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How to (and how not to) buy a flat-screen TV

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Part 4: Getting connected With luck and budget, you may by now have bought your flat-screen TV. But what if you arrive home to the horrible realisation that you cannot connect up your various entertainment devices to the new centrepiece of your home? In Part 4 of our series, JOEL KOPPING advises you on what connections you will find on TVs, the equipment that you are likely to connect to your new TV and the best connections to use.

In the homework part of this series I mentioned that you needed to have a look at how many inputs you’ll need on your new TV. But that alone raises numerous other questions, so let’s look at the issue in more detail.

You will typically find up to eight different types of connections on a new TV.

First, there are the traditional analogue connections:

RF or aerial input: The most convenient connection, as you get off-air audio and video from this. RF also unfortunately delivers the worst video quality.

Composite video input: This usually uses a single yellow plug. You only get video on this input, but it will be a little better looking than RF video.

S-video input: This uses a small multi pin connector, also only does video, but is s step up from composite video.

Component video: Here you’ll use the red, green and blue connections on the TV. Component is also video only, but offers the best analogue video quality.

PC input: this would be the same 15 pin connector that you’ll see on some monitors. It may be useful if you need a really big PC screen.

The next set of inputs is digital inputs, and these include:

LAN input: some new TVs can be hooked up directly to the Internet or to your home network. If the TV is DLNA compliant, you could stream movies from your PC directly to the TV by using the LAN input.

USB input: Like the LAN input: you could view images or movies stored on a memory stick by using this input.

HDMI input: HDMI is the latest and arguably the best video and audio connection to use on a TV. Because of its bandwidth, HDMI is the best and often the only connection that you could use to transfer High Definition video and audio to your TV.

I would suggest that you always use the best possible video connection between TV and any other video producing components that you will connect to your new TV.

Fortunately, all Blu-ray players have HDMI outputs, many new DVD players have HDMI and many games consoles have HDMI outputs too. Even DSTV’s HDPVR, being a High Definition device, has an HDMI output.

If we use the HDPVR as an example, the best audio and video connection to use would be HDMI, the second best video-only connection would be component video, and the poorest video connection would be composite video.

When using anything other than HDMI, you would also need another set of audio cables to get audio – red and white connections – from your decoder to your TV. HDMI includes audio and video.

Remember that if you want to upgrade to a better video cable, the best time to buy one is when buying your new TV.

Currently, three to four HDMI inputs seems to be the norm on new TVs. This means that you’ll be able to connect, for example, a Blu-ray player, HDPVR, PS3 (PlayStation 3) and a media server to your new TV.

There are ways to add even more HDMI-equipped components to a TV – such as using a home theatre receiver with its own HDMI inputs.

You should, however, remember that in many cases component video is almost as good as HDMI video, and even if you run out of HDMI inputs on your TV, you could then use one of the TV’s component video inputs.

While the number of inputs, both analogue and digital, is important, they come a distant second when compared to image quality.

You may curse having to switch plugs on the odd occasion you connect your digital video camera to your TV, and wish that you bought one with more HDMI inputs, but you’ll curse every time you watch TV if you don’t like the image quality.

What cable?

Off course, you do need cables to connect your components to your new TV. The questions are: What do you need? And how much should you spend?

Naturally those components that use HDMI outputs will need an HDMI cable to connect it to your TV.

Fortunately these are often supplied with your Blu-ray player, DVD player and even DSTV decoder.

These supplied cables will work perfectly for most applications.

The only time you really need to look for better quality HDMI cables is when the bit rate, i.e. the size of the video stream, is high. Here 3D comes to mind ‚ or when your TV is far away from your player.

If you have to buy a cable, an entry level HDMI cable will work for short runs up to a few metres. Slightly longer distances ‚ up to around 10 metres ‚ require slightly better cables, costing possibly a few hundred Rands. For longer than this, you really do need much better and more expensive cables.

On the analogue side, if you are using the component video connection, you will need to buy a decent quality 75 Ohm component video cable.

The whole analogue cable issue is a contentious one, so I have a general rule of thumb to help me decide which cables to buy.

If a dealer can demonstrate to me the difference between two cables, then I would be interested in paying for the better one. If the dealer can’t, or is unwilling to show me the difference between a cheap or an expensive cable, then I’ll vote with my pocket and buy the cheaper one.

Having said that, I should add that, while you may not initially see or hear a major difference, typically, better cables will last longer. So spending just a little more on a cable may be a worthwhile long term investment.

Next: 3D or not 3D

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