A new HDTV is a big investment and a point of pride. But making that investment can feel daunting, and pride can get in the way of good sense. Too often HDTV buyers spring for a big TV with the latest and greatest specs without really knowing exactly what they’re paying for or if it’s worthwhile. Below, you’ll find some of the most common and costly traps to avoid while you’re shopping for an HDTV.
The Size Trap
A huge TV will make your friends drool with envy, but don’t overdo it. If a TV is too big for a room and you’re forced to sit too close to a colossal screen, the picture won’t look as sharp as it should, and you could end up with a serious headache from the eye strain. The distance between the TV and your eyeballs should be 1.5 to 2.5 times the size of the screen. And don’t forget to account for the space you’ll need in your car for the ride back from the store.
The Showroom Trap
Don’t fall for the sales gimmicks that have no bearing on real-world performance. For example, Sharp has displays set up in some stores to sell their Quattron-series TVs. The display implores users to look through a magnifying glass to examine the extra color (yellow) built into each pixel. It’s definitely there, and it does affect the picture (yellows look more vibrant), but you’d never look at your TV through a magnifying glass in your living room, so why would it matter in the showroom?
The Specs Trap
Manufacturers love big numbers on their spec sheets. In theory, more is better with specs like refresh rate and contrast ratio, but in practice, they don’t always make a difference. The refresh rate, for example, measures how frequently a fresh image is displayed; and the higher the number, the smoother the picture should be. But beyond 120Hz, the human eye has a difficult time discerning a difference.
The most nebulous spec is the dynamic contrast ratio. Each manufacturer uses a different scale to measure the dynamic contrast ratio, so the numbers aren’t helpful when comparing TVs across brands. At best, the ratio can be a rough guide for comparing different models within a brand. But even so, bloated numbers like 5,000,000:1 and 6,000,000:1 are too esoteric to measure the real-world impact. You’ll have to use your own judgment on this one.
The Running-Out-of-Money-For-Extras Trap
The TV is the most important and expensive part of your entertainment center, but you’ll need some cables and components to make it worthwhile. Save a few hundred dollars off the top of your budget for components like a Blu-ray player, game console or a high-def cable or satellite TV subscription. Save a few hundred more if you buy a 3-D TV, because you’ll need a few pairs of shutter glasses and a 3-D Blu-ray player too.
You’ll need some HDMI cables to connect everything, but don’t buy them at the store. Buy online at Monoprice.com or Amazon.com ( AMZN – news – people ), and don’t spend more than $10 per cable. If you absolutely have to buy in-store, avoid “premium” HDMI cables, like the Monster brand. Salespeople often promote these absurdly expensive brands because the margins are so high, but the benefit to picture and sound quality is indiscernible.
The best part of buying a TV is sitting down and watching it after it’s all set up. Take the money you saved and buy some high-def movies to enjoy.