HDTV Shopping: Navigating Nonsensical Selling Points

HDTV Shopping: Navigating Nonsensical Selling Points

Jeff Heaton
Aug 16, 2011

This is the second in our series about choosing an HDTV. The first covered some basic considerations and guidelines. In this part we will discuss terminology often used to describe HDTVs — some useful and others nearly worthless in making comparisons.

Display Technology: LCD, LED, Plasma
This describes how the picture is lit on the screen. LED TVs are actually a type of LCD TV. LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are a more energy efficient method of backlighting the LCD, or liquid crystal display, than the older CCFL, or cold cathode flourecent lighting, method. So all LEDs are LCDs, but not all LCDs are LEDs. plasmas contain phosphors that create the image and light themselves. When HDTVs first came out Plasma was the TV of choice for its rich blacks and display quality. But over the years there has been a transition as LCD quality got better, especially with the addition of LED backlighting. LEDs are generally the best TV when you consider energy efficiency, thickness and picture quality together. However, you will pay the most for them — often a few hundred more than a CCFL LCD of the same size.

Resolution: 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 720i
These numbers describe the resolution of your TV. The difference in resolution from 720p to 1080p is hard to discern so if it's a choice between size and resolution, definitely go with size. The "i" stands for interlaced and the "p" stands for progressive. That's gibberish for the way that the images get put on the screen, and progressive results in a smoother, cleaner image, especially with sports and other fast-moving content. Most broadcasts are in 1080i or 720p, however, with none of the major networks announcing a move to 1080p, probably because of the cost of bandwidth. Some pay-per-view movies and most Blu-ray discs are in 1080p format so if you watch a lot of Blu-ray movies 1080p could be the resolution for you. If not, 1080i and 720p are still great options.

Smoothing Effects and Refresh Rate (Hz)
We talked about it a little bit in part one. This refers to how often the image is refreshed on screen and affects how motion is displayed. LCDs have a reputation for motion blurring so many manufacturers include dejudding or other smoothing processes on top of higher refresh rates to fix this effect. But chances are you won't be able to see a difference and many smoothing features are associated with a soap-opera-effect-like many people don't like. If you're very concerned about motion blur when watching sports or action movies many TVs give you the option of turning these options off so give it a whirl in the store. Otherwise this is one you can ignore.

Color Gamut
This refers to the range of colors a TV can produce. Many TVs promise wide ranges of color, going for bluer blues or redder reds. But the job of a TV is accuracy, and color standards for content production are strict. Considering most TVs can accurately portray the standard range you can probably ignore this "selling point". If you find that the color isn't to your liking on a model you're trying, have a look through the settings. There should be a way to adjust the color to suit your tastes.

Brand Name vs. Budget Brands
Blindly sticking with the same brand name as your old tv is a mistake. Many brands have changed hands, manufacturing processes and quality standards. Go with your testing of a TV, not the label.

Energy Star
Almost every TV qualifies for Energy Star so it's not a useful metric in deciding between TVs. If energy efficiency is critical remember that generally Plasma < LCD < LED.

In the third and final part of our series on HDTV buying we'll take a look at some extra features and additions you should think about, depending on your lifestyle and budget.

(Images: Flickr users blakespot and Jami3.org under creative commons)

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