How To Buy A Flat Screen TV: Tips For Buying A Television

by The Smarter Wallet on April 12, 2010

Before you start drawing from your high yield savings account, find out how to go about buying a flat screen television with our smart shopping tips!

I have one of the best TVs ever. My 19-inch White Westinghouse is like the Energizer Bunny — it keeps going and going and going. It is one of those TVs you kept hearing about last year when the airwaves were going digital. “You will be OK with an old TV if you have cable,” the commercials reminded. Not that I am complaining. Not once in 15 years has it had to be serviced. The picture is good, and the cabinet is attractive — not outdated looking like some old TVs.

flat screen tv

Still, it is time for it to be relegated to my bedroom, and for me to get one of those nice flat screen TVs for my living room. I am updating my condo, and this will be part of the plan.

My first question, besides how much will it cost and where to buy electronics on discount, is this: do I buy LCD or plasma? A friend cautioned me against buying plasma, saying that images burn too easily into those screens. It turns out this is not such a problem anymore, as most plasma sets now have “pixel shifting,” which moves images ever so slightly to prevent burn-in. You can also help prevent it by keeping contrast and brightness settings reasonable and not too high.

For me, it turns out that LCD is the only option, as I want to get a set in the 22-32 inch range, and plasma mostly comes in sizes 42 inches and larger. The good and bad is that LCD has a reputation of poorer picture quality than plasma, because of lower contrast ratios, and slower response times often resulting in blurry action shots. Further, plasma TVs are more viewable from side angles than LCDs and do not appear to change in brightness as you stand up or sit down in front of the set.

LCDs, on the other hand, run cooler than plasmas, and are therefore often less noisy. Additionally, they are easier to view in brightly lit rooms, another reason for me to get one. Sunlight pours through my living room most of the day, and I don’t want to be stuck with a TV that I can’t see.

If you are choosing a screen size for optimal viewing purposes, consider this formula: Take the screen size (inches) and multiply by two. That is how far you should ideally be sitting from the screen. In my case, that would mean a 52 inch screen, resulting in 104 inches, or 8.5 feet, from my sofa. While that would be considered ideal, I cannot afford a 52 inch TV, but I think I will survive.

The number and type of video inputs are a major consideration in buying a TV. Briefly, here are the main types:

  • Composite video: lowest quality, uses single coaxial cable
  • S-video: most equipment except VCRs have these, uses cable with multipin sockets
  • Component video: high quality, uses multiple coaxial cables
  • VGA: high quality, used mainly for computer connections
  • DVI, HDMI, HDMI CEC: high quality, beyond the scope of this article, but are all used to connect to other devices
Tip: To help you find the best HDTV that fits your requirements, check out for comparisons and recommendations.

I received my tax refund on Friday and spent the majority of the weekend searching the big box retailers both online (e.g., Dell, and Sony) and in-person for my dream TV. This afternoon, I came home with a 26-inch Sanyo LCD. I don’t what kind of video inputs I have yet, but I have a feeling I will be fine with whatever. After all, I was still watching analog TV this morning!

Contributing Writer: BEM

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 :] April 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Plasma TVs are real electricity monsters. It’s like gas guzzling Hummers amongst cars. That might also be considered while choosing between LCD and Plasma.

Still, a fine article, SmarterWallet, thanks!

2 marty February 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Very helpful article. I’m getting ready to buy my first Flat Screen and I was lost on all the different types.

3 divesh June 8, 2011 at 2:47 am

The article is very helpful. Now I have decided to buy LCD Tv which has slim size and IPS panel. So what do you say?

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