Tuesday, December 9, 2008

THAT CHRISTMAS LIST- Buying an LCD HDTV on a budget

Buying an LCD HDTV on a budget

The digital television transition is right around the corner. So, digital, high-definition televisions will top many gift lists this year. But before you buy, make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck.

This year, HDTV prices will reach unprecedented lows. A 42-inch set will come in well under $1,000. You may even see 32-inchers for less than $400!

You’ll find plasma and DLP sets. But, LCD has become the most popular type of HDTV. Here are some tips for finding the perfect budget LCD HDTV.

Important features

Resolution differentiates HDTV from standard TV. HDTV resolution is 1280x720 (720p) or 1920x1080 (1080i and 1080p). The letter i stands for interlaced; p stands for progressive.
Full high definition is 1080p. But don’t worry too much about resolution. You probably won’t notice a difference, especially on smaller sets.

Pay particular attention to response time. This is the time it takes a pixel to turn on and off. Response time is measured in milliseconds. Aim for 8ms or faster. Otherwise, you may notice smearing in action scenes.

Brightness and contrast ratio are also important. Brightness is measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m2). Higher numbers are better. The picture will look better in bright light.
Contrast ratio is the difference between the whitest white and blackest back. Shadow detail improves as the contrast ratio increases. Don’t accept less than a 1,000:1 contrast ratio.
Make sure the set has connections for your current home theatre components. Buy one with more than one HDMI input, if possible.

What’s in a name?

You’ll see plenty off-brand sets this year. In fact, off-brands will dominate early sales. Don’t let the names deter you.

Budget brands may not be as physically attractive as the big boys. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality is any less.

There are very few manufacturers of LCD panels. Off-brands often share the same panel as costlier models. Different manufacturers make the software and other components, though.
Some extras may not be available on budget brands. Don’t expect card readers, swivel bases or ambient lighting. You’ll be fine without these features, though.

If you must have a brand name, wait. Prices on brand-name sets should start falling three weeks before Christmas.

Read online reviews carefully before buying any set.

Watch out for extras
Competition is forcing stores to lower HDTV prices. You can bet they’ll try to make up for it elsewhere. So, watch out for heavy-handed sales tactics
Retailers make a killing on extended warranties. The truth is, you don’t need one.
Manufacturing defects should become apparent within the standard warranty period. Most brands are reliable, according to Consumer Reports. Included in that group are Sanyo, Sony, Sylvania, Panasonic, JVC, Sharp, Toshiba, Visio, Samsung and Philips Magnavox.

Repair costs after the warranty expires will probably be cheaper than an extended warranty. Anecdotally, I have heard little about TV problems.

You should also watch out for cable prices. The salesperson may try to sell you expensive, brand-name cables. These may run hundreds of dollars.
Tests have shown that most premium cables are not worth premium prices. Budget about $20 for component video cables. An HDMI cable should cost less than $40. Shop around. If nothing else, you can get good prices online.

Remember to budget for installation if you want to wall-mount your set. You’ll spend $100 or more for the bracket. Professional installation starts around $100. Again, shop around. Some professional installers are very expensive. A good handyman can do this job.
It matters where you shop

Don’t limit your shopping to electronics stores. You’ll find great HDTV deals at department stores like Sears and Wal-Mart.

And check warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. They often have lower profit margins than retailers. Retailers’ profit margins are about 25 percent. At warehouse stores, this drops to 10 percent.

Online retailers will also offer bargains on HDTVs. Don’t forget shipping costs, though. And no matter where you purchase, always check return policies.