There's more TV options than channels...
May 23, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

All I want is a TV... why are there so many choices? I'm moving to a studio in a week (YAY!) and don't own a TV. I've gone browsing a couple times recently, and am so overwhelmed by the options and price differences that I just don't know where to start, or even the price range I should be looking at (cheaper the better, but how cheap is too cheap?). How can I sort through all the info and find the right TV for me?

SETUP: My studio is rather large, with a set off kitchen and "bedroom," and I'm planning on having a dedicated "living room" area (along with separate spaces for dining and study). I will probably have a couch with an armchair, and a short stand for the TV.

SIZE: What the hell size should I be looking at? Best Buy has 32" screens for $199, so this seems like a good deal, but should I get a bigger one if I can? This is mainly for watching TV and hooking up my MacBook Air as an external monitor for streaming Netflix. (Also, generally I like things big...)

BRANDS: Are there brands that are better? Ones to avoid?

PRICE: I'd like to keep this as cheap as possible, but I am willing to go up to maybe $400. I am a firm believer in "you get what you pay for," so if I go cheap, I want to get a good TV. Or is that just not the case in TV world?

OPTIONS: LCD? LED? Plasma? What's the difference and what's the point? Does it matter? Is it relevant if I plan on getting HD or not (which I'm not totally sold on)?

DEALS: Where should I be looking for the best deals? I've gone to BestBuy just because I was in the area, but is there another place I should be looking for a better deal? Also I have a voucher to hhgregg to buy a product at factory price, so perhaps that's the place to go?
posted by DoubleLune to Shopping (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What's the distance from your couch to the wall the TV will be against? That will determine the size of the TV you want.

All flat-panel TVs are HD, and television signals sent over antennas and the cable line are HD as well. It's not really a choice anymore. The choice is how good the resolution is (1080p/1080i/720p.) I wouldn't even consider buying a TV that isn't 1080p, but I'm a little obsessive about that sort of thing. My girlfriend, on the other hand, can't tell the difference between a DVD and a Blu-Ray. So, this really depends on you. I'd suggest going to a consumer electronics store and comparing the image fidelity on TVs of all three resolutions. If you can't tell the difference, then it won't matter. If you can, then you'll want 1080p. Unless you watch a lot of sports (and even if you do, this is a point of contention) getting anything about 60hz isn't worth the money.

Don't get a TV with built-in Apps for Netflix and so on. They'll lose their functionality long before you want a new television.
posted by griphus at 9:23 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What I'd do--and what I did when I bought the TV I have now--is go to Best Buy and figure out with your budget which one looks the best to you. I mean visually. Just go look at them. Mine is an LG that caught my eye from across the store because the colors were so crisp and the motion was so smooth. Then I found the best price online and had it shipped to my house from Amazon, because they had it on sale. It came in the exact box it came from the factory in, just the same box it would've come in if I got it at the store, it was just the couriers drove it to my house instead of me.

Brands I like are Samsung and LG so I'd walk into Best Buy, find one of those that did 1080p that I liked the picture on and fit my budget, then look up the price on Newegg/Amazon while I was there and price compare.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:37 AM on May 23, 2012

I'm very pleased with my Vizio television. I got it dirt cheap at Target on Black Friday. It's a TV, don't put a bunch of money into it. Buy as big as you can easily afford. This stuff changes and improves so quickly now that your desire for the next bigger, better thing will force a change faster than the TV frying. Don't buy the extended warantee.

We bought an LG about 5 years ago and we like that fine too. Personally, I think the LG is slightly better, but maybe $20 worth.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:39 AM on May 23, 2012

Best answer: Oh, yeah, as far as brands, I'll stand behind Samsung. Both my best friend and I have Samsungs and they've been 100% smooth sailing.

Oh, and as far as looking at the TV in the store goes, make sure you watch something you generally would. So if they try to, for instance, upsell you on 120 Hz because the football game/action movie looks so smooth and you mainly watch dramas and sitcoms, you don't need that feature.

Buy as big as you can easily afford.

If you can tell the difference between the resolutions, this isn't the best rule of thumb. When you're down to a few choices and losing an inch or two means you can get a higher resolution, go with the higher resolution. On the other hand, if 720p and 1080p look identical to you, then, yeah, get the physically bigger screen.
posted by griphus at 9:50 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And more importantly with "buy big!!" -- sometimes, your apartment is too small for a huge screen. I used to have a graphic illustrating this, but I can't find it, so this article from Amazon will have to do.
posted by AmandaA at 9:55 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is it this graph?
posted by griphus at 9:56 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I asked a question recently (Help me pick a decent medium-size HDTV) that will probably help you make sense of it all.

The one thing that my question didn't go into was size, because I already knew that. One consideration for that is how much room you have where you want to put it, and another is how close you're going to sit. If it's too big and you sit too close, there'll be times and channels where you will notice the imperfections of the picture because they're big enough to notice. To me that is pretty annoying, but YMMV. On the other hand if it's too small and you're too far away, you might miss out on seeing some of the fine detail when that is available, for example watching a Blu-ray.

Also one thing that had not occurred to me before getting a TV home is that if it's too smalll you might not be able to read on-screen text, like for example program guides, menu items, settings etc from a distance.

For me 32" works pretty well in a decent-sized room.
posted by philipy at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2012

Aha! Thanks, griphus, that's the one.
posted by AmandaA at 9:58 AM on May 23, 2012

Smaller TVs weigh less, of course. I like the kind that I can easily carry out of the store myself. Anything over 35 pounds (probably 40" and above), you'll probably want to get a friend to help you or a professional installer, especially if you have to climb steps to get to your apartment. You really don't want to drop a new television or screw up the install; the Samsung plasma I had for a while was a real problem to get into the stand.

I really like my 22" Vizio LCD, which cost me about $250 at WalMart last spring. It's advertised at full 1080p and has a bunch of apps, including Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, and TuneIn. (I disagree with the comment above about apps being outdated; I'm still using mine heavily after more than a year.) The live chat tech support is even helpful!

From my perspective, plasma was a big PITA; I was always worried about burn-in even though supposedly the newer models suffer from it less. Black levels have improved quite a bit on LCDs in the past couple of years. I will say, though, that when I first saw HD on the plasma (the first time I saw HD at all) I literally gasped. I don't have that level of "wow" with the Vizio.
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:03 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I did a kind of goofy but ultimately very helpful thing when I moved in to my (non-studio, but small) apartment - I knew I wanted to hang my TV on the wall so I outlined various sizes of TVs in painters tape on the wall to get a sense of how big they would be in the room. I called it my Imagination TV.

If you're planning to put yours on a bench/table you could still do this with cardboard cutouts, though it would be more work than painters tape.
posted by mskyle at 10:08 AM on May 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: -plasma sucks, LED uses less power than LCD (tho they are both mostly LCD...the main difference is in the backlighting)

-i, for one, wish i had gotten bigger than 32 inches and am thinking of upgrading, but not much bigger...i would def measure the distance from your couch to where the tv will be and stand that far away in the store.

-nthing LG...good simple products that dont require a masters degree to operate...intuitive menus and what have you (i'm looking at you, sony, with your remotes with waaaayy too many buttons on them)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oooh, good links. I won't know until I move in... but I'm guestimating 6-9 feet, so probably 32"-40" is the range I should be looking out.

I move in June 1 -- does it make sense to wait until I move to get the TV? I'd kind of like to have it on move-in day.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:11 AM on May 23, 2012

What will you be using it for? We got a 40" Samsung and all we do is watch YouTube and torrented movies on it.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:14 AM on May 23, 2012

My usual reaction to these questions from someone who doesn't seem like they'll be really fussy about picture quality is:

You are overthinking this plate of beans.

(1) Go to and look at LED tvs and LCD tvs, which they keep separate for no good reason. You don't need to order from them; they just have a decent rating system that's less messed-up than most.
(2) You want to look at 1080p tvs at least 30 inches. If you're going to be using it as a monitor sometimes, don't dick around with less than 1080p. There are metric fucktons of them available for $400 or less, so why bother?
(3) Set up the query thing appropriately and sort by best rating. You want at least four eggs, and more ratings are better than fewer.

Then... pick one and get it from somewhere. Maybe see if some local store has it in stock so you can see it in action. Is this going to get you the very best tv that represents the greatest value for your special snowflakeness? Probably not, but whatever you get will almost certainly be good enough.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:51 AM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had my Sony Bravia for 7 years. That's just an anecdote, but I've been very happy with it thus far and it is still not obsolete for my needs. Any of the name brands (Sony, Sharp, Samsung) would be fine I'm sure. I would absolutely recommend an LCD for the power savings and the lighter weight (very helpful when you move). Go for 1080p for future-proofing and because you intend to use it as a monitor for your laptop.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:56 AM on May 23, 2012

Best answer: Since you mentioned shopping Best Buy, allow me to steer you away from their store brands, Insignia and Dynex. While the prices may be attractive they are far from the best value. My exhusband has worked both in home theatre install and delivery driver positions for them and those brands have the highest return and complaints.
I bought a 40 inch Sony Bravia about five years ago and love it. It gets used as monitor, tv, and game screen and works very well. The size has been perfect in my small living rooms. The only problem I have run into (and only very recently) is not enough hdmi inputs but that shouldn't be an issue with a newer model.
posted by Talia Devane at 11:24 AM on May 23, 2012

Due to the economy of scales, there will be a certain sized screen which is the sweet spot in terms of area/cost ratio. (for smaller screens, you won't save much, and for larger screens the price will jump up significantly) When we bought ours in 2008, it was 32 inch - I don't know for sure, but it's probably 37-40 inches now.

I'd find that sweet spot and then buy the cheapest 1080p LED set of that size you can find from a reputable brand.
posted by piyushnz at 12:38 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a general piece of advice, when you're going to buy a product you don't know very much about, Consumer Reports is a good place to start. It's in your local library, and they recently did TVs. They discuss basic stuff like how big a screen is too big, and give you more advanced knowledge like which brands are less reliable, and which specific models perform well.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:39 PM on May 23, 2012

We just bought a TV ... right now, it seems like you can get big price discounts on plasmas and on TVs with lower refresh rates (measured in hz).

The big draw-back with plasma is that it has more glare, so it's not good if you're going to watch in the daytime with a big window right next to it.

For refresh rates, if you're not really into sports, 60 is fine.

Plasmas look better, IMO, but LCDs and LEDs are just fine too. LEDs are more pricey, probably not worth it.
posted by yarly at 1:32 PM on May 23, 2012

Best answer: Particular features to note on the TV are whether it shows 720p or 1080p. The lower number means that broadcast 1080i content will be squished down to a lower resolution, as well your 1080p blu-ray movies. 60Hz is "normal," 120Hz means it can potentially do 3D, but the TV should be explicit if it can indeed do 3D.

Every TV is tuned to look good in the store. Do some brand research-- a lot of good TV brands are new brands, but solid-- Vizio for example.

Some TVs are sold without digital tuners, with the idea that your cable box will be the tuner. You probably want to get a tuner in your TV. This isn't as prevalent now as it was even 5 years ago, but make sure that it can cope if you don't have cable.

Internet streaming features that, a few years ago were only found in such things as BluRay players and other external boxes, can now be found in TVs. Such features would include Pandora, Netflix, and the like. These are good, but as I said, can be gotten on external boxes as well, if the price-point bothers you. Think about how you'll connect the TV to the internet. (It may have a Wi-Fi option, as an upsell.)

And finally, be prepared to manage your remorse when you see a better TV for less money within a month or so. It was worth it to have your TV the whole month, instead of waiting, and don't let yourself think otherwise.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:13 PM on May 23, 2012

I was going to come in here to extoll the virtues of rear projection TVs, which hit a sweet spot by solving their traditional problems (too dark, lamp replacement, distortion) with LED lamps and DLP to become IMHO the best TVs you could buy. They're also light enough to pick up and move around the room yourself. They are still not the brightest TVs, so if you plan to watch in a bright room, that's a reason to look elsewhere.

Now thought it seems they are being phased out. Mine's a Samsung, but Samsung doesn't make them anymore.

Mitsubishi does: Amazon has a 73 inch for $1400 which is significantly cheaper than the 60" LCDs.
posted by fleacircus at 2:48 PM on May 23, 2012

Response by poster: Well, I bought one. It comes in the mail on Thursday. In case anyone is curious, it's this one.

A big thanks to all the help explaining this stuff to me -- it gave me a good basis to shop and research from. It was still a gruelling process... I seriously spend less time deciding on laptops, and use them way more. Go figure.

I also found this guide to be pretty helpful.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:57 AM on May 27, 2012

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