« A Big LCD TV that Won't Break the Bank | Main | iPod »

February 18, 2005

Consumer Reports' Five-Step Guide to Buying a High-Definition Television

Sky-high costs may have scared many consumers away from large-screen high definition TVs until now, but prices have dropped sharply and the March issue of Consumer Reports says that they could hit new lows in the coming months. Even with prices falling, a big-screen TV is still a four-figure investment, and shoppers will find a host of new display technologies to consider along with a growing list of unfamiliar brands. The March issue of Consumer Reports offers a step-by-step guide to buying a high-definition television and advice on financing, warranties and installation.

The experts at Consumer Reports recommend that shoppers ask themselves these five questions when shopping for a high- definition television.

1. How big a screen? - CR recommends that TV shoppers consider not just price but where they will be watching when determining screen size. Bigger screens not only take up more space but require more viewing distance. The experts at CR recommend at least five feet for a 36-inch screen or smaller set, and seven to nine feet for larger screens.

2. Thick or thin? Big-screen TVs range from a few inches to a few feet deep. LCD and plasma sets are the trimmest and priciest. No matter how large, they measure less than six inches thick, and typically cost about $1,800 for a 26-inch LCD; $4,000 for a 42-inch plasma. Rear-projection models using LCD, DLP, or LCoS technology offer a middle ground for both bulk and price, around 15 to 20 inches deep, and typically cost about $1,200 to $3,000 for a 50-inch (or so) set, depending on the technology.

3. Which type of display technology? CR outlines the following choices: traditional picture-tube sets (CRTs) - best for a fairly big HD set at a fairly low price, though bulky; LCD flat-panel models - best choice for a smaller flat-screen set; plasmas - best choice for a very big, very thin set; rear- projection models - best choice for a jumbo TV for less than the cost of a plasma set; and front projectors - best choice for video buffs who want a theater-like experience on a giant screen and are willing to deal with a complex setup.

4. Why HD? The experts at CR recommend that consumers who are springing for a big-screen set get a digital, HD-capable model. Those sets can display the sharpest, most detailed images. Plasma shoppers may want to consider an enhanced definition (ED) model. Though technically a step down, viewers may not notice the difference unless viewing up close.

5. HD-ready or built-in tuner? HD-ready sets require an external digital tuner such as an HD cable or satellite box or a set-top box used with an antenna to decode HD signals. Integrated HDTVs have built-in digital tuners that can get broadcast HD programming via antenna, but require an external tuner for cable or satellite channels. Digital cable-ready TVs can get both broadcast HD channels via antenna and also digital cable programming without using a box but by inserting a cable card into the set. Shoppers who receive their HD via cable or satellite can save money by buying an HD-ready set while they are still available in large sizes.

Advice on Financing, Warranties, and Installation

The experts at Consumer Reports warn of risks associated with buying high-definition televisions.

Loan Gotchas - In an effort to drive sales of higher-priced TVs and other electronics, some retailers now offer zero-interest loans for up to two years. But for many consumers, that means signing up for a credit card that carries a high annual interest rate - up to 29 percent. In many cases, if the loan is not repaid in full before the term expires, consumers will be charged interest from the date of purchase. With some loans, missing three payments in a row triggers the same penalty.

Warranty Costs - For most products, extended warranties aren't worth it. But CR experts advise that it may be worthwhile for high-priced plasma and LCD TVs and rear-projection sets using LCD, DLP, or LCoS, which are too new to have a track record for reliability. Extended warranties typically cover parts and labor for two to five years from the date of purchase and costs vary by the type of TV, its price, and the length of warranty.

Installation - Consumers who are daunted by the idea of moving a huge TV and connecting it to their existing gear should consider hiring a pro to do it. Prices can range from $100 for basic hook-up of a cable box and VCR or DVD, and over $1,000 to wall-mount a plasma or LCD TV and connect various components and hide wiring. Shoppers need to factor in another $200 to $500 for mounting brackets.

The March 2005 issue of Consumer Reports also includes the latest ratings of Projection TVs, Plasmas, LCDs, CRTs, and DVD Players and Recorder. A guide to projection TV lingo and a side-by-side comparison of display technologies is available for free at http://www.ConsumerReports.org.


06:00 AM in HDTV | Permalink