Help me pick a decent medium-size HDTV.
April 13, 2012 8:11 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick a decent medium-size HDTV.

We're looking for an HDTV, probably 32" in size or a little smaller. It will be used mainly to watch UK Freeview channels, and to a lesser extent DVDs. Though I guess uses might change in the future.

We actually just bought and then returned a Toshiba model because it had abysmally bad sound, though it had a fantastic picture. I'm not sure if it was that bad because it was faulty, or that model has poor sound quality, or even whether this is a problem to be expected with HDTVs of this size.

So now I would like Mefi's input on several aspects of HDTV...

1) Sound

I'm not looking for an audiophile or home cinema experience, just decent sound. i.e. Being able to follow what people are saying in shows, music that at least matches the intended mood and doesn't actively ruin the experience etc. Sound comparable to the old analog set being replaced would be fine.

Is this something I should expect to achieve from mid-size HDTVs without resorting to external speakers and such?

If it's achievable but not common, are there any brands, models, buzzwords or features to look out for?

If it is not achievable out of the box, what are the options for achieving it, and what should I know about them?

2) Picture

I have some understanding of the HDTV buzzwords from my Googling, but not much idea how much any of that really matters for my uses. So:

- "HD Ready" vs "HD Ready 1080p" vs "Full HD" - Is it going to matter?

- LED vs LCD - How much should I care?

Budget-wise we paid in the region of £300 for the Toshiba. I'm assuming this is a reasonable budget, but tell me if I'm wrong.
posted by philipy to Shopping (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The "Ready" part means the TV can display a signal from an external source, but does not have a tuner built in. So you could watch a blu-ray movie but would need an external tuner to watch TV. HD is 720 lines of resolution, and the HD 1080p is 1080, so is higher resolution. More on those standards here.

The ready ones are likely cheaper and may suit your needs now, but may require additional equipment for future purposes. Some might argue that 32" might be too small to go to 1080p, but if the price is right, I would get the higher resolution. Right now a lot of media is 720 or less, but not long from now it may all be 1080. The difference between the i and p after the resolution is the way it is displayed. The i is interlaced and alternates between updating every second line. The p is better and updates the whole screen at once.

The difference between LED and LCD is the way they are backlit. The screen on both are LCD. Regular LCD are backlit by tubes and LED by smaller LED. Power consumption is a little less for LED, but usually only a few percent. If this is a consideration, check the estimated consumption for your model. Certain high end LEDs might be a little crisper.

The other factor is refresh rate. 60Hz is usually fine, but there are a lot now with 120 or 240Hz. Higher refresh rates mean smother action in theory, but if the media is not at that rate some models process the signal and it can look a bit odd.

Sound does not seem to be a big priority for a lot of models. The only way is to try the model in a store. Most assume if you want big sound you'll run it through a stereo or a sound bar.

Can't help you on UK price either.
posted by Yorrick at 12:12 AM on April 14, 2012

The sound on most modern TVs tends to be lousy, probably because there isn't enought physical space for the speakers. If you can hook it up to a small stereo, you'll notice an improvement. I think TV manufacturers expect them to be hooked up to speakers, so they don't spend as much time on sound.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:11 AM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: I highly recommend Sharp TVs to pretty much everyone I know. Several of our family, friends and neighbors have one now, and I don't know anyone that's been disappointed, and if you read the reviews on the sites they come very highly-rated.

You have some choices. The HD-ready will work for you, but as noted above, you'll probavly want to upgrade to HD.

You can go for this model, which is a full HD Aquos with 720p graphics. Good, not the highest quality graphics, but full HD and still comes in right at £300.

I would absolutely go 1080p for the extra money if you can swing it, as you WILL notice the difference, and I agree with Yorrick that if the shows you want to watch aren't at that level now, they soon will be.

This 1080p HD-ready slim model, has the LED backlight and the best graphics, without going full-bore HD in the TV. I again agree with Yorrick, really can't tell the difference between LCD and LED. This model is just HD ready.

Top of the line, if you want the best, this 1080p HD TV is £419, and has "digital amplification of a 5 band equalizer for high quality sound", which you will appreciate.

I've never had a sound issue with a Sharp. I'd definitely steer clear of Sony, from personal experience with sound issues, though.
posted by misha at 7:59 AM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: In my experience, LG brand HDTVs have excellent sound.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 7:59 AM on April 14, 2012

I agree with Backwards Guitar and Yorrick that for really good sound, you'll want to pipe the audio via a stereo. Assuming that you don't want to or can't do that, Which magazine tests a lot of TVs and I searched for 32" models which they gave four stars or better for sound. (Note that all the 32" Toshibas they tested scored one or two stars for sound, which fits in with your experience.)

There were five, but the three of those which scored best overall were all £500 - £600, which I think is more than you're willing to pay. (If not, let me know and I'll tell you what they were.) The Samsung LE32C450 scored lower overall than those three, but only costs £265 at the moment on Amazon. Beyond the good sound, they said its picture quality for Freeview and HD was average, but standard definition picture quality was a let down and the viewing angle and connections weren't great, as well as the connections.

If you're prepared to spend more, they like the Panasonic Viera TX-L32X3B (£361 at as having a good balance of picture, sound, features, power consumption etc. It doesn't have as good sound as the LE32C450, but it's better than the Toshibas.

Interestingly, although a guy in a repair shop told me he rated Sharps highly, they score badly in the Which tests, especially the cheaper models.

If you don't mind me piggybacking, my problem is that I find a lot of models that no one has tested or which were tested at a different price from their current selling price. Does anyone know a way to track down when a particular TV came on the market and which other models in the manufacturers range it is similar to?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:21 AM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: I always thought Panasonic TVs had excellent pictures. But I haven't compared lately. Sony used to be great, but the last time I looked, they were kind of nasty looking. I've also been happy with any Panasonic purchase I've ever made. Same with LG. Samsung stuff has always worked well, but I never liked the interface. But that could have changed.

What I would do is see if you can test the different modes of the TV. One thing that I've noticed with the panel type of TVs is that they may be great in their native resolution, the video processors can vary wildly as to how well they present non-native resolutions. In the process, you'll be able to see how the interface works.

But yeah, if I was buying a TV now, I'd definitely get a 1080p model, and probably want to get one of the 120Hz models so that any 24p content could play nicely.

As for the sound, I also agree with the advice to think outside the box on that. You are probably never going to get great sound out of a flat panel tv, and will have more flexibility in purchasing a great display if you don't have to worry about making trade-offs between picture and sound. With 5.1 sound being more and more mainstream, I think you'd do yourself a favor by getting an inexpensive set of powered speakers. Even if they are just left-center-right, having that center channel should clean up the audio quite well.

(But take my advice with a grain of salt, since I am one of those "component system" people. I like to buy each "thing" to do what it does best, and other "things" to do what they do best.)
posted by gjc at 9:09 AM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: Some follow up thoughts...

- If I were to go the external speaker route, what kind of thing should I look for, and how much could I expect to pay? This TV will sit on top of some drawers btw, which limits the options for how any speakers could physically be arranged.

- Might it be a sensible trade-off to get something a little smaller but higher spec? If so and you have recommendations that fit that, do please pass them on. Though I'm guessing smaller might mean even worse sound.

misha... great info... I think you had an accident with some of the links. Would you mind reposting them as they look interesting?

Busy Old Fool... would love to hear the Which recommendations for 32" or 27" models that have good sound. It'd be really disappointing if you can't get something that doesn't actually suck for £300, but if I can't do significantly better than I got with the Toshiba I may have to bite the bullet and pay more. Either that or give up watching TV, because that was barely tolerable.
posted by philipy at 11:33 AM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: In case my comment wasn't clear, it referred to 32" models. The LE32C450 scored four stars for sound and is obviously within your price range, but the picture was only average. You might want to try to see one in a shop to find out whether Which's definition of 'average' is good enough for you. If you want better picture quality (and a overall high-scoring model under £400), the £361 TX-L32X3B was rated the best 32" in that price range, although the sound didn't score as highly as the LE32C450 (but much better than any Toshiba).

If you're willing to go up to £500+, the Panasonic Viera TX-L32U3B, Sony Bravia KDL-32EX503 and Samsung LE32C530 were all 'best buys' with four star sound. Nothing smaller than a 32" got four stars for sound, which makes sense, since the smaller the unit, the harder it is to fit in decent speakers.

So, to summarise Which's conclusions:
  • Affordable four-star sound: LE32C450
  • Best all-rounder under £400: TX-L32X3B
  • Great sound, great everything else, but expensive: TX-L32U3B / KDL-32EX503 / LE32C530

posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2012

Best answer: The problem with pretty much all current TV's is that there just isn't sufficient space for speakers. Be aware that "four-star sound" for flat panel TV's will be about what was considered two-and-a-half star sound for older tube TV's. There's just no depth for suitable bass speakers, and other typical tradeoffs include rear-facing speakers, so as not to ruin that thin bezel.

There are many solutions for better sound, such as speaker bars, which won't be a substantial improvement but will likely be competitive with older tube TV's, all the way on up to crazy nice home theater solutions.

We've got a moderately nice receiver and a full set of surround speakers, combined with a subwoofer and two main speakers. It makes for an absolutely stunning difference in the sound quality, but, on the other hand, we do not use them unless we're watching movies or other things where we want awesome sound.

It's really funny, too, because we'll kind of get used to the panel's sound, then we'll watch a movie one night, and for the next several days, the panel sound will seem particularly tinny.

My point, though? You should probably plan to pick a TV for its viewing qualities, if and when you come to a point where you have to choose between two, pick the one with better sound. You may well end up using the built-in speakers quite often. However, do keep an eye towards the future, where you decide you just want some better quality sound and the ability to tack on some decent speakers.
posted by jgreco at 4:07 PM on April 14, 2012

Bleahrrgghh. I fail at links lately.

HD Ready Sharp 32"

Top of the line 1080p HDTV
posted by misha at 10:13 PM on April 14, 2012

Response by poster: Time for an update...

Firstly, thanks to everyone. I used info from all of your answers to guide me, and I even wrote down the key points to help me as I went shopping. Probably you all deserve best answer on this one.

What we eventually did was go to a store, a branch of Richer Sounds, where it was possible to ask lots of questions and try everything out, listening to different models etc. They don't have a huge selection there, but they do have a pretty good one. After checking everything out we went for the LG32LV355T. (Incredibly it seems to be cheaper at Richer Sounds, where we paid just under £330, than on Amazon.)

The sound is not spectacular, not as good as the old analogue Sharp we had for example, but it is OK, which seems to be about the best you can hope for without using external speakers. LG also have a setting called something like "Clearvoice" that seems to selectively boost dialogue in a way that is quite useful.

Specwise it is Full HD, 1080p, LED, and has a nice set of connections, should we ever need to use them. It has "Freeview HD", which means we can watch the four Freeview HD channels (BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD and C4 HD) without any further kit required. Those are just 720p apparently, but still distinctly better than standard def. Once in a while on those channels the set does seem to go blank for a moment when the entire picture has to be redrawn at once. I'm not sure if that's just the way the movie was cut, or a Freeview thing, or a set-related thing. It's rare enough that it's a minor issue for me though, whatever it is.

A nice thing I discovered is that you can play media from a USB device. Maybe all sets have that now, I wouldn't know, but that's a pretty handy feature for me.

We've had it a couple of days now, and overall I'm pretty satisfied.

While I'm doing a round up, here's a few things I discovered as I did my shopping based on the advice above...

- Sharps seems to be quite hard to find, not many places have them, and what they do have tends to be somewhat older models with lower specs, e.g. 720p, or just HD Ready. (But the prices are correspondingly good too, so if you were looking to spend more like £200, could be a good choice.)

- Among the small selection of sets we listened to, the LG was a little better than a similar spec Panasonic Viera, which was better than a similar spec Samsung. All were better than the Toshiba we returned. Picturewise, there wasn't much to choose between them, they were all very good.

- As per one of your comments, there are so many different model variants and they're changing so frequently, it's hard to find exact matches between any recommendations and what's in stores. That turns out be quite a dilemma when trying to follow reviews and recommendations.

- That was my first time shopping at Richer Sounds and it was a pleasant experience. It is a store where the staff knew what they were talking about and were very helpful.

Once again: Thanks everyone!
posted by philipy at 8:58 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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