If you work in the audio/video business, at any kind of social event there is a good chance you will get asked this question: "So what is the best TV to get?"
The flat panel TV business has become extremely competitive. For the most part, the quality of sets available now is fantastic. LCD sets are currently fading away except for bargain basement models and smaller sizes. Currently, the main two types are LED and plasma. Plasma was the first flat panel technology to offer a large size. In our opinion, current plasma sets have the best picture quality. They just seem to look more natural than LED. They have also gotten energy efficient to the point where most are energy star rated. However, there are situations where LED would be preferable. If you have a room that might have light reflecting off your set, LED would be the better choice. In a controlled light environment, though, we recommend plasma. At Audio Advice, we have both technologies on display so you can decide for yourself. The bottom line is, they have both gotten so darn good you will not go wrong with plasma or LED if you buy from a vendor with a reputation for making great product.
Another big question is: “What about 3D?” For most mainstream vendors, the typical jump from the non-3D model to 3D in the same size is a $100-$300 price differential (which translates to about 10% in most cases). The jury is still out on the future success of 3D TV, but all better performing sets from the major brands include 3D already. Our advice is: if you are on a budget, forgo 3D. If you are out to buy a great TV set, it’s going to come with 3D by default.
As far as TV brands go, there are many mainstream brands offering a warranty and service should you have problems with your set. There are other brands that may sell for less, with zero service support after 30-90 days. Audio Advice only supports brands that support us. For flat panel TVs, these are Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sharp. All of these are brands with service back-up and support for the US market.
Now, what about the experience of enjoying your new TV? First of all, most flat panel sales are made in big box retail chain stores. In these stores the lighting typically uses bright fluorescents. Most TV manufacturers have taken to sending sets out from the factory in what we in the industry call "torch mode.” This means almost everything adjustable that affects the picture has been turned up to overcome the harsh lighting environment where the sets will probably be displayed. The first thing you need to do when you get your new set home is to adjust these settings. This makes a huge difference, actually greater than any difference you would find between good quality brands if all settings were equal. If you purchase your TV from an A/V specialty dealer, like Audio Advice, they will typically do this for you.
The next part of the experience (and probably most important) is audio. In racing to see who could make the thinnest TV, the TV speakers were sacrificed. In the old days of TV sets that were 20-30" deep, there was plenty of room for a decent sized speaker enclosure. Today there is not. You will not be able to understand dialog well from most current flat panels if you use only the internal speakers. There are several inexpensive "speaker bars" you can purchase that greatly enhance the audio. A full surround system with dedicated speakers makes an even bigger difference in the overall experience. In fact, if you are upgrading your entire entertainment system, you would be far better off allocating a good percent of your TV budget to audio since the pictures on all sets have gotten to be so good.
Most TVs now come with all kinds of apps for accessing Internet content from providers like Netflix, Blockbuster and YouTube. To have the most content to talk about, most TV manufacturers have spent more time adding access to all kinds of content instead of designing great interfaces for these apps. One company that has, and who is basing their entire business model on it, is Roku. Roku is sold direct for only $59-$99 (depending on the feature set), and is probably the best interface on the market for Internet video content. Our advice is to not get caught up in the content your future TV can access, but just add something like a Roku to it.
Finally, make sure you really want a flat panel. The price and performance of front projection has dropped dramatically in the past few years. For as little as around $3000 you can get a great projector and 100” diagonal screen that is far more like being at the movies than a much smaller flat panel! If you have the room for it, there is nothing like it.
We’re here to help you through the entire TV selection process. And remember, don’t forget the audio! The best picture in the world is no good if you can’t understand what the people on the screen are saying!