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How to Buy a TV Today

Published: April 19, 2012

Remember when buying a TV was easy? You walked into a store, chose the best screen size and picture for your budget, and lugged home a heavy tube in a box. Shopping for a TV today is a bit more complex. Your local big-box retailer has dozens on the wall—svelte, high-definition sets with gorgeous displays. And then there’s the cryptic terminology: LCD, LED, plasma—not to mention 60Hz, 120Hz, and 240Hz. Help! Here are the basics you need to know:

Essentially the choice is between LCD and Plasma. (LED is a subset of LCD, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) LCD (liquid crystal display) screens are brighter and reflect considerably less light than plasma TVs, making them better for sunlit rooms. They’re the more popular choice and, for that reason, slightly more expensive. Plasma TVs, on the other hand, show more vibrant colors and deeper shades of black, and are often preferred by home theater buffs.

LED TVs are really just LCDs, but with LED backlighting. LED stands for light-emitting diode, but the practical bottom line is that LED TVs can be wafer-thin, often less than an inch thick. LED TVs also use less energy than regular LCDs. If cost is a factor—and when isn’t it?—you can get some great deals on LED TVs.

When shopping, you’ll also want to consider the “refresh rate,” measured in Hz (for hertz or cycles per second). A higher refresh rate means less blurring in action sequences. You want the highest refresh rate possible for sports, but it’s not so important for watching talking heads. Shoot for at least 120 Hz.

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