December 22, 2010

Your TV buying advice, please

Hey, experts in stuff! I’m shopping for a TV and hereby solicit your advice. I’m thinking of finally replacing my eleven-year-old 27″ Sony Trinitron with something modern and flat and HD. Been Googling up a storm. I’ve pretty well narrowed my criteria to: 50″, 1080p, and under $900. Not particularly interested in 3D, and my living room is too unevenly lit for a projector. My current top candidate, the Samsung PN50C550, is a plasma screen that gets high marks.

I’ll ask my biggest question up front: When’s the best time to shop for a big TV? I’m not in a crazy rush. Anyone out there have any real data about price fluctuations? And would you shop in person or order online? I’ve seen some good deals on Amazon: no tax, free shipping. I’m not sure any brick-and-mortar retailer would bring the price down enough to compensate for that.

So I’ve been reading about plasma and LCD TVs.

Plasma televisions used to have a reputation for burn-in problems—persistent ghost images caused by leaving stationary bright features on the screen for a long time—but the word on the street is that they’ve gotten better in recent years and it’s not really an issue for average use. You need to avoid, say, leaving a video game or sports ticker on screen all day, but current plasma TVs have built-in features that can reduce the overall risk of burn-in, and we don’t regularly use the TV for many hours on end.

I’ve considered LCD sets. There are three variations, it seems:

  • non-LED, which is backlit with fluorescent elements
  • edge-lit LED, with power-efficient light-emitting diodes hidden behind the frame that shine inward and are diffused behind the LCD panel
  • full LED, which would seem to be a more robust means of illumination, putting the light elements directly behind the LCD.

Any TV set that claims to be “LED” is just an LCD that uses LEDs for lighting. Some full LED sets have “local dimming,” which ostensibly allows the dark areas in a picture to be especially dark. (Plasma sets seem to have an advantage there.)

My experience looking at TVs in stores echoes the professional reviews I’ve seen: LCD sets look great from straight in front, but they don’t look as good from off to the side; the color or brightness can shift. This is a major consideration for us, since our living room TV is viewed from a pretty wide range of angles. Plasma sets look great from all angles. I’ve heard that some high-end LCD sets can rival that, but I’m not shopping in that price range, as far as I know.

Any other thoughts or buying advice? Alternate model suggestions? (Also thought about the LG 50PK550 and Panasonic TC-P50S2.) Experience with either kind of TV?

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