Good bare-bones TV set for people who don't know which features are the bones
June 9, 2010 3:12 PM   Subscribe

We're thinking about getting rid of our 1975 digital-tunerless Zenith and buying a new TV set. I've never in my life purchased a television and I'm a bit bewildered by the many options.

What we do with the TV set: watch DVDs and VHS tapes on it. What I think we would do with a new TV set that we can't do now: watch Hulu (wirelessly? Is this possible?) or other things we currently watch on the laptop, and occasionally broadcast TV. When the kid is older I can imagine having a videogame system. Our current TV is 27", which seems about the right size. So: what is worth having in 27" or a little bigger TV, which does not need to have fancy features, HDTV, etc., but which can receive input from a MacBook Pro? Do I need to know anything about HDCP, 720p vs. 1080p, LED/LCD vs. LED vs. plasma? Is it a bad idea to buy a factory-refurb TV?

If the goal of communicating with the laptop is going to drastically increase the price of the set, tell me that, too -- I can live without that.
posted by escabeche to Shopping (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to know what size TV is actually best for you (rather than what you're used to), use a viewing distance calculator.
posted by Jairus at 3:17 PM on June 9, 2010

Our current TV is 27", which seems about the right size

Remember that a widescreen 27" set will have a screen height that is smaller than your current 27" set. Use a site like to compare screen sizes in different aspect ratios.
posted by 1001 questions at 3:19 PM on June 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would spring for 1080p but they say if you have 42" or smaller, it's not worth it. You should be able to plug in the MBP to the TV via to MDP to HDMI adapter. I would avoid plasma.

Samsungs are usually highly rated; I got a 46" a year back and I've been happy with it. You can't watch Hulu on a TV, but the new Samsungs have integrated Netflix Instant Viewing and other geegaws.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:21 PM on June 9, 2010

On the Hulu point: We're watching Hulu on our old, crappy CRT through our Wii. It's not the best picture quality, but it works. I think some of the other game systems (Xbox?) have better picture quality, but on our CRT it doesn't make much of a difference.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:23 PM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: You can't watch Hulu on a TV

Wait, why? If I can run output from my laptop screen to the TV screen, and I can see Hulu on my laptop screen, what's stopping me?
posted by escabeche at 3:34 PM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: Be aware that you're going to stop watching VHS tapes before too long. Nobody makes standalone VHS players any more, so when yours dies you'll have the choice of just pitching all your tapes or shelling out for a combination VHS/DVD player that will probably be quite expensive as their market share is very low.

The equivalent of your 27" 4:3 tv is a 34" 16:9 tv.

Any hdtv will be able to receive input from a macbook, but you'll need a displayport->hdmi or displayport->dvi adapter (IIRC).

Do I need to know anything about HDCP,


720p vs. 1080p,

Probably not. Look at the tv. If the picture seems okay to you, go for it. You probably won't care if it's 720p or 1080. I'll admit that I hate Hate HATE those weird bastard tvs that call themselves 720p but are really 1366x768, so that EVERY DAMN THING ends up scaled an extra time to fit there, and often scaled badly. But if you don't care when you're looking at it, you won't care.

LED/LCD vs. LED vs. plasma?

Not really. Plasma tvs are heavier and usually use more power, if that's a big thing for you.

Is it a bad idea to buy a factory-refurb TV?

I wouldn't. The savings seem pretty small, and it's not like new tvs are *that* expensive.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:35 PM on June 9, 2010

Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you meant natively or through a console. Hulu is pretty infamous for having the attitude of "You're only supposed to watch this on your computer."

I've never tried this at home; I'm not sure if Hulu would block video output via some DRM hoodoo or not.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:38 PM on June 9, 2010

I watch Hulu all the time on my TV. You just need to hook up a computer to it.

If I were you, I'd get a computer (mac mini or any PC) with HDMI out, a Blu Ray DVD player and a TV tuner card and get the biggest monitor you can afford (or a flat screen TV.)
posted by k8t at 3:39 PM on June 9, 2010

Yeah, Hulu will definitely work fine. I do the laptop-TV connection all the time.

Netflix streaming is pretty awesome, too, if you have a subscription.
posted by something something at 3:42 PM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: I found the CNET Television Buying Guide to be quite helpful when I bought my Vizio.
posted by invisible ink at 4:10 PM on June 9, 2010

Last year some Vizio TVs have a "Yahoo widget stream" that includes Netflix, and the TV includes the ability to wirelessly connect to a local WiFi network. My wife and I bought one, plugged it in, found our network and entered the password, and were viewing Netflix movies. I don't like to hype products, but it was kind of magical. Note: I am not up-to-date on average TV capabilities, so this might be more common than I realize. We get Hulu through a computer hooked up, but we don't watch it much because 1) Hulu doesn't retain episodes for very long (latest 3 or 5, and random older episodes) and 2) the quality can be annoying and content might be cut (even from a recently aired episode). If you do have a computer, you might prefer *alternate sources* for new TV episodes. Netflix has an impressive back-catalog, with full seasons on-demand. I've only seen a few odd episodes that are listed as "DVD only." If you do instant-stream only, it's $8.99 USD. With that and other sources, we've dropped cable TV, and I don't miss it. After about a year, the savings of not paying for cable will cover our new TV.

As for information on all the acronyms, Crutchfield has you covered. They cover resolution questions, plasma vs LCD and LED, and lots more. They hype 1080p, but if you get a smaller screen, you probably won't notice the difference.

When looking in stores, note that the TVs probably have their settings skewed to work under bright store lighting. But you can still check out the depth of blackness on systems, which is one mark of quality.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:41 PM on June 9, 2010

screw the tv - get a projector! you can hook your vhs, dvd and computer up to it - the image takes up a whole wall when it's on, and it's just a small box on a shelf when it's off.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:40 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd just keep an eye on Slickdeals and pick up the first TV that has people saying "Good deal!" and is in your size range (32" to 35"). Double check that it has DVi, HDMI, or VGA input - you can get an adaptor for your MacBook Pro that outputs in any of these formats. This is pretty much all you need to know.

Personally I would recommend going with a 1080p TV, as it will let you display more screen area on your TV (as well as get a slightly clearer picture) but 720p is still very much nicer than a standard definition TV.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:34 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oops - Slickdeals.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:34 PM on June 9, 2010

Best answer: Get a 1080p 16:9 LCD HDTV, because if you're hooking a laptop up to it, you'll want the resolution. I wouldn't go smaller than 42" but then, I'm not the guy who's been satisfied with a 27" tube from the Ford administration.

Hulu will play just fine out of your Macbook and onto said TV. I have a Mini doing the same for me, with an EyeTV tuner hooked up to it so that it can serve as a DVR as well.

Note that while there are TVs with built-in clients for streaming NetFlix, Amazon movies and whatnot, if you've already got a computer attached you won't really need that. Also, those features are available in BluRay players these days, so when you eventually upgrade from DVD, you can get that mojo there if you find you want it.

Generally I would say that the more HDMI inputs your TV has, the better. Mine is several years old and only has two, which isn't enough for computer + game console + bluray player. You sound like someone who might be keeping this TV for a while... plan, as best you can, for future expansion.
posted by mumkin at 8:29 PM on June 9, 2010

get a projector!

My cousin does this and it's awesome. His projector was around $600 and his screen is 9 feet diagonal and the picture is sharp as a tack.
posted by neuron at 8:33 PM on June 9, 2010

I hooked up my laptop last night and watched Glee on a regular non-HD tv. It works fine.

Now that prices have dropped I would get the 1080p, but you would probably be satisfied with 720p. I am, but the next tv will be the former. Another vote for Samsung, too.
posted by Atreides at 5:33 AM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: Got a good deal on a LG 32LD450 (32", 1080p) on Newegg. So far, totally satisfied. Haven't tried hooking the computer up to it yet.
posted by escabeche at 10:49 AM on June 28, 2010

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