If you're thinking of buying a new HDTV – don't. This is the wrong time of year to buy an HDTV. Around Labor Day or just before the Super Bowl are probably the best times; manufacturers are ready to ship their new models around these times, making retailers desperate to sell what will soon be discontinued models at fabulous "everything must go!" prices.
So why am I writing a "how to buy an HDTV story" if this is the wrong time of year to buy one? My brother-in-law called me for HDTV shopping advice, so I figure other folks may be shopping as well.
So, if you ignore my when-to-buy advice, here's my how-to-buy advice, which you are free to virtually clip and save if you manage to stave off your HDTV buying for a more economically advantageous time.
And I promise to keep things simple, because buying a TV ought to be simple, damn it!
LCD or plasma? If you have to fit your new TV into an existing cabinet, you have to buy an LCD model – plasma sets are available only with screens 42 inches (measured diagonally) and larger. If you're not size-restricted, buy a plasma. Plasma is the superior HDTV technology, especially for sports and game-playing. Why? I promised to keep this non-technical, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Only if your main viewing room is bathed in sunlight from multiple bay windows and a skylight should you even consider an LCD HDTV. I'm a fan of Panasonic's plasmas, but Samsung and LG make nice plasmas as well.
3D? As I've previously noted, 3D HDTVs are the pinnacle of flat screen technology. Even if you never intend to watch a 3D anything (and in technology, you ought NEVER to say you'll never), opt for the 3D model, if you can afford it – again, plasma. I'm begging you.
How big a set should I buy? Gear heads will suggest you whip out a slide rule to calculate the correct screen size vs. distance from the screen ratio. Hogwash and balderdash, and vice versa. Get as big a screen as you can afford. I suggest at least a 50 incher – I guarantee you'll contract a case of buyer's remorse within days of saving a couple of bucks by buying a 42-inch. However, if you buy a sub-42-inch LCD, look for a cheaper 720p resolution model. At less than 50 inches, you won't be able to see the advantages of a higher-resolution 1080p model.
Should I get an Internet connected set? First, do you have a Wi-Fi router set up in your home, or do you plan on installing one to create a home wireless network? If not, you'll have no way to connect your Internet connected set to the Internet, and the answer to my rhetorical question is "no." If you have Wi-Fi at home, however, I'd suggest getting an Internet-connected Blu-ray player instead. First, a non-connected TV will be cheaper. Second, you likely will have to buy a separate Wi-Fi connection module in addition to the connected HDTV. This Wi-Fi connection module is around the same price as a connected Blu-ray player, most of which have Wi-Fi built in. And since all Blu-ray players want to be connected to the Internet, a connected HDTV would be redundant. (Yeah, I know – now you need a How To Buy a Blu-ray feature. All right, I'm working on it!)
What extra features should I look for? A front HDMI jack for connecting a camcorder or video game console is handy, as are as many rear HDMI jacks as you can get, as is a USB jack to plug in an external hard drive or a USB thumb drive with photos on it is nice. Just bear in mind the "glass" – the actual screen – from model-to-model within a model series (you'll be able to tell from the varying alphanumeric model numbers which sets are the good-better-best of a particular line) don't change. If you pay more for a step-up set, it's usually for the features, not a higher-quality screen.
Where should I shop? Try to see different sets in dark showrooms – most big box retailers blast their TVs at their brightest to combat bright overhead lights, which is no way to view or compare HDTVs. And don't compare models watching animation – ALL animation on ALL HDTVs looks great. Tell the sales person to switch on something with real people in it, especially something with dark scenes. The more detail you can pick out of shadows, the better the set.
Where should I buy it? Retailers will hate me for this, but after you check out prospective HDTVs in a store, buy your choice online. Most retailers will charge you tax and for delivery and, even if you pick it up yourself, there's the gas and the schlepping – oh, my back! Find an online site to get free shipping and, if you're lucky, no tax.
Should I buy an extended warranty? No, no, NO! Extended warranties are merely a way for a store to make up the revenue they lose by selling you a cheap TV. Never EVER buy an extended warranty from a store, especially for a TV. If you buy an extended warranty, I'll come to your house, ring your doorbell, and run. See my previous dissertation on this topic, "Should You Insure Your Gadgets?"