levels and accurate color, which make for excellent overall 2D and 3D picture quality. You'll also get a wide variety of Internet apps, including video streaming, Skype, health, digital books for kids and games, and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.
Plasma/LCD: Plasma
Panel Resolution:
1080p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
50-inch (TC-P50UT50): $1,099.99 ($849.99 - 23% off on Amazon)
55-inch (TC-P55UT50): $1,399.99 ($1,099.99 - 21% off on Amazon)
60-inch (TC-P60UT50): $1,799.99 ($1,385.99 - 23% off on Amazon)

 

The Best Mid-range TVs: $1,000 - $2,000

Samsung PN51E6500 51-inch Plasma 3D Samsung 6500 Series Plasma HDTV

When you step up into the mid-range for plasma, you’ll find better picture quality and a notable boost in extra features. For instance a dual-core processor makes the 6500 series better for playing games and using the other Internet apps found on Samsung’s large app store. Wi-Fi comes built-in, rather than as an optional dongle. And the styling gets a boost with a sleek, thin bezel. You’ll also get two pairs of 3D glasses in the box.
Plasma/LCD: plasma
Resolution: 1080p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
51-inch (PN51E6500): $1,519.99 ($1,247.99 - 18% off on Amazon)
60-inch (PN60E6500): $2,199.99 ($1,597 - 27% off on Amazon)

LG 55LM7600 55-inch LED-LCD 3D HDTV LG LM7600 Series LED-LCD HDTV

You’ll find LED backlighting with local dimming for blacker blacks, a 240Hz refresh rate to combat motion blur and IPS panels for better off-axis viewing in the mid-range, all of which the LG LM7600 series has and uses to create a picture that really stands out. It's also a passive 3DTV, using the same type of glasses you find in most movie theaters. That makes it a much more affordable 3D option for large groups, especially with the 6 pairs of glasses packed in the box.
Plasma/LCD: LED-backed LCD with local dimming
Resolution: 1080p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
47-inch (47LM7600): $1,949.99 ($999.00 - 49% off on Amazon)
55-inch (55LM7600): $2,549.99 ($1,597.00 - 38% off on Amazon)

 

The Best High End TVs: $2,000 plus

Sony BRAVIA XBR55HX850 55-Inch LED-LCD 3D HDTVSony BRAVIA HX850 Series LED-LCD HDTV

The Sony Bravia HX850 series TVs have one of the best LED-backed LCD panels out there and, when you take into account price, they represent a great value. Here’s what you get. First, the HX850 has excellent off-axis viewing for an LCD TV. It's one of the only sets topped off with scratch-resistant Gorilla glass, which extends from edge to edge. Out of the box, the color is spot on, meaning you won’t need to recalibrate. There are tons of Internet apps, including great video content from Netflix, Vudu, Flixster and Sony’s own Video Unlimited. And, the HX850 is packed with ports for connecting all your gear, including 4HDMI and 2 USB.
Plasma/LCD: LED-backed LCD with local dimming
Resolution: 1080p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
46-inch (KDL-46HX850): $2,099.99 ($1,898.00 - 10% off on Amazon)
55-inch (KDL-55HX850): $2,599.99 ($2,399.99 - 8% off on Amazon)

Panasonic VIERA  TC-P55VT50 55-Inch Panasonic VIERA VT50 Series Plasma HDTV

If you want the best 3D (or 2D) picture, look no further than the THX-certified VT50 series. The panel uses super-fast phosphors to eliminate ghosting and has the blackest blacks on the market. The VT50 even performs better than most plasmas in sunlight. You'll get a wide assortment of Internet apps, including Netflix, Skype (with a compatible webcam) and Twitter through Panasonic's VIERA Connect service, all of which run smoothly thanks to a dual core processor. There’s even an HTLM 5-based web browser, which does a nice job rendering web pages and is easy to navigate thanks to the Touch Pad remote. And if you're planning on using the TV's speakers, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Eight speakers plus a subwoofer provide surprisingly good sound for a TV.
Plasma/LCD: Plasma
Resolution: 1080p
3D: Yes
Internet Apps: Yes
Screen sizes in this line:
55-inch (TC-P55VT50): $2,499.99 ($2,199.98 - 12% off on Amazon)
65-inch (TC-P65VT50): $3,699.99 ($3,319.98 - 10% off on Amazon)

HDTV Features

Picking the Right Screen Size

Your space will determine the size of HDTV you need. In the kitchen, a 15 or 19-inch TV may be all the space you can spare on a countertop or shelf, and that's fine if you're watching Sesame Street over breakfast from a few feet away. It's a different story in the family room, where you'll be sitting eight or more feet from the screen. To get the full big-screen experience you'll want a model that's larger than 40 inches.

HDTV prices generally correspond to the screen size, although additional features such as built-in DVD players can add to the cost of a smaller model. You can find a 15-inch HDTV for well under $200 and a 65-inch TV for well over $5,000. In between are many sizes including 26-, 32-, 37-, 42-, 47-, 50, and 55-inches. Also, TVs are grouped into classes. A TV designated as "42-inch class" might actually have a screen size that's slightly smaller than 42 inches.

To determine the right screen size for your room, use the general rule of thumb that the viewing distance should be is 1.5 to 3 times the diagonal measurement of the screen. So a 50" model would work well if your viewing distance is between 75" to 150" (7'3" to 12'6"). When shopping for a TV, position yourself the same distance from a TV as you would be in your own home to make sure you are comfortable with the size before you buy.

Plasma vs LED-Backed LCD vs LCD

Yet as each technology has advanced, the differences between the two have become less pronounced. But each still has its benefits and drawbacks. Here's what you really need to know.

Advantages of Plasma

  • Plasma TVs have much wider viewing angles than LCDs, and this can make a big difference if your family is sprawled across the living room when watching TV. With many LCD TVs, watching off-center can significantly impact the picture quality. And it's not just side-to-side—vertical viewing angle comes into play if you're mounting your HDTV above a mantle or dresser.
  • Plasma TVs generally have deeper black images and higher contrast in dark scenes. LCD is catching up in these areas. LED-backlit models with “local dimming”can be controlled according to the program material, allowing for some portions of the screen to be dark and others lit, but it's still not up to the quality of the better plasmas.
  • Plasma TVs are also able to display motion on the screen better than LCDs because they use a different technology that doesn't blur during fast motion scenes. LCD manufacturers have been bringing out panels with 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates that offer significantly better motion processing than 60Hz LCD panels, but still not up to plasma. The increased LCD refresh rate also has the side effect of causing film content to look more like video, which is not appealing to many people.

Advantages of LCD

  • LCDs are capable of producing a brighter picture than plasma, which may make a difference in brightly lit rooms where some plasmas can appear washed out.
  • LCDs, especially the LED-backlit models, are usually thinner and lighter than plasma TVs—an important consideration if you will be hanging the TV on a wall.
  • LCDs use significantly less power than plasmas. Expect to save up to 60% in energy costs running an LED-backlit LCD over an equivalently sized plasma. This may add up to $50 or more over the course of a year.

In short plasma still rules for the best picture (and that's really why you're buying a TV, isn't it?). But if you're placing the TV in a bright room or concerned about your energy costs, an LED-backlit LCD may be the better option.

Edge-lighting, Backlighting and Local Dimming

If you go for an LED set, you'll have to choose between edge-lighting and backlighting. The terms reference how the LCD TV is lit. With edgelighting, by far the more common of the two, the LEDs are arrayed along the edges of the screen. Depending on the TV, they could be on the sides, the top and bottom, and in at least one case, just along the bottom. Edge-lit LED-LCDs tend to have poor uniformity, so a black screen will have splotches of brighter areas.

Backlighting, specifically local dimming back-lit, will likely offer the best picture quality you can get in an LED-LCD. Beware! “Local dimming” is a description used rather loosely by most major manufacturers. Edge-lit LCDs will often claim to be “local dimming” when in fact only large areas of the screen can be dimmed. This is a far cry from a real local dimming LCD. Only the highest-end LED-LCDs at this point have true local dimming.

Contrasting Contrast Ratios

The contrast ratio is the difference between the whitest and darkest images that a TV can produce, and is a critical component of overall image quality (think of the difference between watching Star Wars where space is a dark gray, rather than pure black). A higher contrast ratio is better than a lower one and, in general, plasmas have better (often much better) contrast ratios than LCDs.

Unfortunately, most manufacturers now list a “dynamic contrast ratio,” which has practically no value for comparison purposes. The dynamic contrast ratio is calculated using artificial image processing that will never occur during real content and the process for measuring the contrast ratio differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. At best, you can use dynamic contrast ratio for comparing models within a single brand. Otherwise, just ignore it.

In our recommendations, we offer models that demonstrated excellent contrast during real-world testing.

Choosing Your Screen Resolution

HDTV viewing distance chartResolution refers to the number of pixels and lines in a video image. The most advanced and expensive LCD and plasma TVs today offer 1920 x 1080p resolution (often referred to as “Full HD” in marketing terms), meaning they are 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high. Currently, only Blu-ray and a handful of other sources deliver video material that can take full advantage of that resolution.

A flat-panel display with 1280 x 720p resolution is still an HDTV and will display high-definition video from TV programs and DVDs. If you primarily watch standard definition DVDs and programs over the air, via cable or satellite, a 720p TV is more than acceptable and will be a much less expensive alternative to 1080p.

What many people also don't realize is that unless your viewing distance is relatively close to the TV, you get no benefit from 1080p over 720p—the human eye simply isn't capable of seeing the difference. Use the chart on the right to determine if a 1080p set makes sense for you. (chart data courtesy carltonbale.com).

3DTV

3D has come a long way from the red-and-blue-lensed glasses that moviegoers donned in years past. Today’s 3D is smoother, sharper and, most importantly, there’s an increasing amount of content available in 3D. In addition to 3D Blu-ray movies, there are 3D broadcasts on satellite (DirecTV has three channels), 3D movies available for rental from paid-TV providers and 3D video games, and most TVs will also convert any 2D programming into 3D, though it’s not as high quality.

If you want the best quality TV on the market, it will be a 3DTV–whether you want the 3D or not. Think of it as a feature you can use when you want to.

There are two types of 3D, active and passive. Active shutter glasses flick on-off at 60 times a second, enabling your right and left eye to see slightly different pictures and thus 3D. With passive systems, the glasses are designed so each eye always sees even or add lines of resolution, and together they see the whole 3D picture. The active technology does provide a better 3D picture, so you'll have to weigh picture quality versus the ability to enjoy your 3D content with a larger number of guests. Plus, some active LCD and LED-backed LCD TVs will lose their 3D if viewed lying down.

Tv inputsGetting Enough Inputs

When buying a flat-panel TV, consider how many connections you will need and of which type. Generally, you will need one connection for your DVD or Blu-ray player, one connection for your cable, satellite or FiOS box, one connection for a video game console, and it is convenient to have a side input free in case you want to hookup a camera or tablet. Ideally, you should use HDMI connections for each device to get the best quality. However, older devices may only allow component or composite video connections. For more information on hooking up devices to your HDTV, check out How to Set Up Your New HDTV.

Samsung App Store

Internet TV

Most TV manufacturers offer Internet connectivity–wired and wireless–and the ability to run apps on their mid-range and high end models. You can do some limited web browsing and through the manufacturer's portal you can find video and photo services, social networking services, games, even health and fitness apps.

Photo and Video Viewers 

Some TVs come with USB slots or built-in memory card readers that enable you to view digital photos and home movies directly on TV. Although most digital cameras and camcorders come with a video cable to connect the camera to a TV, you may find going directly from a card or USB flash drive to be more convenient.

HDTV Shopping Tips

Buying online versus Brick & Mortar

Buying a TV is an expensive proposition, and there is nothing worse than knowing that you got a bad deal. Online sites, such as Amazon, will usually give you the best price. But is that the best choice?

For many people, the service angle should be just as important, or more important, than price. Brick & mortar stores, such as Best Buy and specialty stores, offer more options for delivery and set up — important considerations if you’re not a techie or you want to wall-mount your TV.

And if something doesn’t work correctly on your new TV or you simply don’t like it when you get it home, which has the better return policy? Nothing will make you madder than knowing that you spent hundreds, if not thousands, on a TV that you don’t want, and now you’re stuck with it.

Online has the advantage when it comes to price, selection and convenience. Where brick and mortar stores have the advantage is when it comes to shipping and setting up your new TV—instead of finding it on your curb, someone will bring it inside and, in some cases, actually assemble your stand and wire your components. Though some online sites offer similar service. You’ll also be able to inspect your TV to ensure it’s working properly. Many online retailers have huge restocking fees, so make sure you check the return policy before buying.

Shopping on Amazon

Amazon's low prices and free shipping make it one of the best places to buy an HDTV. But in addition to selling directly, Amazon also offers a marketplace with many sellers, some of whom charge shipping fees, have poor customer service records or who have return policies that are much more restrictive than Amazon's.

So when purchasing an HDTV, always pay attention to who the seller is. You will see the seller's name right above the "Add to Cart" button next to the words "Sold by...". You can review the seller's return policy and customer feedback by clicking on its name. To pick a different seller, look in the "More Buying Choices" box under the "Add to Cart" section.

And if you see a deal from a vendor that looks too good to be true, it probably is—you may be buying a refurbished or used TV with potential defects and a limited warranty.

Extended Warranties

An HDTV is a major purchase for many people, and it may be tempting to buy an extended warranty to protect that purchase. Before you do, read our story on What Retailers Don't Want You to Know about Extended Warranties to learn why in-store extended warranties aren't usually a good value and what free extended warranty options may be available.

If you're considering a Vizio, we recommend that you always buy an extended warranty because some owners have been left with unrepairable TVs after the warranty period expires.

Disclosure: Techlicious has an affiliate relationship with Amazon.

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HDTVs Best Picks

From Myrna Webb on September 09, 2012 :: 12:38 pm

This is great info on HDTV features, shoppping advice, and your picks.  Needed this 6 years ago when I purchased a Magnavox 26” wide screen LCD HDTV which is on its last leg (remote won’t work and the manual TV turn-on button comes on and goes off in less than 30 seconds).  When that happened, I came straight to Techlicious site for tech info and purchasing tips.  Thank you and I’m going with Samsung or Panasonic. Also, I think you have the best tech info site on the web, and have recommended it to family and friends.

Reply

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Thank you Myrna! We appreciate

From Josh Kirschner on September 10, 2012 :: 8:14 pm

Thank you Myrna! We appreciate the feedback!

Reply

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Digital Audio Converter

From Mike Ritchey on December 17, 2012 :: 8:51 am

Thanks for your article on HDTV purchase!  Extremely useful.  I’m hoping you have some thoughts on optical audio to analog converters.  I see no need to purchase substandard audio equipment if I can hook up my current analog sound system to the TV.  The HDTV requires a converter that can handle Dolby.  It seems many converters are incapable of doing so.  I hope you have some thoughts. 
Regards.  Mike

Reply

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Here's a DAC option

From Josh Kirschner on December 17, 2012 :: 9:45 am

This digital-to-analog converter says it can handle the Dolby input, and user reviews support that for a variety of TV brands. It also gets very good customer reviews overall. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0080UV04M/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0080UV04M&linkCode=as2&tag=techlicious-20

And for $45, it’s a lot cheaper than buying new equipment.

Reply

Thanks for the info, Josh.

From Mike Ritchey on December 18, 2012 :: 10:28 pm

Thanks for the info, Josh. You and Suz have a great Christmas. I’ll let you know how it works. Mike

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