This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

How (and when) to shop for a new HDTV.

Posted by Matt
You know you want one. It's the biggest, sexiest new piece of consumer electronics out there. But should you really rush to upgrade to a new HDTV? I recently spent a few weeks involved with this, so allow me to share what I learned in a few key areas.

Wait! You don't NEED an HDTV. Read that again. Don't buy an HDTV unless you can answer "Yes" to all of the questions below.

  1. Are you without a working television?
  2. Can you pay cash for an HDTV?
  3. Do you have a source for hi-definition content?
Yes, George W. passed a law mandating a hard shut-off date of February 17, 2009 for all analog (NTSC) TV transmissions in the U.S. However, existing analog TV sets will still work with cable or satellite service, or use a converter box with an ATSC tuner that would convert digital over-the-air (OTA) signals to analog. So you can safely hang on to your existing TV until it wears out. Ours just happened to develop an annoying high-pitched whine a few months before my birthday. (Lucky me!)

Technology choices...feeling lost? We chose an LCD screen. They are less expensive than plasma in most cases, probably because plasma still has a slight edge in picture quality (especially in brightness and deeper blacks). I also wanted something that would last and be low maintenance. I learned:

  • the "burn-in" potential of the current generation of plasma screens is there, but mostly overstated and LCD's can also suffer burn-in eventually
  • rear-projection technologies (DLP, SXRD) are typically cheaper up-front, but require periodic (and expen$ive) lamp replacement.
Resolution? Most screens available these days have at least the capability to deliver a nice picture, especially if you are upgrading from an older CRT like I was, but there will be no improvement over the picture quality of your current screen unless you have a hi-def source.

I considered several high-quality 720p screens (which are obviously less expensive these days), but ultimately opted to forestall obsolescence by going for 1080p (the highest resolution commercially available currently) now and hoping that the new high-definition DVD players will come down in price rapidly over the next few years so that we can use our screen to its full potential. In the meantime, there are several networks that broadcast in 720p and 1080i (what's the difference?) and I've REALLY been appreciating the new screen when viewing these.

Is it possible to go TOO big? We bought a 47" screen partially because we have a young child and it is easier to watch most movies at home (NETFLIX!) than get to the theater anymore. We could have easily gotten by with a 42", though. Think about how much you want the screen to dominate whichever room you put it in, and how close you will be sitting to the screen. Our 47" looks great from the kitchen (30+ feet away), but analog programs look a little grainy from up close.

Where can I find a deal? We purchased from Costco because they are close by (no shipping expenses or risks!), have a great return policy and offered the best prices among the reputable dealers I checked.

For additional information, be sure to check out CNET's buying guide, which is where I did a lot of my research. Also, Consumer Reports has great reviews if you have a subscription.

Here's what we ended up with:

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