What kind of TV should I buy?
July 6, 2009 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me buy an HDTV.

I am looking to purchase a TV for my living room. I have about 5 ft of horizontal space for the TV (plus anything that goes alongside like speakers I may want to buy in the future) and will be viewing from 9 ft–10 ft away. I plan to use this TV almost exclusively to watch recorded media. This will be DVDs at first, maybe a Roxio or a Blu-Ray player someday, but there's no hurry.

Based on this I figured a 42" 720p TV would be my best bet.

The question is now what? I tried to look up some reviews on Consumer Reports and CNet, but the models turn over in this market so quickly that they all seem outdated, even the reviews from four months ago. When I try to search for the previously recommended models they seem to be out of stock. I'm not sure how much sense it makes to pick the new TV based on previously well-performing brands.

Once I pick the TV, then there's the question of how I get it to my second floor apartment with no elevator. I live in Seattle. I don't have a car but I could always rent one or a pickup truck through Zipcar if necessary, but of course this adds to the cost. Front door shipping will be inconvenient, since I don't think I can lift any of these things on my own and will have to convince a friend to help at the random time when the package arrives.

I started looking just based on cost using deal web sites and Google Product search and found a couple of options. First is this Panasonic Viera X1 TC-P42X1 for $510 including standard shipping from the dodgy-seeming BuyinShopping (Googling the merchant yields a stream of caveat emptor "it's too good to be true" warnings on other fora). The other cheap option is this LG 42PQ30 at BuyDig for $738 including $50 for "white glove" shipping (a big plus for me). I would probably buy this but I thought it was worth asking for other suggestions given that this is my first TV purchase.

All thoughts welcome.
posted by grouse to Shopping (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Don't buy 720p.

That old adage saying, "you won't miss 1080 on anything smaller than 50"" is just that: old. It made sense when 1080 screens were significantly more expensive, but this is no longer the case.
posted by wfrgms at 9:52 AM on July 6, 2009

From what I've been told Samsung and Sony generally make the best HDTVs.

In addition, of these two manufacturers Sony is priced significantly higher wrt to rest of the manufacturers and delivers a really good picture, while Samsung delivers 'almost' the same quality as Sony.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 10:03 AM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: here's what i tell all my friends looking for a TV: you want a xx" (for you, i'd rec 42 or 46) 1080p, 60hz (120 if the price is right) tv with minimum 10,000:1 contrast. you want a name brand trusted manufacturer. sony, sharp, samsung, panasonic, lg. no vizios, no prosonics, no proscans etc. (720p a waste of money.)

vist bensbargains.net and fatwallet.com every day. within 1 month, a tv you like will show up and at a great deal. for your specs, expect to pay 850 or less. (750 if you're looking at a 40")
posted by ruwan at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well, a quick skim looks like a 1080p will be at least $200 more and considering that I'm going to be sitting 9 ft away, and have no immediate plans for any sort of HD input, I wonder whether it is really worth it. Other opinions on that would be welcome.

I will not purchase a Sony product.

(Also, I meant Roku, not Roxio.)
posted by grouse at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2009

Most of your investment will be wasted if you buy an HDTV and don't plan on connecting HD sources to it. One of the least-known facts about HDTVs is that, in general, they make standard-definition content look worse than it did on your old CRT TV -- especially if you're going for the less expensive models. You may even want to bring one of your DVDs with you to the store, ask them to hook up a DVD player, and judge the picture quality of standard definition material yourself.

Consider getting at least one HD source (HD cable TV, an Xbox 360 or PS3, Blu-ray player, an HD media streamer, etc.) so you can appreciate the difference in quality yourself. It's definitely noticeable, even to a layman.

If you really are just going to watch standard definition DVDs on it, start researching the best "upconverting" DVD players you can find. The ones with good scaling chips will be more expensive (though Oppo makes popular upscaling players for a reasonable price.)

And don't connect ANYthing to the TV using any less than Component video cables. Use either Component (red, green, blue cables) or HDMI. Do not use S-Video or Composite (yellow) cables. If your DVD player doesn't have Component or HDMI out, it's time for a new DVD player.

Also keep in mind the (only) good advice I've ever heard from a Big Box store employee regarding consumer electronics and technology in general, which certainly applies to TVs (since most people only buy them every 5-10 years): "Buy a model that you can grow into, not out of." You may not think you need 1080p today, but in a year you might regret not spending that additional money while you had the chance and were making the original investment.
posted by robbie01 at 10:48 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The forums at avsforum.com are always brimming with talk about the very latest models - reactions, tweaking, comparisons, etc. Check the LCD and Plasma forums. If you read one of those model threads all the way through, you'll know all of the issues regarding that model. Often you'll also get people's reviews of the various semi-shady online merchants that may be offering the best deal at the time. That way you don't go in cold and worried.
posted by Askr at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The reason I am reticent to get a TV that goes beyond my current specs because I might grow into them is that I live in an apartment, and things are likely to change a lot. I might move to another place where I have less room for the TV, or more room, or in with roommates who already have a TV, etc. I'd say it is pretty likely that any of this will happen before I get around to purchasing a Blu-Ray player (and I don't play games or want cable).

Does anyone want to suggest a good bricks and mortar store in Seattle that I should visit to check out TVs?
posted by grouse at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2009

have no immediate plans for any sort of HD input

Then an HDTV is a complete and utter waste of money, especially because they're getting cheaper and better as time goes by.

Also, neither of the TVs you mentioned upstream are actually 720p TVs.

The Panasonic is actually a 768p, and this isn't better -- it means that unless there's an explicit 1:1 mode that displays HDTV (including 1080i and 1080p programming) in a 1280x720 window, absolutely everything is going to get rescaled by the TV to fit its oddball 1366x768 screen size. And this little bit of scaling adds jaggies (or unintended softness) to the picture a lot more than a clean scaling ratio would. And it's not like Panasonic or LG is going to put their flagship scaler into their entry-level set, either.

The LG is even worse: it's actually a 1024x768p display.

I would not buy any set whose native resolution was anything other than 1920x1080 or 1280x720.

I gather that you don't have a TV now and want to watch stuff on something other than your computer monitor. I would either buy a used tube tv for $cheap and consider it disposable, or a 1080p tv. The stuff in between is bad deal country.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Might I suggest until you have a more permanent living situation, go to some X-Mart store and buy an $80 13" color CRT and start saving more money for a great TV set later. When you have your own home, your own entertainment center, and the likelihood of staying put for several years, then pull out the money you've saved and buy your dream TV.
posted by netbros at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2009

a quick skim looks like a 1080p will be at least $200 more

You can't do a "quick skim" and get any type of good pricing. Follow ruwan's advice and stick to the bargin websites. You'll find a good value.

considering that I'm going to be sitting 9 ft away, and have no immediate plans for any sort of HD input, I wonder whether it is really worth it

"immediate plans?" Seriously, think ahead. How long do you plan on keeping this television? Six months? A year? No - you probably will be using this screen for many years. Just because you've got lo-def inputs today, doesn't mean in a few years you won't have moved up to blueray.

It's not smart to save a few bucks today if you're going to spend hundreds more in a year to replace a TV you're not happy with.

I promise you, you will not find any sound advice either here or elsewhere that still says that 720 is the best value. That rationale is many years old and outdated now.
posted by wfrgms at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2009

If you're not planning on using any HD-features, don't buy an HDTV now because standard def looks terrible on cheaper HDTVs - Vizio especially.

Get a TV off of craigslist and wait until you can afford HD cable, XBox, Blu-ray or whatever to use with it.
posted by k8t at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2009

Since you're in an apartment, I'd definitely recommend staying away from plasmas as they are generally heavier (hence harder to move). A lot of the newer 42" LCD's are light enough for an average person to move without too much trouble.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2009

if you decide to purchase a new tv, check the forums on fatwallet.com, or google "[model #] coupon" before you buy. i saved $300 from amazon when I bought my new samsung 46" last month. It ended up costing $500 less than I could find it at a brick and mortar store.
posted by askmehow at 2:16 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: oh, also, search for the model # on bing. they are doing a cash back thing, where you can get another 1-5% off, if you purchase through the link from their search results.
posted by askmehow at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another website to check is slickdeals.net. Although I don't own an HDTV (yet), I can certainly vouch for the statements that standard resolution TV signals look horrid on an HDTV (I've stayed in a few hotels lately that have upgraded their TVs but not their cable package).
posted by puritycontrol at 6:53 PM on July 6, 2009

I would not recommend buying one online as I had a Samsung I bought on Amazon that worked for exactly a day before crapping out. Luckily Amazon took it back, but it was a hassle nonetheless.
I would recommend Costco if you have one as they have excellent return policies... even if the warranty is up they'll usually take the TV back and give you store credit with no questions asked. You take the credit and trade up to the better model for the same price you paid for yours however long ago.
Vizio makes decent cheap TVs with a lot of inputs. It's my 2nd (thanks Costco!) from them and I'm satisfied with it.
posted by ijoyner at 8:55 PM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: vist bensbargains.net and fatwallet.com every day. within 1 month, a tv you like will show up and at a great deal. for your specs, expect to pay 850 or less. (750 if you're looking at a 40")

I'm checking the bargain sites daily. It's six months later and prices seem to have dropped. There was a 42" LG available for $600 last week but I was out of town and had to pass on it. There was actually a "re-certified" Sharp 42" for $600 yesterday but it had some poor reviews so I passed on it too. I'm waiting for another name-brand 42" to be available for ≤$600. Does that seem like a good strategy?

Also, everyone who convinced me not to get a 720p set deserves a best answer.
posted by grouse at 7:54 AM on January 7, 2010

Response by poster: I eventually got a Hitachi 42S503 42" 1080p 120 Hz set. It was $600 and Bing Shopping gave me an additional $48 rebate. It's been pretty good. The only issue I have with it is that you can see the backlighting in the corners while viewing dark scenes. Also, there are a few things about the user interface that could have been improved.
posted by grouse at 6:26 PM on June 14, 2010

« Older I want to read while in Califorinia   |   Why are the casts of tv shows referred to the way... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.