LCD, Plasma, or LED? What's the difference!?Purchasing a new television can be dizzying. What size? What brand? LED or Plasma? They all look so similar! As recent GHRI tests show, the difference between the best and worst TV's these days isn't as drastic as it once was, and differences only become perceptible when side by side. Still, it helps to be well informed before you make a purchase.
1. Size: TV's keep getting bigger, and you can easily fall into the trap of thinking you need to follow suit. Take a practical look at how much room you have, and how far away you'll be sitting. If you're too close to a screen that's too large, the picture can appear pixelated and dizzying. Rule of thumb: You should be a distance of 3 to 6 times the screen size. For example, if you're going to be viewing from 10 feet or 120 inches away, a 40" set is a good bet.
2. LCD/Plasma/LED: What's the difference? They all offer a good picture, but each has slight advantages. First, it's a misconception that LED is a "type" of TV. It's not! Rather, LED it is a type of "backlighting" used on LCD TVs. LED-backlit TVs have better contrast than non-LED's, meaning they display better night scenes, and contrast between light and dark. LED/LCD screens tend to be brighter overall than plasmas, don't suffer from screen "burn-in" from prolonged idle periods, have less glare (because they're usually matte), and are much more energy efficient. Plasmas, on the other hand, exhibit deeper blacks and less motion blur but they consume double the energy.
Resolution : This is the specification you're most like to see advertised. It indicates picture detail and is usually either 720 or 1080. If you're buying a set that's 40 inches or larger, look for 1080; below 32 inches, look for 720. Don't belabor the point though, because this is likely what you'll see for sale anyway.
Refresh rate : Higher refresh rates like 240hz or 480hz claim to display smoother motion flow than lower ones like 60 or 120hz. While this is generally true, our tests show this isn't always necessarily obvious to the viewer.
Contrast Ratio: Higher contrast ratios should display deeper blacks and better night scenes but again, these numbers vary widely. Your best bet is to physically look at the TV and decide for yourself.
4. Smart TV's:
If you're in the market for a "Smart TV" - one that's internet connected and has the ability to browse the web and download apps like Facebook and Netflix on its own, check out the results from our recent reviews (link). If you already have an HDTV but would like internet connectivity, consider alternative options like Roku, Apple TV, or our favorite Sony Internet Player with Google TV-all of which will plug into your TV and provide similar functionality. If all else fails, plug your computer into your television via a VGA or HDMI cable (depending on what you have) and use a wireless keyboard and mouse!
For the best sets out there, be sure to check out our top picks for internet-connected TVs. What's most important to you when you're picking out a new television? Let me know in the comments!
-by Erik Eibert
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