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

Part 1: Do your homeworknnBuying a new Flat screen TV should be easy. You pop into a shop, look at what’s available, and choose the best one that you can afford. The problem is that there is so much misinformation surrounding what are and aren’t important specifications and features, that it’s often almost impossible to make an informed buying decision. In the first of a series of articles on the do and do not of flat-screen TV shopping, our new Audio-video specialist writer, JOEL KOPPING, warns that the homework is just as important as the “shopwork.”
Many a sales person will tell you with utter conviction that TV number 1 is better than TV number 2 as it has a higher contrast ratio, and they may even believe this themselves. The dirty reality is that the only difference between the two sets, in this case, is that they earn more commission on the recommended TV.

While I will go into specifications a little later, I will state right at the outset that, in most cases, claimed contrast ratio is meaningless, and typically has little to do with how well or poorly any TV will perform. In fact, you can do more about the quality of the eventual image at home before you even leave for the shops.

Before you leave home with credit card and TV licence in hand and venture into the great world of TV shopping, there are a number of practical aspects that you should look before you buy.

The first recommendation is that that you check, or have a technician pop around to check, on both your satellite and TV aerial signal strengths.

Over time aerials and dishes move, and signal carrying cables get damaged due to corrosion, or even being eaten by vermin or bugs. As this aerial drift and cable breakdown occurs over a few years, we don’t notice that our picture quality is slowly degrading.

By realigning aerial or satellite dish and replacing damaged wiring, we ensure that when we do eventually install our new TV, it will deliver the best possible off-air picture quality. You may even find that the improvements seen on your current TV may even negate the need to buy a new TV.

The next thing I would do is to sit down in front of the TV and have a look around. Check on the following:

How far from the TV do you sit, and how much space do you have to locate the TV?
As a rule of thumb you want to sit at least 2.5 to 3 times your TV’s diagonal measurement away from the TV. This means that you need to sit around 2.5 to 3 metres away from a 40-inch (roughly a 100cm) TV. Sitting too close to a big screen is uncomfortable and, the closer you are to a screen, the more you notice on-screen blemishes.

You will also want to know before you buy your new TV if it will safely fit in the space allocated for it in your wall unit, or on top of your TV stand. If you are going to wall-mount the TV, you need to look at all the wall bracket options to determine which will suit your requirements. You also need to consider how you are going to run all the necessary cables to the TV before you drill holes to bolt the mounting bracket to the wall.

What do I or the family mostly watch on TV?
Do you watch mostly sport, news, soapies, DVDs, Blue-ray movies or high-definition TV?
By determining your viewing patterns, you can decide on which technical parameters (which I’ll get to later) are important and which ones aren’t.

How bright is my room?
Can you – or will you be allowed to- close curtains or switch off lights if you need to make the room darker to enhance your viewing experience? Knowing this will help in determining which TV technology will suit your requirements.

How many and what kind of inputs does my new TV have to have?
You don’t want to get your new TV home and find that little Johnny can’t connect his – or your – XBox, PS3, Wii,  DVD player or media server to the TV as you’ve got the HD PVR connected to the only HDMI input.

Tomorrow we will look more closely at TV types, what the various specifications mean and how to choose between them.

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