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HDTV Buying Guide

Dick De Jong
April 20, 2013
HDTV Solutions

Let's continue this HDTV Buying Guide with what is often the major consideration in buying an appliance - cost. For most of us mere mortals, we need to decide how much we want to spend. Without some dollar limit, strolling into the HDTV section of the store (whether brick and mortar or online) can lead to a major household budget buster.

I'll discuss price of TVs in terms of screen size, screen type, and screen resolution in the following sections. For now, let's talk about cost, near term and long term. Beyond the price of the TV, before you leave the store you will be accosted with a few other expenses that you should factor in - cables, wall mounts, transportation, installation, and warranties.

Rather than dive into a long discussion on cables or wall mounts at this point, please see the Accessories section at the end of this article.

If you are buying at the local big box store down the freeway, you will have to transport that lovely toy to your house. And if we're talking about any screen much larger than 32", its box probably won't fit into your Escort. It may not even squeeze into your Escalade. Hopefully, you have a good friend with a strong back and a cargo van.

Big Box Delivery

Big Box at Your Doorstep

If not, you may want to consider using the store's delivery and installation service. Often installation is priced reasonably and packaged with the TV as an incentive. Do the math, only you can decide if it is worth it.

Of course, if you are purchasing online, then shipping to your door will be calculated into the final price. Unless it is otherwise stated, don't be surprised if the delivery man tells you that there will be an extra charge for maneuvering the box into your TV room or upstairs into the bedroom.

Luckily, many of the newest TVs have been on a crash diet. Some of them are half the weight of their similarly screen-sized brothers and sisters from three years ago. For example, I recently reviewed the 40-inch Sony KDL-40R450A TV, which tips the scales at around 16 pounds. Carting these skinny-minnies is much easier on the old sacroiliac.

Most retailers will try to sell you a warranty that can amount to a sizeable chunk of change. The general consensus is that warranties are not a great idea when it comes to TVs. You can read more about warranties in the article, "What's with Warranties?"

Finally, depending on your disposition, when you are buying a big ticket item like an HDTV, negotiation opportunities may arise. With intense competition, the profit margins for retailers on the TVs are fairly thin, but you may find some wiggle room, especially on prices for warranties and installation.

Now, once you have your HDTV home safe and sound, you still have one more cost to factor into your budget - HD content.

High Definition Content

I almost left this section out of this updated guide because I thought it was much less of an issue than it was two years ago. But even in 2013, there are still a surprising number of U.S. households that own an HDTV but do not receive high-definition programming.

I feel so strongly about the importance of supplying your HDTV with high definition programming that I will make this statement. Don't buy an HDTV unless you plan on feeding it high definition content. Stick with your old standard definition TV.

Now, this is the important bit. Let me state this simply. Just because you have an HDTV, you don't magically receive high definition content. With that said, here's what you need to do.

If you are subscribed to a cable or satellite system, you should contact your provider and make sure that you have all the equipment that you will need from them to receive HD signals. For example, the company might require you to upgrade to a new set top box and you may also have to pay more for an "HD programming tier."

Please be aware that many cable companies will provide an SD lineup and an HD lineup of channels. Which can mean that networks like ESPN will broadcast the same game in HD on one channel and SD on another channel. Make sure that you are tuned to the HD channel. You will definitely notice the difference. And that's the whole point. HDTVs look their best when they are displaying HD content.

Of course, if you don't hanker to pay for a cable service, you can hook up an antenna and capture a signal off the air like we used to do before cable and satellites - assuming you can get good reception.

Toshiba 32L1350U

Big Bang Theory on a Toshiba 32L1350U

All of the major networks that you can receive with an antenna transmit HD programming. All of the prime time shows from these networks, like Big Bang Theory, N.C.I.S. or American Idol are being transmitted in HD.

And nowadays, a majority of the locally produced shows, especially the local news are in HD.

Remember that this antenna system only works with broadcast stations, meaning ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and the CW.

You can't receive any of the cable channels like ESPN or Discovery with an antenna.

Once again, receiving a digital signal does not necessarily mean that the program is high definition. But with this over the air method, if a show is HD, then the station will broadcast it in HD. You don't need to worry about tuning into an HD channel.

Now, if you only want an HDTV for watching DVDs in your home theater, you still should be feeding it HD content. If you have a library of SD DVDs, then at least purchase a DVD player that processes the standard definition signal and converts it to HD.

Though this upscaling feature is a bit of video hocus pocus and can never achieve the same picture quality as true HD content. The best source for HD movies are Blu-ray DVDs which can only be played on Blu-ray players.

The prices of Blu-ray players are dropping down to OMG, it's about time! levels. If you are in the market, you can find our Blu-ray Player Buying Guide here.

And remember, if you want to playback 3D Blu-ray DVDs, you must purchase a 3D Blu-ray player. And of course, you will need a 3D capable TV.

Sony BDP-S5100

Sony BDP-S5100 3D Blu-ray Player

Once again, if you are not going to make the commitment to provide HD programming, I would seriously suggest not buying an HDTV. But if you are ready to take the leap, let's move on to the more commonly discussed factors.

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