In the market for a flat-screen HDTV for the holidays or the Super Bowl? Even if you're planning to buy this key element of your home theater online, you should still eyeball sets in the store. Only by checking out the types of content that you watch most--movies, sports events, standard-def shows, or video games--can you evaluate subtle differences in picture quality.
Following are some tips on prepping for shopping, evaluating sets in the store, and, not least, taking delivery. And for additional help, see "How to Buy a Flat-Screen TV" and "How to Buy a Rear-Projection TV," as well as our tests of recent models, "Top 10 40- and 42-inch HDTVs."
And to get a handle on what the current prices are before shopping retail, be sure to check online pricing. A good place to start is PC World Shopping
Before You Go
Check your video sources: If you don't already have high-def video sources--an HD digital cable or satellite box, a DVR, or a Blu-ray Disc or HD DVD player--at least investigate them beforehand to determine the number and types of inputs and cables you'll need. If you buy your HD gear first, an installer will be able to hook it all up to your new set and troubleshoot problems.
If the set you like is short on inputs, don't despair. Add-on HDMI 1.3 switcher boxes from Gefen, Iogear, Oppo, and others cost about $100 to $200. But refrain from purchasing add-on surround-sound speakers until after your HDTV is installed so that you can correctly evaluate sound quality and speaker placement with the new set.
Choose a showroom: Go first to specialty home theater shops that stock the sets you like. They tend to have quiet, dimly lit areas much like real living rooms, while the brightly lit, noisy showrooms at the big-box stores make comparisons difficult.
Bring test movies with you: They should be on both DVD and high-definition media (Blu-ray or HD DVD); rent if necessary. Last year's remake of Casino Royale has plenty of fast action and night scenes for comparing smooth motion and black quality.