HDTV Holiday Shopping FAQ
Why do I want an ethernet port or Wi-Fi adapter on my TV?
Many new HDTVs can connect to your network via ethernet or Wi-Fi. Once you've connected your set, you can stream content from the Internet via services such as Amazon Video on Demand, Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube (if your TV supports them), and if your TV has the "DLNA Certified" logo, you can also stream media from PCs and other devices on your home network. We're just starting to see TVs with Google TV baked in, which brings a fully functional Chrome browser, among other features, to the TV.
However, the choices that built-in Internet TV options provide often pale in comparison with those of third-party set-top boxes like the Roku or the WD TV. Instead of picking a TV solely for its Internet features, we'd recommend selecting a TV you like, and then finding a set-top box with the features you want. Also, read "BitTorrent to TV" for a guide to streaming video from your PC to your HDTV.
What's the difference between a big-name brand and a no-name brand?
If you've been following Black Friday ads, you've probably seen some very, very low prices for HDTVs ($200 to $300 for a 720p 32-inch set, $400 to $500 for a 40-inch 1080p set). Sony, in contrast, charges $1700 for its high-end 40-inch KDL-40HX800 set. So what do you get for that extra $1200?
For starters, HDTVs from less-established brands typically don't have the features of a brand-name set, so don't expect 3D, network connectivity, calibration options such as 10-point white balance, or a particularly eye-catching design.
You'll also notice a dramatic difference in image quality. Sets from companies such as Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio generally have better image-processing functions and higher refresh rates, which means that their colors will look more vivid and they'll handle motion more smoothly.
Once you're used to the way a high-end set looks, bargain-basement HDTVs will seem choppy and dull by comparison. For more on cheaper HDTVs, check out "Cheap HDTVs for Black Friday and Beyond."
Why do HDMI cables cost so much?
They shouldn't. We tested a pair of $3 cables from MonoPrice and Blue Jeans Cable against a $60 AudioQuest cable and a $150 Monster Cable, and found no discernible difference in quality. (Read "Technology's Biggest Myths" for more details.) For short cable runs, even the $30 house-branded HDMI cables are a rip-off. If you're paying $100 or more for an HDMI cable, well, you're probably pretty popular at your local electronics store.
Do I need a 1080p TV? How about a high refresh rate?
LCD TVs with 1080p resolution and 120Hz refresh rates have become increasingly common in the past few years. You'll still see 60Hz TVs (in both 720p and 1080p resolutions) out there, but typically they're older inventory or low-end models, or they have smaller screens.
If you're leaning toward a 720p TV, note that there are a few good reasons to shell out the extra cash for a 1080p set. Although most over-the-air and cable programming is 720p or 1080i, Blu-ray movies and games can take advantage of 1080p, as can some set-top boxes. And the price difference between a 720p set and an equivalent 1080p set is usually no more than $100 or $200--not bad, considering 1080p's image quality advantages over 720p.
Refresh rates are another story. Although 120Hz HDTVs almost universally look smoother than 60Hz HDTVs in our tests, the difference between 120Hz and 240Hz isn't quite so clear. Some sets with a 240Hz rate look phenomenal, but others create odd anomalies in the image as a result. (Want to know why? Read "LCD Motion Features: How Do They Work?")
The 120Hz Samsung LN46C650, for example, topped our latest 46-inch and 47-inch HDTVs chart with excellent motion scores despite competing against more-expensive sets with higher refresh rates. For more info on TV specs, check out "Fact or Fiction: 8 HDTV Myths Demystified" and "HDTV Buying Guide: Making Sense of the Specifications."
HDTV Holiday Shopping FAQ