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TV or not TV?

TV or not TV

By Jim Bray

Part One: First Steps

Part Two: The Components We Used

Part Three: Buying a TV

Part Four: Buying a Projection TV

Part Five: Accessorizing

Part Six: Buying a Receiver

Part Seven: Speakers

Part Eight: More on Buying Speakers

The question of which TV to buy is probably the most important decision you’ll make in building your home theater.

Your television is the centerpiece of your home theater, so it pays to put some serious thought into your purchase. There are a lot of TV’s from which to choose, based on your lifestyle, your room, and your budget, but right off the bat you have a couple of decisions to make.

First, do you want a REALLY BIG SCREEN or something a little more manageable and, undoubtedly, affordable?

Second, should you go for an HDTV set now, even though there isn’t a huge amount of HD programming available yet?

Readers ask me all the time to lecture on what brand of TV they should buy, something I refuse to do because my feast may be your famine – and it isn’t me who has to live with the purchase. In the next couple of columns, however, I’ll pontificate on what I think are the most important things to consider when you’re spending hard-earned after tax income on a new television.

As for brand name, any major name brand will probably serve you just fine. They all offer different features, looks, prices, and qualities. They’re all capable of making the odd lemon, too, though that's the exception rather than the rule.

That’s why there are warranties. Just make sure you trust the retailer from whom you bought the TV set to back you up if push ever comes to shove.

Buy the set you think has the best picture (not the one the salesperson says has the best picture) and the one that has the features you want. Ignore features you don't want, unless you hear a compelling argument as to why you might want them. For instance, if you’re using a satellite dish you don’t need to worry about the TV’s tuner bringing in hundreds of channels: you’ll rarely, if ever, use the TV’s tuner at all.

How’s the glare on the screen? This is pretty tough to measure in the store, but if you get a lot of washing out from the building’s lights, you may have a problem in your viewing room as well, depending upon its ambient and artificial lighting.

Check out the remote control! This is your interface and you'll use it all the time, so make sure you're comfortable with it (or think you can learn to be). Don’t just ensure the remote feels comfortable in your hand, but that it’s logically laid out and easy to figure out.

If you have a favorite DVD, take it with you to the store, otherwise make sure they play a DVD for you. VHS – and cable that’s split to multiple TV’s – are positively lousy compared to a DVD when it comes to judging picture quality.

As for screen size, the bigger the better – depending on your room, your budget, and your inclination. Below about 40 inches (measured diagonally), you’ll be looking for a “direct view” set and above that you’re into the wonderful world of projection TV’s. Either of these beasts can give you spectacular results; ‘twas not always the case, but projection TV’s have gotten so good in recent years that it’s now safe to buy them.

If you're buying for the long term, think about getting an HDTV-ready set (displays HDTV signals, but doesn't have the HD tuner built in). Within the next several years, all TV broadcasts will be in HDTV and there'll be HD DVD's as well, so you might as well be ready for them.

The same considerations apply to widescreen TV’s.

We’ve just gone through this in our own home. We’re buying a big screen TV for Christmas, so we bit the bullet and went for a widescreen HDTV-ready model. On the other hand, we got a new bedroom TV recently and, since those needs are so much different, we chose an inexpensive 13" direct view we can use for a few years and then donate to a landfill somewhere (okay, maybe a charity...).

Whatever you choose, relax: it's just a TV! If you use your eyes and your head, you should have years of enjoyment, even if it isn't one that feels as if it were designed just for you.

I’ll opine on buying a rear projection TV next.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006