It takes research, but you can find an affordable HD television.
As of 2012, models of HDTVs cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,5000. If your preferred budget is more like $200, you will have to compromise on some features, but you can still find a satisfactory television set with 1080p, the highest resolution available. Televisions using liquid crystal, or LCD, displays start at $250 for a 32-inch screen. Typical plasma televisions, which are larger, start at $400 to $800 for a 42-incher.
The size of the screen is important to your viewing pleasure. Both Cnet and “Consumer Reports” recommend at least a 40-inch screen for a primary television. CNet states that in February 2012, typical prices ran from $350 for a 32-inch screen to $2,300 for a 64-inch screen. Larger, more upscale HDTVs offer more features as well as the bigger screen, so it’s not a flat size-to-dollar ratio. For ideal viewing you should be seated no closer than 1.5 times the screen size — 60 inches for a 40-inch TV — and no further than twice the size — 80 inches for a 40-inch screen.
HDTV offers far more options and specs than old vacuum-tube televisions ever did. High-end models offers Wi-Fi connections, 3D TV and USB memory ports you can use to display photographs or home movies on the television screen. For a budget-conscious purchase, dispense with such bells and whistles. The number of HDMI inputs, on the other hand, is important. For example, three connections enables you to connect to cable or satellite, a DVD player and a gaming console without having to switch out plugs.
Picture resolution — the number of pixels on the screen — isn’t as important to good picture quality as the native contrast ratio, which is the degree of difference between black and white. Manufacturers boast of ratios as high as 5,000 to 1, but the human eye can’t perceive a difference beyond a 1,000 to 1 ratio. Don’t invest in anything more. Don’t worry about dynamic contrast either: This blacks out dark scenes to make them darker but doesn’t improve contrast within a given scene. Contrast ratios are determined by manufacturers’ individual standards, so you can’t compare across brands. The standards Samsung uses aren’t the same as LG or Toshiba.
When shopping for HDTVs, manufacturers’ specs on contrast ratio and resolution aren’t as important as whether you like the picture. If possible, set it to a channel you like to watch at home and look at it under lighting comparable to your TV room. Retailers set television displays to bright, colorful shows and settings that pump up the color, which may not give you an accurate sense of your home experience. Research what the model sells for at other stores and online and then negotiate. Keep an eye out for holiday sales and for last year’s models to go on sale in January and February before the new sets come out. Retailers may offer display or floor models at a sizable discount, but be careful. The longer the model was turned on while on display, the less useful life it will have left.