Everything You Need to Buy an HDTV Guide | Do I Need One? | Which Set's For Me? | Cost and Features | Where to Find HD Programming | All of the Other Stuff | The Ultimate HDTV Checklist | Slideshow: HDTV Sets | Slideshow: Cables and Inputs
There are probably factors to consider when buying an HDTV that you're not even aware of and wouldn't care about if you were. But there are a couple of important technical things you really need to understand before investing in one of these high-end sets.
After all, if you want to find the right HDTV set for you, you need to know what you're looking for.
One of the biggest factors in buying an HDTV is cost -- they're expensive -- and it's kept many people away. But prices have come down considerably in recent years as the sets have become cheaper to produce, and it's not hard to find a great set for around $1,000.
Flat panels of about 20 inches start at around $300-$400 and steadily climb up from there. At the high end of the spectrum are the monster 65-inch-plus sets, which run over $3,000 and require significant breathing room.
As LCD begins to overtake plasma as the technology of choice, both are coming down in cost but are still expensive -- over $2,000 -- when you get into the larger sizes.
If you want a big HDTV but don't want to break the bank, consider a rear-projection DLP set. A 42-inch Samsung DLP, for example, can be had for under $1,000, yet delivers comparable picture quality to an LCD or plasma. If you went for a 42-inch flat panel, you'd be paying around $1,500.
Regardless of which type of set you choose, you're going to pay dearly. You'll want to make sure that you're buying the set that makes the most sense for your needs.
Once you've determined how much you can spend, think about what size screen is right for you and appropriate for the space you plan to put it in. You probably don't want a 65-inch plasma screen in your kitchen (well, maybe you do!).
Get an idea of how far your new set will be from where you sit while watching TV. You'll need at least about three-and-a-half feet for a 26-inch screen and as much as eight feet for a 65-inch screen.
You'll also want to factor in the shape of the set you want. There are two sizes or "aspect ratios" for TVs nowadays, 4:3 and 16:9.
Classic CRT (traditional cathode ray tube) style sets are still the most popular and are relatively square. They have a 4:3 aspect ratio which you may notice clips off the ends of anything presented in widescreen. Since most programming is still broadcast for these sized sets, you really only lose part of the image when watching something not meant for your TV.
The majority of HDTVs have a 16:9 aspect ratio -- roughly the shape of a movie screen. TVs in this shape will allow you to view the entire picture of a widescreen movie and add bars on the sides to fill in the blanks when viewing programming meant for a 4:3 TV set.
There's no need for you to be an expert in screen resolutions before you buy an HDTV, but you should have some idea of what you want.
While you can watch digital TV with a set that has a 480i or 480p resolution, you'll need a screen that can display a 780p, 1080i or 1080p image to get HDTV.
What does that mean? It's all very technical, but all you need to know is that a 1080p image is the highest quality, followed by 1080i and finally 780p.
Depending on which resolution your set can display, the image will be sharper and better all around, so if you want the best possible HDTV image, you'll want to go with a 1080p set. But if you're not overly concerned with being able to pick out the grey hairs on your favorite actors head, a set able to display a 1080i or even a 780p image will do nicely.
To get the most out of your HDTV, you're going to want to have the right cables to hook it up, but more importantly, you want to make sure the set you buy has all of the inputs you'll need for components like your cable box, DVD player, stereo system and video game console to work properly and to get the best image possible.
It may seem extravagant to lay down even more money for a couple of wires, but they'll make the difference between the life-like image you've been dreaming about and a nice, yet slightly blurry picture.
HDTVs generally have multiple inputs that range from the classic RCA inputs -- those red, white and yellow cables you probably used to set up your cable box and current TV -- to HDMI, a computer-like cable that delivers a true high definition picture.
You'll want to check all of the components you want to hook up to your new HDTV to see what inputs said TV should have.
Whenever possible you're going to want to stay away from those old RCA inputs which don't give you a true HD image. Take advantage of component cables, DVI and HDMI cables to get that crisp high definition image you crave.
If you're interested in hooking up your computer to your new TV, you'll need to be sure both the TV and the computer have compatible inputs.
Confused? Take a look at what the cables and inputs look like by clicking here.
HDTV or HDTV-Ready?
Some HDTVs aren't built with digital tuners -- you need a cable or satellite box or a separate tuner to receive and view a digital or HD image, but you can still watch an analogue image without one.
You're old CRT TV has an analogue tuner built in and because most programming is still presented via an analogue signal, most HDTVs still have one too.
Sets without a built-in tuner are advertised as "HDTV-Ready," "DTV-Ready" or "HDTV Compatible. That means that while they're capable of displaying a high definition image, they need that crucial tuner to receive them.
When you upgrade to HDTV through a subscription TV provider, they'll send you a new box that will most likely have a built-in tuner so you can watch those digital and HD programs.
Click on the links below to learn everything you need to about HDTVs and be sure to print out a copy of ABCNEWS.com's Ultimate HDTV Checklist to bring to the store with you.