If I buy the nonamebrand TV it's going to explode!?
March 31, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My current bedroom TV has decided it prefers to only do sound now. Not a big deal-it is old and was a hand-me-down. But, holymajoly, this TV buying thing is WAY more complicated than "I need a TV. OK, that one."

My work colleagues [of all ages, but people I generally view as sophisticated consumers. Most of them also happen to be nuclear engineers and other techy type things] are all telling me that I HAVE TO buy a SERIOUS BRAND NAME TV and if I don't, it will die soon. I don't want my new TV to die soon, and I CAN spend more than $500 on a +/-40inch TV, but do I need to do so?
The usual suspects [big box stores, tigerdirect, newegg, etc] all have these 'other' brands for less. Should I bite the bullet and SPEND! I generally just use my TV to watch TV [cable]. I stream netflix on my iPad. Are there superawesomecool things I don't realize I should be doing with a new TV that I'd be missing out on?
Generally, when making any purchase at all, I either know this sort of stuff or do tons of research, but I do not have the time/ability here and need some assistance and confidence.
In brief: should I buy expensive name-brand TV? Yes, no? Why?
posted by atomicstone to Technology (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I had a hard time picking a brand, too, but I settled on one that was a decent price and a brand I'd already had okay stuff from before (Philips). However, I would definitely suggest Apple TV if you have an iPad that you keep videos on. You can stream Netflix directly through the AppleTV, but you can also stream videos stored on your iPad, or I think any computer with iTunes (not sure if it's Apple-only as I have a Mac). This has been the best thing I've done with my new TV. I don't have cable, and used to use a 15-year-old CRT, so it's been a huge improvement.
posted by elpea at 2:17 PM on March 31, 2011

Your work colleagues and their peers are busily offloading their old televisions, which means that there are cheap, completely solid cast-offs to be had on Craigslist, thrift stores and similar. They have a slender point that the final generation of biggish CRTs seemed to have pretty shoddy build quality -- the RCA 32in CRT we got given as a Christmas present expired after three years -- but its $100 Craigslist replacement (37", from the mid-90s) is just fine.

I can understand going with a big HD flatscreen (from a reputable brand) that's amenable to streaming and other wired-up stuff for the living room, but if it's for watching syndicated Seinfeld before bedtime, it's probably overkill -- and even a low-end LCD will be fit for purpose.
posted by holgate at 2:27 PM on March 31, 2011

Plus, the brand stuff is sort of fuzzy these days anyway, given the realities of manufacturing and subcontracting and component sourcing. There are pricing tiers and best-in-breed models for those tiers, but what should guide you most is reviews -- along with a decent warranty, whether it's from the manufacturer or retailer.
posted by holgate at 2:31 PM on March 31, 2011

elpea: You can also do that stuff with almost any of the set top media boxes out there now.

I went with Samsung for my latest TV... one thing to realize is that while there are many brands, there are only a few manufacturers of the panels.

Samsung, Sharp, LG are the big LCD panel manufacturers. Panasonic are probably #1 for plasma. These are most of the high end brands.

Most other brands use panels made by these companies, adding their own hardware around it.

Personally, I love Samsung, but even then you can get a good deal if you don't get suckered into the latest greatest models and features.

Just get a 60hz LCD, non-LED, from one of those brands, and you'll be pretty well off.
posted by utsutsu at 2:31 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

In brief: should I buy expensive name-brand TV? Yes, no? Why?

Yes... ish. at a 40+/- inch TV, you are probably going to get a LCD TV. Plasma TVs are mostly in the 46-60" range and so it's kind of out. There are a few differences between the expensive brands and the cheap brands.

Quality of the panel: With the exception of Samsung (which come out of Korea), most LCD panels are coming out the same handful of factories in China. The difference most of the time between the expensive brand and cheap brand when it comes to the panel is that the cheap brand gets the LCD panels that aren't necessarily "bad" but they don't meet specification for the companies making the expensive TVs. You will likely still get good color, image, etc. from the cheap TV.

Software: The expensive TVs will have things like Netflix built in, etc. The navigation will have been well thought out and easy to use. The cheap TVs won't have the extras and navigation tends to be more difficult.

Ports: I'm not sure why this is, but there has been a tendency of the cheap brands to have less HDMI ports on their TVs. You also may notice there is a lack of audio out, which can be an issue for some setups.

Warranty issues: The cheap brands tend to be a PITA when it comes to honoring their warranties.

I currently have a Toshiba 40" 1080p LCD that is used for both TV and as my computer monitor. If I were to buy all over again, the only thing I would opt for would be a 120Hz LCD, as it provides a clearer picture and doesn't affect price much at all. The LED/LCD's are too expensive for my taste. 240Hz also isn't worth it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:40 PM on March 31, 2011

We were in your spot.

After much research and the good experiences of a good friend, we bought the Samsung LED.

Haven't looked back. It's been almost 2 years.

Nthing Apple TV!
posted by jbenben at 4:13 PM on March 31, 2011

Depends on your needs and sensitivities.

If it's a bedroom TV, do you need HUGE? Or 1080p? Are you a connoisseur or someone who watches out of the corner of his eye?

El Cheapo these days is not all that bad. However, right now there is a glut of models and specs available and some ridiculously decent prices. I don't watch TV, or I'd buy one and set my price first, then buy the best I could find for that amount. I think it's easier to work down from a price tolerance than to work up from 0, but that's an opinion.

I happen to like Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, NEC, Hitachi as brand names. It sounds like you are easy to please, and if you are worried about failures, buy an extended warranty.
posted by FauxScot at 5:17 PM on March 31, 2011

After researching the same question a couple of years ago, we realized that reviews for Vizio were just as good those for expensive Big Name Brands. We bought a 37" Vizio and love it.

I do believe Vizio was the only non-brand name we found though that had acceptable reviews, though.

Disclaimer: I am cheap and as a rule, don't necessarily put much faith in buying brand names.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 7:16 PM on March 31, 2011

Whatever you buy (this might be especially true if you go with something off-brand), be sure to spend a few bucks on a decent surge protector - something in the $30-50 range like an APC.
posted by pants tent at 7:37 PM on March 31, 2011

The expected lifetime of an LCD flatscreen TV is about 20,000 hours. The average American watches 4 hours of TV a day. This translates to a life expectancy of about 14 years. More for a bedroom TV of course, and yet still more if you watch less than the average.

Let's assume a $100 price difference between a no-name brand display, and any Tier One brand. The premium you are paying to have the best is about $7 a year. I find more than this in change down the back of my couch.

Having reduced the difference to the ridiculous, it seems obvious that getting something from a reputable manufacturer makes sense.

I work in this industry. What size display are you thinking of?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:06 PM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers? I just measured the current TV (yes, I know the flatsreens use a measure on the diag and I have no idea how tall they are generally) and the screen only is about 20in wide and 16in tall. I would be happy to buy something larger than this current tv, but maybe I am wrong about 42 inches? The actual lxw of these babies are in the specs somewhere?
Also, those asking for what specs I want! That's part of the problem. My specs are, um, works! Doesn't do anything weird. Has features(what kind? Who knows?) I hate feeling this ignorant about a purchase, and yet...
pareidoliatic boy: I'm willing to spend in the upper $500s if there's a compelling case, but would be much happier with some of these awesome $350 models one sees advertised.
Also, i've always labored under the notion that excepting computers, and even then depending upon where, buying the extended warranty was a suckers bet. Does this hold true for TV I can't figure out how to buy!
posted by atomicstone at 10:30 PM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: Also, bc life is funny, said tv is totally functioning now. I still need to replace this baby ASAP, but it's as if the TV knew I was getting a dvice on how it replace it. Or, uh, that dust moved and that wire jiggled an blah blah blah.
posted by atomicstone at 10:33 PM on March 31, 2011

What is the viewing distance from the screen?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:55 PM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: I'm going with 15 feet?
posted by atomicstone at 11:38 PM on March 31, 2011

Best answer: For your 15ft viewing distance, a 32" LCD TV should be good. 42" might be the max I'd put in a bedroom. There are two routes you can take. A decent LCD TV or a decent LCD TV with internet video capabilities. Any of these brands should be ok: LG, Sony, Samsung, Vizio, Panasonic, or Toshiba. I wouldn't go with lesser-known brands unless you spend time reading reviews on specific models.

The TV with internet video capabilities (netflix, hulu etc) would be more expensive than the one without, but if you watch significant amount of video that way, then it is a worthy investment.

FWIW, we got a Vizio with their internet video (VIA) in our living room, and we like that more than our 32" Sony (with internet video) in the bedroom. The interface on the Vizio is definitely better.

If you looked around a little, I don't think you'd need to spend more than $500 for a 32" TV even with internet video: Example1 Example2 Example3
posted by thewildgreen at 9:30 AM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: For your 15ft viewing distance, a 32" LCD TV should be good.

Not sure what would make you say that, given that knowledgeable observers recommend a viewing distance to a 16X9 aspect ratio display should be about 2.5 X the screen diagonal. For a 42" display this translates to 8.75 feet. A 70" would not be too big for that distance.

That said, people do tend to put smaller displays in their bedrooms, as the watching there is usually not intended to be an immersive experience as it is in a home theater. You say you stream Netflix to your iPad, which is a tiny display.Whether you should buy a smaller or larger set then is a function of it's importance to you, the amount of use it receives, and the kind of material watched. I personally wouldn't want to try to watch a 32" from that kind of a distance, but then TV itself is not important enough to me to bother with one in the bedroom at all.

Thinking of this as a 15 year investment, which it is, you need to prioritize this based on your usage, which only you know. I've just been looking at flat screen prices and see that the premium on Tier One brands like Samsung and Panasonic in the 32 inch category is only about $30- $50, so see no real reason to buy Tier Two product at all. Don't understand it, actually. It seems that going up to the 40-42 " size pushes the cost above your budget though.

Here in Vancouver 32" Tier One brands on sale go for about $350. we picked up a 32" Samsung 720P for my girlfriend's bedroom last week for $345. I am quite surprised to see that displays from mail-order operations in the U.S. aren't as available at these price points.

Were it me, wanting to hit that budget and get a fabulous image, I'd opt for the better black levels, higher dynamic range, and better viewing angles offered by plasma displays over LCDs and get one of these.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: PareidoliaticBoy: "knowledgeable observers recommend a viewing distance to a 16X9 aspect ratio display should be about 2.5 X the screen diagonal"

Other people prefer the TV not be the center of the room, and pick one that is good enough to look nice without dominating the room it is in.

We went with one that was as tall as the CRT it was replacing. Compared to the former, it's huge, because it's wider. Compared to my neighbor's 50" monstrosity, it's small. But it's plenty big enough for us.

If you could see the CRT just fine from where you're at when it worked, then find an LCD that's about the same vertical size. With a better picture the clarity of the onscreen stuff will be better, even if the screen itself is not markedly larger than the CRT was.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the knowledgable responses. I'm now thinking the 32 might be plenty large which means the price is less of a concern. Also, it was less of a concern per se and more of a "do I have to" or can I cheap out?" thanks for the info!
posted by atomicstone at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2011

Think about what sources you want to run to the display then, make sure your TV can accommodate them. Are you going to hook a computer up? If so, Mac or PC or both?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:43 PM on April 2, 2011

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