Cost and Features: What Should I Look For?

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.

Cost

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.

Aspect Ratio

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.

Resolution

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.

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