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Buying Guide: HDTVs

3D, LED, Web TV? Find the Set That's Right For You.

Whether you're finally jumping onto the flat screen wave or seeking the perfect HDTV to outfit your living room or den, you'll find today's televisions have more to offer than room-swallowing screen sizes or razor-thin midsections. But parsing the techno-jargon can be daunting.


Here's what you need to know before you reach for your wallet:

Shown: Samsung's PN43D450 

Size Matters

Sorry, it's true, at least when it comes to TV shopping: Screen size determines price and the viewing experience at home. So how big should your TV be? One way to determine what you'll need is to take the distance between where you'll sit and where the TV will be and cut it in half. If you'll be 100 inches away from the TV, you can opt for a 50-inch screen, or even a bit larger, but not much. 

But screen size is just one factor. Thickness (or rather, thinness) and bezel size are also considerations. At the higher-end of the price scale you'll find TVs that are 

3D For Thee?

This year, there's a much larger selection of 3D HDTVs at lower price points than before, but the underlying technology hasn't changed. You'll still need glasses to view 3D videos and you'll still need to ensure your home theater components (Blu-ray player, receiver, etc.) are updated to handle 3D signals, but it's likely that most of the higher-end TVs on the market will include 3D, even if you don't use (or want) it. Not to worry though, 3D HDTVs can still play 2D content. 

Get Connected

Your new TV isn't just a place to watch movies or play games. Thanks to Ethernet ports or even built-in Wi-Fi, you can access Internet services such as Pandora Internet radio or Netflix for movie streaming. Networked TVs can also let you browse photos, videos and music stored on your home network. TV makers such as Samsung and Sony are reaching out to the "apps" community to transform the TV into something of an iTunes-store - a place to browse and select software applications designed specifically for televisions. It probably won't go that far - certainly not this year - but simply accessing Netflix, Amazon or Vudu and other movie-streaming services gives you the opportunity to trim your cable bill by accessing streaming movies using just your Internet connection.

If you want to enjoy your own digital photos and videos on your TV, look for models that incorporate memory card slots or USB flash drives. 

Refreshing

One frequently touted spec on an HDTV is its refresh rate, or how many times a still image is displayed on the screen. The faster the refresh rate, the less blur you're likely to notice during fast motion. It's measured in hertz (Hz) with 60Hz common for entry-level TVs, 120Hz at the mid-range and 240Hz or higher at the upper end. Bear in mind, though, that it's very difficult to discern the difference between 120Hz and 240Hz

LCD, LED & Plasma 

Here's a dirty little secret: there's no such thing as an "LED TV." It's really an LCD TV that uses an LED, or light emitting diode, for its backlighting. That said, LCD sets with LED backlighting do confer some benefits. They're more energy efficient than traditional LCDs and they can produce a crisper picture with deeper blacks that conventionally backlit LCD displays. LED backlighting is a premium feature, so expect to pay a bit more to enjoy the privilege.  As for LCD vs. plasma technology, you can learn about the differences here.


What flat screen TVs are hot right now? Read our guide to top HDTVs.

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