How to Compare TVs

by Robert Vaux

Televisions have clearly entered a golden age, with more programming available than ever and models such as plasma screens and LCD displays closely emulating the experience of going to a movie theater. With so many choices, however, comparing TVs may become confusing, and it can be hard to determine which TV is the right one for you. A few smart tips can help you compare televisions more readily, and understand what you're getting for your money.

Evaluate TVs based on the space you have set aside. Particulars vary by individual, but you want a TV that can fit in a given space, which can be supported by the stand or piece of furniture you prepare for it, which has enough cable outlets to hook up all of your additional equipment (such as video game systems and DVD players), and which permits comfortable viewing from a given distance (ideally, your seat should be at a distance equal to two to three times the diagonal length of the screen; if you can't manage that in your space, you might want to think about a smaller TV).

Compare the size of a given TV by measuring height, not just diagonal length. This can be tricky because many of the newer TV models have a 16:9 "widescreen" ratio, meaning that they're wider than older tube TVs (most of which have a 4:3 screen ratio). The confusion comes in the way television manufacturers advertise screen size. They measure screens diagonally--it's a larger figure than height or width, which makes the TV sound bigger. But because newer widescreen models have a different ratio, they may actually have smaller screens, despite having a larger diagonal. Comparing sets by height produces a much more accurate gauge of the TV's size.

Look at screen resolution figures. Older TVs produced images in 480i, which means 480 lines of pixels that are interlaced (or flicker rapidly back and forth between one half of the lines and the other). Newer TVs have varying levels of screen resolution: 480p (which broadcasts all of the pixel lines instead of flickering), 720i and 720p (which have 720 lines of pixels instead of just 480), and 1080i and 1080p (which have 1080 lines of pixels). Greater screen resolution means a sharper and clearer picture; as of this writing, 1080p is the sharpest and clearest screen on the market.

Compare the differences between plasma screens and LCD (liquid crystal display) screens. Both provide superior pictures, but they use different means to do so. Plasma screens use individual cells of neon or xenon gas trapped in plasma for their image. LCD screens use liquid crystal cells lit from behind. Plasma TVs tend to be heavier, but also brighter, and provide richer depth. LCD TVs are lighter, but have less deep colors. LCDs also do well in higher elevations, which can cause problems for plasma TVs.

Shop around for different prices. The simplest and most obvious comparison when looking for a TV is seeing which store offers the same set for the cheapest price. Don't discount online outlets either... especially those that offer reduced shipping costs.

Tip

  • check When comparing TVs, think about the logistics of getting it home and setting it up. You may need to pay additional fees for shipping, for a TV stand which can hold it, for a warranty that lets you return it if it's damaged, and so on. You'll also need to fit it through doors, up stairs and into the spot you have set aside for it. Plan for some money in your budget to cover additional fees and don't become so enamored of a huge set that you can't fit it into your living room.