This past October I finally made the decision that it was time to buy a new TV. At the time my TV had been developing a black “smudge” in the picture in the upper right that had been growing over the years and was about to take over almost two-thirds of the entire right side. The TV was a 32” 720p LCD HDTV and I was finding some things a little difficult to read on the screen, which may be more about my eyesight than the size of the TV.
From October through January I researched, compared, tested, and made a “final decision” about 10 times before finally pulling the trigger and purchasing a new TV in late January. It was the most stressful purchase I’ve ever made in my life, and I hope I don’t have to purchase another new TV for at least 10 years.
There are so many different choices when it comes to HDTVs due to different sizes, technology, and features, and when each category has six or more possible options, whittling down the possible TVs becomes almost impossible.
Size? LED vs plasma? 240Hz vs 120Hz? Smart features vs no smart features? Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, Visio, LG?
I made lists of the pros and cons of each, made charts to visualize which features were really important to me, heck, I even flipped a coin in some cases, but I was unable to reach a decision. The problem with so many choices is that one is not clearly better than the others, in fact, some choices are better in certain circumstances while the opposite choice is better in others, and both circumstances may apply to me depending on the day.
There are numerous recommendations of the optimal size of the HDTV you should get based on how far away you are when viewing it. The problem is that there isn’t just one size for eight feet away (my viewing distance). It all depends on what you’re using the TV for and the experience you want. I’ve seen optimal size ranges anywhere from 32” (my old set that seemed small) to 80” (!!!).
Thankfully, Best Buy uses 2’ x 2’ carpet tiles, so I was able to accurately stand eight feet away and compare the sizes. I probably spent about an hour in Best Buy, over two visits, watching the different size TVs, paying attention to whether my eyes picked up the whole TV or if they had to pan around. I decided that a 46” TV was probably the best choice, as the 50” was harder to view the entire screen without panning.
(Interesting note: while standing around in Best Buy, not one salesperson came up to me as asked if I needed help. Not sure if that’s because I looked like I knew more than they did, or if I smelled.)
Perhaps the biggest choice to be made is whether to get a plasma or LED screen. Plasma has deeper blacks, richer colors, and a wider viewing angle. However, plasma can suffer from “burn-in”, where portions of an image that don’t change for a long time can be burned in to the screen and be seen after changing the channel. While plasma does do things to combat this, knowing that I watch a lot of SportsCenter, with it’s black bar on the left side of the screen, a lot of sports with the score always in the same spot, and some video games with the health bar in the same spot, plasma took a hit.
On the other hand, LEDs backlighting may have issues except on the highest-end models (real backlighting vs edge lighting). LEDs may also be a little “blurrier”, especially on fast moving video like car races. LEDs now have 240Hz refresh rates to combat that.
Based on the above, and how I use my TV, I thought that LED would probably be better because I didn’t want burn-in to affect the picture quality in a few years – somewhat reminiscent of that black “smudge” that was occurring on my old TV.
While I was leaning towards an LED TV, choosing the 46” size actually clinched LED for me since no one makes a 46” plasma. Plasmas really start at 50”, although Panasonic makes one 42” model, but even if I really wanted plasma, it would be too small.
So, based on all of the above, it looked like a 46” LED was the way to go for me. However, there was one issue with the current crop of TVs that I had to wrap my mind around and see if I could live with.
One of the ways the newer HDTVs deliver better colors is by using a glass or glass-like screen. Compared to my old TV, which uses a matte plastic type of screen, the colors really are much more vivid and “pop”. Matte screens tend to dull colors a bit. However, one big advantage of a matte screen is that there are almost no reflections from even bright, direct light sources, and any that do exist are diffused so you really can’t see them at all. Even though they use special coatings, glass screens are very reflective of any light sources in the room.
Out of all the 46” LED TVs I was considering, only one had a matte screen, and it didn’t have some of the other features I wanted. So I found myself back at Best Buy looking at different TVs for their reflective properties. What I found was a little disturbing.
During bright scenes, you couldn’t really see any reflections at all. However, in dark scenes, you could clearly see not only lights, but everything that the light hit. I could clearly see me standing eight feet away, the sign behind me, etc.
After standing there for about 30 minutes, I began to realize something…if I watched the TV and looked for the reflections, I saw them easily, and they were very distracting. However, if I actually started watching what the TV was playing and not concentrating on the reflections, I stopped noticing them. Since almost nobody makes a matte screen anymore, I pretty much had to live with the reflective screen.
In mid to late January, I finally hunkered down, got all my research notes and reviews together and decided that I could either make a decision or just continue to research forever – paralysis by analysis.
I needed to whittle down the 20 possible models to 1. After going through my pros & cons list several times; after reading nothing but TV reviews for about a week; after waking up and realizing that I had been dreaming about TVs, I had what could best be described as a moment of clarity. I was trying to find the best possible TV compared to the others. What I forgot to consider was that even if I bought the worst possible new TV, it was still going to be seven years worth of technological advancements better then my old TV it was replacing. Even if I got a 32” LED TV with a 60Hz refresh rate, it was still going to be better than my old TV.
Of course, I had that epiphany at the end of the process and not at the beginning. I had it after I had racked my brain and made my co-workers sick of my indecision. I had it after I had skipped meals because I was making myself sick worried that I would make the wrong decision.
I finally ordered a Samsung 46” LED HDTV. My epiphany was right, it’s amazing. Getting to that point was horrible, though.
I joked with a friend that the only purchase more stressful would be an engagement ring. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized that my girlfriend would drop hints as to the cut, setting, and design, and all I would have to do is find something that satisfied the requirements. In fact, buying an engagement ring should be downright easy in comparison.