Technology is difficult to shop for, even when you consider yourself reasonably knowledgeable about what to look for in a particular product. Part of the difficulty lies in what manufacturers call “planned obsolescence”. In other words, manufacturers put out products that they know will only have a short life span, in terms of “state of the art”-ness. The other obstacle is simply the number of comparable products to choose from. And when it comes to buying the best flat screen TV, there is such a broad range to choose from depending on a number of things.
Important Features Explained
Screen size: Screens are measured diagonally. So, for example, a 42-inch screen will need a physical space of about 24.5 x 40 inches, with at least one additional inch all the way around for ventilation. You should also make sure you can get to the back of your new TV for periodic cleaning, which will prolong its life.
Aspect ratio: The modern standard is 16:9 (sometimes still referred to as “widescreen”). On some specs you’ll see 1.85 instead. Compare this to older shows or movies that were shot in the previous 4:3 (or 1.33) standard and you’ll see how much visual information had been missing from the story. You might also come across a widescreen in 2.39, or “anamorphic.”
Resolution: This is the number of pixels used to create the image. In recent years, the standard has pretty much been 1920×1080 pixels, aka 1080p or 1080i for High-Def (HD). The more pixels used, the crisper the image.
These days, we’re seeing even better, truer images with 2K and even 4K, which are the standards used by Hollywood, but these may be beyond your price range. There are also still 1024×768 (720p) TVs out there and these are fine if you’re not using an HD receiver from your satellite or cable provider.
Refresh rate: This is the number of times the entire image is created on the screen per second. It’s measured in Hertz (Hz) and you don’t want anything lower than 60Hz, otherwise you’ll get what are called “artifacts.” These are traces of the previous image the screen created and make the image look blurry.
3D: You’ve heard about 3D on televisions for years. This feature is often spotlighted by manufacturers and retailers, which can give the impression that 3D is the only format these TVs display. In fact, they display 2D (“normal”) shows as well as any non-3D unit.
Best Flat Screen TV: LED, LCD, Plasma or OLED?
LCD stands for liquid crystal display and is what makes the image on a flat screen a little clearer than the old CRT counterpart. The difference between it and LED display is that the LED uses “light emitting diodes” rather than fluorescent light to create the image. This tends to make the picture more pristine, but it also uses far less energy because LEDs are inherently more efficient conductors.
Plasma displays add a gas to this mix, which makes for a broader contrast range and a crisper image, particularly where action is a factor. Plasma is also primarily used in larger screens. In general, plasma screens cost a little less than LCD/LED.
OLED (organic light emitting diode) displays are the most recent in the development of flat-screen technology. These are also very expensive for the majority of consumers, pricing in the thousands rather than hundreds range and it doesn’t look like they’ll come down anytime soon.
Putting It All Together
As with anything, when you’re looking for the best flat screen TV for your household, you’ll need to decide how much you want to spend and how you’ll be using it. Will this be your main TV, or will it be set up in the spare bedroom? Will it be in a bright room, or one that is comparatively dark? What sort of viewing do you normally enjoy, TV or movies? Will you play a lot of video games or watch a lot of sports? What auxiliary components do you want to connect to it?
These do seem like a lot of things to think about just to be able to watch TV, but this is a product you’ll have to live with for a while so you want to be happy with it. Consumer Reports offers a pretty comprehensive list of flat screens, which is a good place to start your research. You should be able to get a decent flat screen for around $500. Anything less and it will probably be a smaller screen, but the higher the price usually means more features and tends to mean better quality. The top consumer-rated or best flat-screen TV is from Samsung and it costs under $1,000, but was also given high marks across the board.
As a filmmaker myself and avid film viewer (also video game player), I would go for either the plasma or the 2K resolution. Both will give a beautiful image no matter what you’re watching and be able to keep up with the action in any genre as well. Ultimately, the best flat screen TV for you will depend on your budget, but Samsung makes a quality product, as does LG.
Photo Credit: Vantage ResortRealty