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Page last updated at 11:42 GMT, Friday, 11 February 2011

Buyers' guide: Televisions

By LJ Rich
BBC Click


With so many models of televisions now on the market, it can be difficult working out which one is 3D, HD or simply not up to the job

The local electronics emporium on the High Street is home to a vast array of stylish, slim, and big high definition TVs, each one promising more than the other.

Faced with such an excess of information and jargon it can be difficult to decide which one should take pride of place in your living room.

Setting off

Telly tech-speak is notoriously difficult to trudge through - but your own common sense is useful here. Specs like Hertz, refresh rates and pixel count matter a lot less than how you and your eyes feel about the picture on the screen.


Thanks to price wars a few years ago, TVs are now a lot more affordable in general. But it's still a good idea to set a budget, otherwise you might be paying for features you may never use.

Before you dive into a top-of-the-range set, there's two main things to think about once you've found a TV with a screen you like.

First, what you'll be plugging in to the set in the future, and second, what you're going to watch on it right now at home.

For example, it's less important looking at HD footage on the screen in the shop if you are planning to watch mainly standard definition stuff from your sofa. You'll find some tellies are better than others at converting an SD feed into something watchable, as the processing chips inside will treat the pictures differently.

Switching on

TV enthusiasts have less to argue about these days - the old debate of Plasma versus LCD is no longer an issue for most mid-priced and budget sets - there is now little to choose between them, and people with a bigger budget might want to think about LED and projection TVs too.

Back in the day, LCD sets used to suffer from poor viewing angles, but that's no longer the case. These days you can sit at an acute angle to an LCD and still be able to see the picture. The old curse of Image Burn-in on a plasma TV is another thing that is not something to worry about anymore.

Low down on HD

HD-ready in the UK means that if you want to squeeze all the extra detail offered by high definition pictures, then your TV is capable of showing it.

Referee Howard Webb shows a yellow card during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final
Sporting events like the World Cup are pushed as a reason to upgrade to HD

Most modern TVs are at least HD Ready, which means they are able to make the most of broadcasted high definition footage. But there's more than one kind of HD.

Full HD gives you a higher resolution screen (1080 lines in all), which means it can give you more detail if you plug a device in that kicks out that kind of picture.

Right now there's precious little content to support full HD. Also, bear in mind that overall screen size and how far you sit from the TV will mean you may not notice much of a difference between this and an HD-Ready TV.

Although HD-Ready sets offer only 720 lines of vertical resolution, it's still worth going for these if you're not looking for a monster-sized display. You could get away with an HD-Ready set if the screen is under 32", and you're on a budget.

Plugging in

Another thing to look on the set for is connectivity - go for a healthy selection of inputs, for instance three digital High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) ports. You might want SCART sockets if you want to connect your old DVD player, and the red, white and yellow sockets if you have an older camcorder you want to view footage from.

A general rule here is the more inputs, the better. Remember though that you can always attach a small external switching box to add extra inputs. So don't fret if you find a perfect TV that has two HDMI ports instead of three.

Turning on

You will notice if the picture's great but the sound isn't. It's easy to forget that TV isn't just about the visuals, and improving the audio with a reasonably priced home cinema system is a surefire way to get more bang for your buck.

A cheaper way to fix this is simply to connect your TV to external speakers - and if you're a late night TV watcher in a shared household, you can also check if there's a headphone socket.

If you don't want to buy a dedicated system, you may be able to connect the TV's audio output to your hifi using the TV's analogue audio output. This will cost you the price of a cable, and is a budget-friendly way of boosting the sound.

Tuning in

A lot of buyers unpack their gleaming new TVs, turn them on and feel like their picture is actually worse than before. If you've gone for a bigger screen, you might find it easier to see all the horrible compression used by broadcasters in their standard definition broadcasting.

This shouldn't happen if you've checked that your new TV can handle a standard definition feed in the shop.

When a TV takes an SD signal and puts it up on a hi-def screen, it's doing something called upscaling, to improve the picture on a larger screen.

To try before you buy, take a DVD you've already seen into a shop and ask nicely to play it through a few different TVs. You'll get a good overview of how your prospective HD TV handles standard signals.

Screen preen

If you want to watch only HD footage, you'll be wanting to watch things either on a Blu-ray movie disc through its HDMI output, a games console like the Sony PlayStation 3 or you could stream HD content from your laptop, hooking it up directly to the set.

Natural World crew
Natural World is one of many documentaries now being filmed in HD

You can also buy devices like the Apple TV or the Boxee Box, which act like set-top boxes that pull content from the internet, or even your computer.

In the UK, satellite provider Sky has a wide range of HD channels you can subscribe to for a fee.

However, the digital service Freeview now has HD channels too - but you'll still need to buy a new Freeview HD terrestrial receiver or its satellite-oriented equivalent FreeSat to start enjoying these.

Finally when buying a TV, get a feel for the set itself - look round the menu system and the remote control - does it seem easy to use? Do you like the bezel? Are you looking for something which has bells and whistles for the lounge, or something easy for a second TV in the study?

Whenever you do decide to upgrade, the most important thing about choosing your TV is that what you end up buying matches both your lifestyle - and your budget. After that, you only have to decide what to watch.

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