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Guide: How to shop for your first HDTV E-mail
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Written by Olin Coles   
Saturday, 21 April 2007
Table of Contents: Page Index
Guide: How to shop for your first HDTV
Television Technology Defined
Determine your HDTV needs
Know your budget

Know your HDTV budget

In the last section you should have figured out the size and resolution for the HDTV you plan on purchasing. Now we move on to the most important section of the decision making process: the budget. Since we all make different incomes, the rest of this article will concentrate on how to best go about investing a sizable portion of that income towards a primary television set. It could be argued that knowing your budget should come before you know what you want, but lets face it: nobody is going to walk away with an unheard of bargain in the Internet age.

PriceGrabber has made certain that you and everyone else can get the absolute lowest price on everything available to consumers. To this same end, using a price comparison tool such as PriceGrabber can save you hundreds of dollars. It saved me over $1100 by purchasing my Sharp AQUOS LC-52D62U 52" LCD 1080p HDTV from an online retailer instead of my local retail outlet. Although saving this much money allowed me to get an HDTV that would normally be out of my price range, the purchase did not go without incident.

By purchasing online, you put your trust into a freight company to deliver your HDTV. In my first attempt, the online merchant and their contracted freight company had a breakdown in communication which left me sitting at home waiting for a delivery that was scheduled to happen but never did. Two weeks later, I was taking a chance with a different online merchant (who ironically used the same freight company), and my new HDTV was delivered (albeit much later then initially scheduled). Even despite the perils of a freight shipment and botched delivery, I would do it all again to save that much money.

So the most important question is how much you have got budgeted to spend. Sure, the 60+ inch 1080p HDTV paired with a PS3 sounds real nice, but unless you can safely handle the increased financial burden, you are better off either waiting to make your purchase, or getting something more in line with your income. On a related note, because the first HDTV set I purchased was essentially lost with the freight carrier, I kept shopping the same item and two weeks later it had dropped a full $100. Technology is getting better by the minute, just like yesterdays technology is getting cheaper.

Sharp AQUOS LC-52D62U 52" 1080P LCD HDTV

There are a few very basic items which should be considered a "given" in shopping for HDTV technology. These are the basic rules, which I learned and ultimately employed to make my (overly) informed decision to purchase the Sharp AQUOS LC-52D62U 52" LCD 1080p HDTV.

Basic shopping rules for HDTV:

  1. Any product sent to retail shelves before 1 March 2007 is obsolete.
    • As part of the digital broadcast transition initiative, by law all television sets manufactured after this date must have a built-in digital (ATSC) tuner.
    • Despite lengthy discussion on resolution and size, both should be considered secondary to contrast ratio. Higher is always better, and you will notice the difference.
  2. Contrast Ratio is everything. No exceptions.
  3. Native Resolution is key, and 720p is not as low end as it sounds.
    • At its best, HDTV will broadcasts at 720p. So unless you plan on an HD-DVD or Blu-ray investment, your 1080p pixels may go to waste.
  4. Widescreen (16:9) is in-style like digital. Full screen (4:3) is out like analog.
    • Since nearly all content is now formatted to the 16:9 picture ratio, full screen display will soon be a thing of the analog past.
    • Digital Cable Ready (DCR) sets replace the cable/satellite receiver, but if you want PPV or on-demand programming you have to call your provider instead.
  5. CableCard DCR televisions cannot order pay-per-view or video-on-demand programming.
  6. HDMI has replaced component video connections.
    • The High Definition Multimedia Interface offers uncompressed audio and video stream to and from devices. Make sure you are equipped for the future.

Go HDTV window shopping

In the last section, Benchmark Reviews offered a few general rules to help make your shopping search a little more efficient. Now it's time for a little footwork.

Read everything you can about the product of your choice, and make sure to read just as much about the competing models. But no amount of colorful magazine pictures or high-resolution web page images can recreate the actual appearance and performance of any HDTV. Consider this a fact, and don't make a purchase without first seeing the real thing in person. Even though you may not have any intention on purchasing from a local retail outlet, you should use their showroom display to your advantage.

Local retail stores offer you with the opportunity to see the same product you plan on buying as you would see it in your own living room. But don't be taken with the special lighting and over-extended screen brightness which display floor salespeople employ to impress uninformed buyers. Without being too intrusive, you can request to skip though some channels or change room lighting, which will help you see which models offer the best contrast ratio (the difference between the brightest and darkest colors produced). Because of showroom parlor tricks, you may not have a fair chance at comparing contrast ratio between products; and in the end it may take a leap of faith to trust the manufacturer's technical specifications.

Before you make any major purchase, make sure you allow at least a full day to reflect on the transaction. In other words, don't decide what you want after reading this and then jump right into the checkout stand. There are still a few checklist items remaining to ensure that you get the most out of your money; or at a bare minimum, you get what you pay for. Here is my final list of suggestions prior to making the big purchase:

  • Wait a few days. The price will most likely drop, and you may see something better worth researching.
  • Get more value for your money by considering discounted flat screen TV deals for your next LCD TV purchase.
  • Use a credit card with buyer protection. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all offer protection in the event you must dispute a charge.
  • Get reward points or frequent flier miles with your purchase. If your credit card doesn't give you points on every purchase, I strongly advise you to get with the program. The purchase of my Sharp AQUOS HDTV helped to earn a $100 Best Buy gift card.
  • Call ahead and confirm stock. Record the names and dates you call, since the merchant may offer a credit down the road if you can prove them wrong.
  • Contact the freight/delivery company on delivery day. Even if the online real-time status shows out for delivery, it could be wrong. Don't spend the day sitting at home believing the freight company's web site like I did. Even the second time around it was wrong, but by calling them on delivery morning I learned that a 10AM-4PM delivery window really was going to be a 5-9PM delivery.

So that's it. Without totally losing you with boring technical banter, this article should help you select and purchase your first HDTV. If there is anything you would like to add, or just simply comment on this article, please post your remarks in the Benchmark Reviews Discussion Forum. Remember that thousands of visitors read this article, so your imput could help many.

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