With the array of features available and the sometimes confusing list of specifications, choosing the right LCD TV can seem like a daunting task. Before shopping for a LCD television, you'll want to consider the best size for the room, the level of resolution, and picture quality. Other tips for buying LCD televisions include considering what kind of speakers you'll use and the number and location of audio and video connections.
LCD televisions feature non-reflective screens, usually allowing them to be comfortable to watch regardless of door, window, or lamp placement. The TVs are relatively energy efficient, as well. They come in screen sizes that satisfy most room requirements, but many people are unsure of how to choose the best screen size for a room. The answer depends on room size and how far you will be seated from the TV.
There are several charts online that offer a range of screen sizes that should provide comfortable viewing given the distance between you and your TV. The general rule is that, if you're sitting farther away, you'll need a bigger screen. The distance from the TV should be about 1.5 to 3 times the diagonal length of the screen. A 36-inch screen, for example, is best viewed from about 4.5 to 9 feet (1.37 to 2.74 meters) away.
LCD televisions also have very high quality images; unlike with analog televisions, where sitting too close would emphasize the fuzziness, a bigger LCD TV allows the user to see more details. Most people feel a little more comfortable sitting slightly farther away from the screen, however. What you're watching also plays a part, since if you're watching a lot of Blu-ray™ movies, you may want to sit a bit closer for a more immersive experience.
Most TV experts recommend buying the biggest screen your budget can afford, as long as it's not too big for the room. It will not only provide a greater "wow factor" but give you more flexibility should you move the TV to a larger room later.
HDTVs come in several resolutions, but the most common are 720p, 1080p, and 1080i. Both LCDs can display any HDTV broadcast, but will convert the format to the native resolution. Sports are commonly broadcast in 720p, while the higher resolution of 1080i is used to broadcast documentaries, travelogs, many dramatic series, and movies. Technically, 1080p is the best of these options; Blu-ray™ discs are formatted in 1080p, fully appreciated only on a 1080p TV. A TV with 720p resolution is still of much higher resolution than a standard definition television, however, and many people are perfectly happy with this level — and with the more affordable price.
Picture quality is next on the list of tips for buying LCD televisions. There are three specifications to be aware of: dynamic contrast ratio, sometimes simply referred to as contrast ratio; native or static contrast ratio; and brightness or nits.
Dynamic contrast ratio measures the difference between the brightest white and darkest black the TV can produce, with higher numbers being better. A dynamic contrast ratio of 10,000:1 is considered minimal and found mostly on budget sets. It is important to note that this specification doesn't measure what the TV can produce within the same static shot. Additionally, there are no industry standards by which manufacturers have to comply to measure these specifications, making comparison based solely on specs potentially misleading. So while the dynamic contrast ratio is important, it needs to be considered along with the remaining tips for buying LCD televisions.
Static or native contrast ratio is perhaps the most important specification, though many manufacturers don't provide it, particularly when poor. This measures the difference between the whitest white and darkest black the TV can produce simultaneously, within the same shot. This is a much truer measure of what the TV is capable of in terms of providing true black. A minimal static or native contrast ratio is considered to be 1,000:1 — which is not likely to produce true black, but grey-black — with better LCDs achieving higher numbers, such as 5,000:1.
As to brightness or "nits," budget TVs normally have a specification of 450 nits, while 500 or 550 nits is preferable. A common complaint about LCD TVs, however, is that they are often too bright, making them harsh on the eyes. Typically, the factory presets the default to be as bright as possible, but this can be adjusted down to taste.
If planning to use the TV's sound system, choose a model that has digitally processed surround sound and stereo speakers that are at least 10 watts each. Speakers less than 10 watts will likely deliver a substandard sound environment, though even 10 watt or 12 watt speakers cannot compete with a home entertainment center, and expectations should be realistic.
Rounding out the list of tips for buying LCD televisions, are the connections — ports and slots — and their placement. Be sure the TV has the ports you require; most have a bank of HDMI, audio, and video ports at the rear. Some also have a smaller side panel, convenient for flash card slots, USB drives, and composite video and audio for portable devices. If you plan to use the TV for gaming, an HDMI port located on the side panel will be much more convenient than using one on the rear. Less common is a headphone jack, which can also be quite handy on the side panel, particularly if the TV will not be connected to an external sound system.
Wireless LCD TV comes with a remote unit containing the ports, able to be placed away from the LCD TV, next to your entertainment center. This is particularly useful if you plan to mount your television on a wall, where rear ports won't be very accessible. A power cord still needs to run to the TV, however.