You Can Lead a Luddite to LCD, But... yaddah yaddah yaddah
April 20, 2010 12:41 PM   Subscribe

I am shockingly uninformed about technology, but I am getting ready to buy an LCD TV, and I am wondering about connectivity issues with my old analog receiver/speakers, and the ability to connect my laptop and display things through the television screen.

Are there certain terms I should be aware of when looking through the various options, to make sure I am able to cover those two bases? I've decided a 37" makes the most sense size-wise, and I'd like to keep things as inexpensive as possible. Any brand recommendations, terms to keep an eye out for, or particular review sites, would be incredibly helpful. I haven't had a television in about 15 years, so I'd like to make this purchase as useful as possible.
posted by wondershrew with a helping of potato salad to Technology (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't bet on being able to connect an old analog receiver. Research whatever you decide upon to see if it is possible.

I made that mistake.
posted by Seamus at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2010

How old is the receiver? I'm assuming no HDMI input (fat USB-looking cable), but is there component (red, green and blue cables), or only straight composite video (yellow cable)? What about audio - does it have optical (fiber-optic cable, red light should be visible under the connection cover), coax (white or yellow? Anyway it's a single cable), or stereo (red and white cables)? Do you have a surround setup (front and rear speakers) or standard stereo (two speakers)? If surround, do you have 5.1 channel (front pair, rear pair, center and subwoofer) or 7.1 (5.1 with an additional left and right surround)?

For video you are not going to get a very good picture using composite input on a new LCD screen. You probably want component at least, and HDMI preferably. The good news is that your receiver doesn't necessarily have to handle this - you can plug any peripherals (DVR, DVD/Blu-Ray) directly into the TV using HDMI.

However this requires a lot of cables to the TV, and (with HDMI at least, which carries audio + video) also requires some way of getting the audio out of the TV and back to the receiver. Before I replaced my receiver I used an optical cable from the TV to the receiver, worked fine.

if the receiver only has stereo inputs for sound, you can use it but you won't get surround on anything. However, if you don't have more than two speakers this won't be an issue. If you upgrade your speaker set in the future, you'll probably want to upgrade your receiver to match. If you currently have surround speakers, and are using only stereo input, you won't have surround sound even if you are watching a movie with full surround capability.

With a laptop you're going to want a TV that has an RGB input (at the least). If you have DVI out on your laptop (white rectangular connection instead of blue trapezoidal), you can use a DVI to HDMI converter (or mini-DVI to HDMI if you are on a Mac) to get a better picture.

Your best bet is to assume that the receiver will fail or be replaced before too many years have passed, so don't choose a TV based on what your current receiver can handle. Choose one that will work with your current equipment but which also has the ability to do more if you upgrade in the future.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:00 PM on April 20, 2010

Crutchfield has a lot of info, covering definitions, differences between LCD, LED and Plasma, and connection questions.

As for the most for your money, there are always sales going on somewhere. It may be easier to get something locally, after shopping around for sales and discounts, because you'll have a local contact point, and less concerns about shipping costs and potential damages. But if you're also looking online, I really like New Egg, because they also have loads of sales, and easy ways to sort through the myriad of options. You could check Fat Wallet and other discount aggregation sites for more deals, if you have the time and patience to shop around.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:01 PM on April 20, 2010

Just putting in a vote for a Vizio. I bought a 37" Vizio LCD a couple months ago and I've been nothing but impressed.
posted by InsanePenguin at 1:07 PM on April 20, 2010

I have an older receiver that I bought circa 2000. It has digital audio inputs (optical) and the best it can do for video is S-Video. I have a newer television with a key feature that worked out really well... it has an optical audio out. All of my input sources run to the TV--VGA & 1/8th" stereo jack, HDMI video & HDMI audio, component video & stereo audio. The TV upconverts the signal of any of the audio inputs and passes it along to the receiver. The receiver remains on a single input now-a-days and the source for the sound/video is chosen using the TV's input select. I find the set up easy to manipulate and am glad I didn't have to replace my receiver as 5.1 is still ample in my opinion.

FYI, my TV is a Sony Z series LCD. Most TV specs will undoubtedly list an audio out if it has one.

On a side note, try for cables and TV mounts.
posted by Gainesvillain at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2010

You need to provide a bit more info about what you are going to plug in to it. DVD player?

Ideally, HDMI is as future-proof as you'll get right now. Your new telly should come with multiples of these. You can plug stuff straight in.

If your laptop is newer and higher spec, it should have an HDMI output (though my 2009 purchase doesn't). Otherwise your Tv will have to have a VGA connector, which many but not all do.

But obviously your analogue receiver wont have that. All TVs have a range of plugs to put in, and good old composite (three separate plugs, yellow for video, red and white for sound) is the basic that pretty much everyone plays with. Not great quality, but it will be there.

Beyond that, it's all getting a bit too much advice based on not quite enough info.

Don't let the salesperson try to upsize your telly - they always look smaller in the shop because they're placed next to enormous ones.

LED and LCD TVs crap all over plasma for power consumption, so don't get a plasma.

regarding brands, well I dunno, don't they all come from the same bunch of factories in China? I suspect there's a premium for 'good brands' that is a bit of an historic anachronism. We bought Toshiba - which are made in Indonesia. Not a 'premium' brand, but I can't for the life of me see the difference.
posted by wilful at 8:10 PM on April 20, 2010

Thanks all. I'll have to research all of these aspects and see what I can come up with. Many thanks for the ideas! I'll update when I choose the TV.
posted by wondershrew with a helping of potato salad at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2010

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