Tech Guide
Feb 1, 2009

Purchase the right flat-screen TV

By: Christian Quirion
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Tech Guide
Feb 1, 2009

Purchase the right flat-screen TV

By: Christian Quirion

Televisions, digital players, broadcast control channels -- with all the essentials finally available, now's the time to welcome HD into your home. The good news? Each generation of flat-screen TVs features a new perk or two and is more affordable than the last.

Main considerations

1 Size. Initially, don’t let your budget dictate the size of the television. The first thing you should consider is where you plan on setting it up. Besides the space required by the TV itself, make sure that you have enough room to sit a reasonable distance from the screen. Sitting too close will only lead to tired eyes, and there’s a chance that the pixels or lines that make up the picture will be visible, greatly affecting picture quality. For optimal precision, the minimum viewing distance should be three times the height of the plasma or liquid crystal display (LCD) screen. One compromise, however, that shouldn’t be made for any reason (other than a lack of space) is opting for a screen smaller than 40 inches.

2 LCD or plasma? These are the two principal types of flatscreen TVs. For a long time, plasma was the front-runner. However, LCD technology has since made up lost ground and their TVs are often a more attractive buy than their plasma counterparts. Also, the so-called HD models (1080p) are generally more affordable in LCD than in plasma and in most cases consume far less electricity. It’s no wonder, then, that the majority of flat-screen TVs sold in Canada in the past year have been LCD. Having said that, it’s important to note that more than half of these TVs were smaller than 40 inches, a segment of the market covered solely by LCD. In the segment occupied by larger flat-screen models, the market share for plasma TVs is much more significant.

Most experts agree that LCD offers superior contrast in a well-lit environment, whereas plasma is better suited to dark rooms. If your television faces a window and you don’t want to draw the curtains each time you watch TV, you should be leaning toward LCD. Plasma screens hold the advantage, however, when it comes to angle of vision and depth of dark shades (which will not turn dark grey, as is the case with certain LCD models) while offering a richer range of colours. Our advice: Avoid generalizations and keep an open mind. Bring a DVD to the store and ask the salesperson to adjust the settings (brightness, contrast) so that you can see for yourself what each model is capable of, regardless of the technology. Change the position and the angle of the screen to determine
if picture quality is reduced when you’re not directly in front of the set.

3 Picture quality. Several factors have a significant impact on picture quality, though they are impossible to detect solely on the basis of the technical specifications cited for each TV. Contrast and colour sharpness should top your list of concerns. High contrast lends greater definition to the picture while enhancing detail. Faded colours will make for a picture that’s less vivid, while colours that are too saturated will give the picture a surreal quality.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the features touted by manufacturers, who sometimes go as far as misleading the consumer on the issue of performance. As well, the majority of salespeople in big-box stores don’t know much more than you do and will be content to reiterate the manufacturers’ claims. Our advice: Assume that these evaluations are, in large part, subjective and that people’s sensitivity to colour, sharpness and detail varies widely. First and foremost, trust your own eyes and bear in mind that in-store flat-screen TV settings are seldom optimal and lighting conditions are far from ideal.

Other details that make a difference

Above all, don't neglect to establish your needs on the matter of connectivity. The number, accessibility and types of inputs, ports and outputs (HDMI, DVI, VGA, S-Video, composite video, speakers, USB, network) as well as the desired functionalities (Internet access, picture-in-picture, 24p mode, internal hard disk, memory-card reader, universal remote) should be contrasted and compared. Also, pay special attention to sound reproduction: Given the small size of the speakers on either side of the screen, there is often a wide disparity in sound quality from one model to the next. Finally, if you invest in a high-end model worth a few thousand dollars, it might be a good idea to take the extended warranty.

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Purchase the right flat-screen TV