LCD TV — Before You Buy

What to look for when buying an LCD TV

Sony KDL-48W650D 48-inch 1080p LED/LCD TV
Sony KDL-48W650D 48-inch 1080p LED/LCD TV.

Image courtesy of Amazon

 

Flat-panel televisions are now commonplace on store shelves and in consumers' homes. LCD flat panel TVs, with their decreasing price points and performance improvements, is your main choice. However, before you jump at the latest "great ad deal", we have some useful tips for you to take into consideration what to look for.

Find a Place to Put Your LCD TV

Since LCD TVs are very thin, they can be either wall or table mounted.

For a wall mounted LCD TV, avoid placing over a functioning fireplace. The heat from the fireplace may affect the performance and longevity of the set. If you are using the provided table mount, take a tape measure to the dealer with you so you can make sure that the entire width of the set will fit in your space. Make sure you leave one or two inches on each side, the top, and back, for ventilation and connection access.

If you are placing your LCD TV on a table or stand, one thing to consider is anchoring it to the wall. This especially important for larger screens. LCD TVs may look thin and weigh a lot less than those old CRT sets, but they are susceptible to tipping, which can be fatal for a small child or pet (this also goes for Plasma and OLED TVs).

Don't Get Confused By Product Labeling

Probably the most confusing thing you will encounter when shopping for an LCD TV is how they are labeled. The two labels you will encounter are LED and QLED.

Straight-up LED and QLED TVs are LCD TVs.

TVs labeled LED refer to the way the TV is backlit. Instead of a backlight utilizing fluorescent bulbs, LED light bulbs are used. Almost all LCD TVs now employ LED backlights.

TVs labeled QLED refer to a color enhancement technology referred to as Quantum Dots, which are placed between an LED backlight and the LCD screen. LCD TVs utilizing quantum dots are few, but growing at a steady pace, but they are more expensive.

NOTE: TVs that are labeled OLED TVs are not LCD TVs. They use a different technology to display images that don't require a backlight.

Flat or Curved

Although not as numerous as they were a few years ago, there are still a number of Curved Screen TVs, being made (mostly by Samsung), but there are things to take into consideration, such susceptibility to room glare and viewing angle. If you think you want to buy a Curved Screen TV, take a real close look — viewing from the sides and notice if the store lighting is being reflected on the screen.

Resolution

LCD flat panel sets have a fixed number of pixels on the screen surface, which determines the TVs display resolution. The key is to get as high a native pixel count as possible. Most LCD TVs 23-inches and up in screen size offer at least a 1280x720 (720p) or 1366x768 (768p) native pixel resolution. These are the minimum pixel counts you should look for in an LCD television.

In addition, most larger screen sets (especially those 40-inches and larger) offer 1920x1080 (1080p) or 3840x2160 (4K) native pixel resolution, which is even more desirable, especially if you have, or plan to purchase a Blu-ray Disc or Ultra HD Disc player.

Scaling

Scaling is a process where a television's video processor will match the resolution of the incoming signal to its native pixel resolution. This means that lower resolution signals will be upscaled, but the processor will downscale higher resolution signals so that they can be displayed at the TVs native resolution.

Poor scaling can result in artifacts, such as pixelation, macroblocking, jagged edges and inconsistent detail. It must also be noted that results also depend on the quality of the incoming signal.

Motion Response Time

The ability for an LCD TV to display fast moving objects has, in the past, been a weakness of LCD technology. However, this has improved dramatically. This does not mean that all LCD TVs are created equal in this area.

Check the specifications for Motion Response Time (ms = milliseconds). A good LCD TV now should have a response time of either 8ms or 4ms, with 4ms being optimum, especially if you watch lots of sports or action films. Be wary of LCD TVs that do not list their motion response time.

Another factor that can add support to response time is Screen Refresh Rate.

Contrast Ratio

Contrast ratio, or the degree of variation of the whitest and darkest parts of the image, is a very important factor to note. If the LCD TV has a low contrast ratio, dark images will look muddy and gray, while light images will look washed out.

Also, don't get seduced by Contrast Ratio marketing hype. When checking contrast ratio numbers, look for Native, Static, or ANSI contrast, not Dynamic or Full On/Full Off contrast. ANSI contrast represents the difference between black and white when both are on the screen at the same time. Dynamic or Full ON/OFF contrast only measures black by itself and white by itself.

Light Output and Brightness

Most LCD TVs can produce very bright images, but not all are created equal. Without sufficient light output (measured in Nits), the brightness your TV image will look muddy and soft, even in a dark room. In addition, viewing distance, screen size, and ambient room light will affect how much light your TV needs to put out in order to provide a sufficiently bright image.

Viewing Angle

Make sure you can view the image on the LCD TV from the sides as well as the from the prime viewing area. LCD TVs typically have a narrow optimum viewing angle.

If you find that the image begins to fade or becomes unviewable within 45 degrees from either side of the center viewing spot, then it may not be a good choice where you have a large group of viewers sitting in different parts of the room. If you need a wider viewing angle, look for sets that incorporate IPS technology (mostly available from LG).

Tuner and Connection Considerations

Almost all LCD-TVs now have both built-in NTSC and ATSC tuners. An ATSC tuner is required to receive over-the-air TV broadcast signals after June 12, 2009. Also, some LCD TVs have what is referred to as a QAM tuner. A QAM tuner is what is required to receive unscrambled HD-Cable programming without a cable box (this capability is becoming rarer as cable systems are scrambling more and more channels).

In addition, the LCD TV you purchase should have at least one HDMI input for the connection of HD sources, such as HD-cable or satellite boxes, Upscaling DVD or Blu-ray Disc player.

If you have older AV gear, such as a VCR, LCD TVs have analog video inputs as well. However, the number of those inputs on newer LCD TVs is limited and may be eliminated at some point.

Some LCD TVs also have VGA inputs so that it can be used as a computer monitor. However, as the number of PCs and Laptops with HDMI connections increases, you can use that option, if available.

Smart TV

Almost all LCD TVs available now come equipped with at least some smart features. At a minimum, this allows the viewing of video streaming content, such as movies and TVs shows form services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, and more directly to your TV without an external device, provided your TV is connected to the Internet. You can even control some Smart TVs with Alexa and Google Home.

HDR

HDR is available on a growing number of LCD TVs. This feature allows you to view content that has specially coded with enhanced brightness information, which provides a more natural look for both bright and dark scenes. The specific brand/model TV determines which HDR formats (HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG) are compatible. However, some HDR-enabled TVs can also provide an approximation with standard video content via additional processing.

3D

Unfortunately, manufacturing of new 3D LCD and OLED TVs has been discontinued. If you really desire this viewing option, there are still a limited number of sets available on clearance or used via third parties. However, 3D is still available on some video projectors.

Consider an External Sound System

LCD TVs come in very large screen sizes, but, unfortunately, their sound is small. Try as they might TV makers can only do so much with the amount of space available inside a thin TV frame to produce sound.

When shopping for your LCD TV, definitely pay attention to the sound quality. If it sounds bad in the store, it won't sound a lot better at home. Check to see what audio output connections the TV provides. Most will provide both analog and digital options, but a growing number of newer sets only provide a digital option.

Make allowance for the purchase of an additional soundbar or home theater audio system.