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How to Buy a TV

High-definition TVs come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you want a slim LCD or plasma TV, a 3D-capable set, or a front projector that can give you a cinema-like experience at home, you'll the help you need here.

Buying a TV involves many choices, some of which may be brand new to you. This TV buying guide organizes the process into clear, logical steps that will help you make a smart decision.


Of course, your budget will affect all of your decisions. It's possible to find good TVs selling for a few hundred dollars, while others go for several thousand, and there are many sets that fall in between those extremes. Screen size, features, brands, and more affect the price. We can help you get the most bang for your buck, no matter how much or how little you want to spend.

TV type

If you're like most buyers, you've probably settled on a slim flat-panel TV, but you might not know whether to buy an LCD or plasma set. Though they look very similar on the outside, they use different technologies and the pictures have different characteristics. While LCDs outsell plasmas by a wide margin--in part because plasma sets are available only in screen sizes 42 inches and larger--don't automatically assume that LCDs are the way to go. It's worth considering both types. Flat panels have largely pushed rear-projection and picture-tube TVs to the sidelines; few of those sets are now being introduced or stocked by retailers. Front projectors are a great choice for home theaters but less practical for everyday use.

Screen size

Deciding what size TV to buy is one of the more enjoyable aspects of buying a new set. Most consumers tend to go bigger when replacing their old TV, because it enables them to fully appreciate the fine, sharp detail of HD content, making it more compelling and creating more of a theater experience. Note that you can't compare the screen size of a conventional squarish tube TV with a widescreen, so don't think a move from a 27-inch tube set to a 32-inch widescreen will give you an appreciably bigger picture. It won't; content will be perceived as the same size, though wider.

For the most part, we recommend at least a 37-inch screen for a primary TV that you'll watch often. We believe that most consumers would be happier with a 40-to-42-inch TV, budget and room size permitting, and a 46-inch or bigger set is often preferable. Screens of about 26 to 32 inches are good for casual viewing in bedrooms, and even smaller screen sizes suit kitchens.

Remember to factor in viewing distance when deciding how big a screen will work in your room. TV pictures tends to look better and more natural if you can sit at least 5 feet from a 40-to-47-inch set displaying good-quality HD content and a minimum of 6 feet from a 50-inch or larger TV. With less distance, you might notice the picture elements (pixels) that make up the images (sometimes referred to as the "screen-door effect"), graininess, or video noise--what you might consider "snow" or specks. If you watch mostly standard-definition programming, which is less detailed and often lower quality, allow more distance between you and the TV.


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