Choosing A TV

These are some considerations sometimes overlooked by sources such as professional sites, magazines, newsgroups, and forums.  They should be used alongside such other advice, which preferably should include 'What Hifi?' reviews, 'Which?' reports, and so on.  This is not intended as a comprehensive, standalone guide to buying a TV.

In UK TV newsgroups, outsiders often drift in asking for advice in choosing a new TV.  For a number of reasons, the replies are often less helpful than they could and should be:

It's unhelpful to those seeking impartial advice to pontificate one's own biases, therefore, so the reader knows and can make any allowances required, I'll state that with some reservations I'm mostly pro-LCD, and currently own a couple of Standard Definition LCD TVs, which give me my best home TV pictures to date.

General Considerations

As with any significant purchase, prior research is important.  It's no good just flinging money at whatever the latest technology happens to be, say LCD &/or HD, and expecting everything to be perfect just because it was a lot of money and it's the latest technology.

Overridingly important as the picture is, there are other factors to keep in mind:

  1. Tuner(s), analogue (UK broadcasts will cease 2012) or digital  -  if the latter, whether DVB-T (Freeview) or DVB-S (Freesat), and whether Standard Definition (SD) or High Definition (HD).
  2. Is it also a Personal Video Recorder (PVR), and if so, do you want them in one box?  That has advantages of convenience and economy, but disadvantages that if either unit needs removal for repair, you lose the other for the duration, and may also actually lose all the PVR's recordings, while one box may also be less future-proof.  Further, the particular PVR should to be evaluated against their general characteristics, some of which are listed on p6 of 'TV In The UK'.
  3. Connection sockets  -  in the UK, depending on what you want to connect, which may include ... ... you should expect at least one, preferably more, SCART socket(s) for RGB In.  Additionally, if your recorder like a DVD-R or VCR records the analogue video signal, rather than like most PVRs the digital broadcast signal, some TVs can relay the screen &/or the internal tuner to a socket for this purpose.  Plasma screens often have Component Video instead of or in addition to SCART connectors.  High Definition (HD) requires possibly DVI or most probably HDMI digital inputs.  You may also want connections to a stereo or surround sound system.
  4. Manufacturer's Warranty (consumer advice is usually against purchasing extended warranty).
  5. Manufacturer's and supplier's reputations for reliability  -  If you are a member of the Consumers' Association you are probably already well placed to research this, but there are online sources as well, such as Audio-Visual, TV, and DVD newsgroups and forums.

Take some DVDs/Blu-Rays around the stores and ask to see them played back on the sets with the most promising pictures.  This will give direct comparisons both between those in the shop and with your current set at home, then make a decision on what the eyes (and the bank account) say.

However, note that the player used to play these, and the way it is connected to the prospective TV, are significant.  For DVDs, you need a SCART RGB connection from the player to the TV, which may have to be configured in the menu(s) of either or both devices, as the default SCART mode may be inferior quality Composite Video.  Plasmas may require a Component Video (not to be confused with Composite Video) connection, which is of comparable quality to RGB.  For Blu-Ray, you should use a digital connection such as DVI or HDMI.

Another concern is that, by general agreement in relevant newsgroups such as, TVs perform best when adjusted to minimise alteration to the incoming signal.  At very least, that should be the starting point for adjustment.  When viewing to purchase, if you can, go into the menus, set all picture controls to their mid-point, and disable options such as filters and artificial intelligence that aren't required to show a basic picture.  In general home appliance stores, don't be surprised if Mr/Ms HowCanIAvoidHelpingYouSir has no idea what you mean; try and get to work the remote yourself.

Also tune the set to BBC News 24 or Sky News to see how it shows poor quality material such as news clips, and then take a look at what you'd normally watch at home from the same source as you would normally watch it at home  -  DTT (Freeview), satellite, cable, DVD, or Blu-Ray.  Particularly with UK DTT (Freeview), but also to a lesser extent with satellite, over-compression of transmissions is a significant problem.  Any such shortcomings in the source signal will show up much more clearly on bigger and more expensive sets, and, although it's actually the source material's fault rather than the TV's, if, for most of what you view, a more expensive set just shows the flaws in the signal more clearly, that's a valid reason not to spend extra money.  It's easier to justify an expensive set if you are going to be watching mostly good source material such as DVDs / HD / Blu-Ray.

†  Hire some if necessary - I suggest a good mix of 3 - 5 including at least:

  1. To check colour balance, one natural history and one sitcom or reality show (for human flesh tones indoors);
  2. For movement, action scenes such as whatever blockbuster takes the fancy, and interlaced sport action.
  3. Examples of material commonly watched at home.
  4. Particularly if you watch many B&W movies, or programmes such as sci-fi having star- or galaxy-scapes, perhaps something containing such material, for assessing whether the blacks are black enough to show such dark scenes.

High-Definition (HD)

High Definition (HD) is a new broadcast standard of higher resolution than Standard Definition, requiring completely new equipment throughout from camera to television.  For the consumer this means replacing TV & STB.  When buying new kit, you should ensure that it can both receive and display broadcasts in the following resolutions:

Standard Definition576i720 × 576 interlaced + Stereo Sound
High Definition1080i1920 × 1080 interlaced + Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound

In the UK, a limited choice of HD programmes has been available via satellite and cable for some time  -  some flagship BBC programmes such as 'Planet Earth' and 'Wimbledon', some ITV programmes, and from Sky and Virgin packages.  HD from the four main terrestrial broadcasters will start to broadcast on Freeview from December 2009 with Digital Switch Over (DSO).

HD WARNINGS  -  The HD Ready stickers on TVs for sale have been much criticised in knowledgeable circles, as they mean merely that the TV can display HD video.  Note that:

  1. Many HD TVs sold to date have only SD terrestrial (Freeview) or satellite (Freesat) tuners, and to display broadcast HD require a further HD STB connected via HDMI.  With HD available via satellite and imminent via terrestrial, it's probably worth holding out for HD tuners.
  2. Many HD TVs can only display HD video by downgrading it to a lower resolution than that received.  Check that the actual, numerical figures for the resolutions supported include at least the above, preferably 1080p (1920 × 1080 progressive), as that is the format supported by Blu-Ray and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games consoles.

Display Technologies