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Buying A Television - What You Need To Know - Page 2

Picture Quality, Audio Quality, Connectivity


This page is the continuation of an overview of factors that are often overlooked when making television purchasing decisions.

Note: Although CRT-based (Tube) televisions have been phased out at this point in time, information on what to consider when buying a CRT-based television is still provided in this article for those that may be buying such a set on clearance, through private parties, or online sources.

Tip #4 -- Picture Quality

When shopping for a television, take your time and take a good look at the picture quality, there can be marked differences in various models.

There are several factors contributing to a quality picture:

Darkness of the Screen Surface: The first factor is the darkness of the screen. With several televisions turned off, check the darkness of the screens. The darker the screens, the better the TV is at producing a high-contrast picture. A TV cannot produce blacks that are blacker than the screen itself. As a result TV's with "greenish" or "grayish" looking screens produce low contrast pictures.

Also, when considering an LCD TV, take note of the black levels when the TV is on. If the TV is an LED/LCD TVs check to seen if there is any "spotlighting" in the corners or unevenness in black levels across the screen surface. For more on this, read my article The Truth About "LED" TVs. Find out if the provides Local Dimming or Micro-Dimming - which helps even out the black level response on LED/LCD TVs. If you are looking for a TVs that have a more even black level across the screen surface, and you have a light controllable room (you can make the room dark), a Plasma TV may be the better option for you than an LCD or LED/LCD TV.

One the other hand, if you are considering a video projector, projection screens are typically white, instead of black. In this case you need to purchase a screen with high reflectivity as the image is reflected off the screen to the viewer. Although the brightness and contrast performance of the video projector mainly lies with the internal circuitry of the video projector itself, a screen with low reflectivity will dampen the viewer's experience. In essence, when shopping for a video projector, you also have to shop for the screen to use with it. For tips on what to look for when buying both a video projector and screen, check out Before You Buy a Video Projector and Before You Buy a Video Projection Screen

Screen Flatness: The second factor to consider, if buying a CRT set, is how flat the picture tube is (projection, plasma, and LCD televisions are already flat). This is important because the flatter the tube is the less glare you will get from windows and lamps, as well as less shape distortion of objects displayed on the screen (I don't know about you, but it bugs me to watch a football game on TV and see that the yard lines are curved instead of straight because of the curvature of the picture tube). Basically, if purchasing a tube-type TV (referred to as direct view), you might want to consider purchasing a flat-tube type.

Comb Filter: For tube TVs, an additional factor to be considered as a measure of picture quality is the presence of a comb filter in the TV. This is especially important in larger screen TV's. A TV without a comb filter will display "dot crawl" along edges of objects in the picture. On smaller sets this is not as noticeable, but on anything 27" and larger it can be quite distracting. This results in the inability of the "average TV" to adequately resolve the color and resolution of the image to be displayed. The presence of a comb filter fine tunes the picture signal so that colors and lines can be displayed more accurately on the screen. There are many types of comb filters: Glass, Digital, and 3DY, but they are all there to do the same thing, improve the picture you see on the screen.

Scaling: With the advent of HDTV, scaling ability is also an important factor to consider when buying a TV.

To be frank, analog video sources, such as VHS and standard Cable, do not look as good on an HDTV as they do on an analog TV. There are several reasons for this that I outline in my article: Why Analog Video Looks Worse on an HDTV.

Scaling is a process where a TV or DVD player tries to eliminate the defects in a standard resolution video image to make it look better on an HDTV, but not all HDTVs perform this task well. Also, even with the best scaling capability, you cannot magically transform a standard resolution image into a true high definition image. For more details, check out my articles: DVD Video Upscaling - Important Facts and Upscaling DVD Players vs Upscaling HDTVs.

So, when considering an HDTV purchase, also look at how well the TV looks with both high definition and standard definition content. See if you can get the dealer to show some standard definition content on the TV before you buy it. Also, as the screen size gets larger, the quality of a standard definition image keeps going down. Don't expect your VHS tapes or standard Cable signal to look very viewable on a screen larger than 50-inches unless you have a long screen to seat viewing distance.

Tip #5 -- Audio Capability/AV Inputs and Outputs

Check to see if the TV has a least one set of audio/video inputs and one one set of audio outputs.

For audio, TVs have built-in speakers, but with LCD and Plasma TVs being so thin, there is very little interior volume to house a good quality speaker system. Some TVs provides several audio processing options, but for a satisfying listening experience, especially in a home theater environment, an external audio system is definitely preferred.

Most of today's TVs provide either a set of analog or digital optical audio outputs, or the HDMI Audio Return Channel feature, or all three. Definitely check for these options, even if you don't have an external audio system right off the bat.

On the input side, check for RCA-composite, S-Video (being phased out on many TVs), and component video inputs. If you are going to use the TV for HDTV applications, check for component (red, green, blue), DVI-HDCP, or HDMI inputs for attachment of HD-Cable/Satellite Boxes, Blu-ray Disc players, Game Systems, and HD Network Media Players/Streamers.

In addition, most DVD players and all Blu-ray Disc players have HDMI connections. This allows the viewing of DVDs in an upscaled, HD-compatible format, or high definition Blu-ray, but only if you have a television with either DVI or HDMI inputs. For further explanation, check out my DVD Basics FAQ and Blu-ray and Blu-ray Disc Players FAQ

Most televisions now come with a set of audio/video inputs in the front or side of the set. This can come in handy for hooking up a camcorder, video game console, or other portable audio/video device. Also, a growing number of TVs also have Ethernet connections, or built-in WiFi, for accessing a home network and the internet.

Also, when checking the HDMI connections on an HDTV, note if any of those HDMI connections are labeled ARC (stands for Audio Return Channel) and/or MHL (Mobile High Definition Link) - Both of these connection options provide added flexibility when integrating your TV with a home theater receiver and compatible portable devices.

Simply put; even if you don't have all the latest gear to hook up to your television, get a TV has enough input/output flexibility to add future components of various types.

Continue on to Page 3 - 3D, Remote Control, Ease Of Use, Final Considerations

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