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Factors to Consider When Choosing a TV

(Author's Note: This is the second in a series of articles that explain the differences among the many television technologies and help the consumer with a purchase decision. Follow the red links at the bottom of each article to continue with the next article in the series. This article is continued from the article How to find the TV that is Right for You.)

Even though there are many different display technologies (like DLP, LCD, and CRT) to choose from, they all boil down into three major categories of TVs.

  • Direct-View
  • Rear-Projection TVs
  • Flat Panel TVs
Choosing the best TV for you starts by narrowing the field down to one of these particular categories of TV. Normally, limitations set by the room and budget can help even the playing field down to one particluar kind of set. Other factors below will help you narrow it down to one or two categories. In the next article, we'll cover the high level differences between each type of television.

Digital or Analog?

Though analog TVs are still available for purchase, there really is little reason anymore for investing in one. The lineup of analog TVs among manufacturers has been thinning since 1998, and now many TV makers sell only digital compatible products. Most of the remaining analog market consists of direct-view tube TVs, so if you're dead set against digital, you'll probably need to focus there.

The analog/digital choice isn't a hard decision for most, considering that analog television has been gradually dying since HDTV sets first became available. Arguments could be made that there is still little High-Definition (HD) programming, but nearly every network offers a wide variety of HDTV programs every day. There are other arguments, but most are quickly fading during this inevitable switch to digital. Still, if you need a recommendation...go digital.

Screen Size

This one's easy. Just buy the biggest size that I can afford, right? Wrong. It's a common myth that bigger is always better, and that holds true for TV size, too. The objective is to find the optimal size for your room.

The optimal screen size can be quickly calculated by using simple formulas based on how far you sit from the TV. Remember that recommended sizes are measured eye-to-screen, not chair to wall. This is important because a rear-pro may subtract two feet from a specific place, while a flat TV will add two feet.

    Analog

    Analog TVs require a much greater distance eye to screen, roughly 2.5 times the TVs measurement. So if you want a 50-inch analog display, you need greater than 10 feet for adequate viewing.

    4:3 Digital TVs

    Square digital displays should be a little smaller than widescreen at a given distance since the square shape is less natural to human eyesight. Focus on a viewing distance of 2 times the TVs diagonal measurement at a minimum.

    Widescreen HDTVs

    Maximum Size

    If you like the picture to be big, this formula will take you about as big as you can go. Others say you can technically sit a little closer without loss of quality, but I say that anything bigger at this distance will be uncomfortable to watch, and could be a headache waiting to happen.

    To calculate maximum recommended size for a given distance, take the number of inches distance eye-to-screen, and multiply by 0.575.

    Minimum Size

    The formula below will get you an smallest size possible for your distance. Any smaller size will begin to cause eyestrain, and make small text on the display difficult to see.

    To calculate minimum recommended size, take the number of inches distance eye-to-screen, and multiply by .265.

Placement

Another determining factor of size is placement. If you are set on using existing furniture or cutout in a wall, it will easily help rule out one category or another. So, if that old entertainment center is only 40 inches wide, focus on TVs with a total width of less than 40 inches like tubes, small rear-projection, and small flat panel displays.

Once you've determined the size that works for you, your choices should have been narrowed down by one or two of the different categories since no specific TV type covers all possible sizes. Tubes remain small, rear-projection starts at around 40 inches, and front projectors take the huge screen market. If you want flat, the break from LCD to Plasma is around 32 inches, but LCD sizes are creeping up quickly.

Narrowing it down even more

This is where the buying process starts to get complicated, simply because this is where your preferences come in to play. It should be simple to make the decisions involving personal tastes, but they can be the hardest questions to answer. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you can begin comparing TVs.

Budget

Heading out to shop for TVs without figuring out what you can spend can cause you to spend time looking at more things than you need to, oftentimes confusing your overall vision. It's understandable to look briefly at where the price points are for certain kinds of displays, but make your reconnaissance research simple by not getting too involved with specifics. That will come later.

Don't narrow your budget because you're willing to spend X dollars on a Plasma TV. Consider just what you can spend in general. This way, you won't build up hopes of buying a 50-inch Plasma on a budget of two thousand dollars.

Remember to include taxes, warranties, deliveries, and other necessities in your budget. Saying you'll spend five thousand dollars on a super display quickly turns into six thousand after you pay taxes and get some new cables to properly hook it up.

Up to this point, you've determined a desired screen size and set a budget to acquire it. If your budget is only three thousand dollars for a 50-inch display, you have effectively ruled out flat-panel (too expensive), tubes (too small), and front projection (too big). However, we need to check out the room to see if there is anything else standing in the way.

Physical Limitations

Now that you've narrowed down your budget to a particular range and size, it's time to take a look at your room to help you figure out what physical limitations are set forth by the room itself. While it should be simple to decide whether or not you want the display to hang on a wall or sit on the floor, it can often be the hardest question to answer.

A big decision TV shoppers are facing is the "hang it on the wall" decision. While it is true that a TV hanging on a wall frees up floor space and looks really cool, it adds additional complexities to installation. Putting a TV on the wall requires a cabinet to hold equipment, long wire runs, and additional installation costs, which may not fit with the budget you've set. In many cases, having a cabinet underneath the display to house equipment takes up just as much depth as a rear-projection TV, defeating the purpose.

Seating

Examining your seating is also helpful. If viewers will frequently sit at extreme angles to view the TV, it helps rule out certain kinds of TVs that do not perform well at these angles. Family members that lay on the floor to view the set should also be considered, since many forms of rear-projection displays are more difficult to see at vertical angles.

Adjusting

If you've determined that a physical limitation has made it impossible to achieve the desired screen size, you may need to go smaller than you would like. A more likely scenario is driven by budget, which may need to be increased depending on additional costs to achieve your vision, such as new furniture or professional installation.

As you learn more about the different types of TVs, use the information above to help guide you to one particular category of television.

Continue to Understanding the Different Types of TVs.

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