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Flat Screen Envy
by rob

Large, flat-screen LCD-TVs are all the rage. It began with the LCD monitor revolution that replaced many bulky CRT monitors on computer desks, saving space and reducing eye strain. Now, the same is happening to TVs. Besides being thinner and lighter than conventional CRT TVs, LCD-TVs are crisper, brighter and take less power to run. You know you want one. But before you go and spend you hard-earned money, there are a few things that you'll need to consider.

HDTV
High-Definition TV (HDTV) is a new digital television standard that offers superior image and audio quality versus the 50 year old analog standard. When looking at LCD-TVs, the term HDTV is tossed around a lot and you might assume that you can pull an LCD-TV out of the box, power it on and experience High-Definition TV. Not necessarily. There are two types of LCD-TVs:

  • LCD-HDTVs include an ATSC (digital signal) tuner and are capable of displaying High-Definition content right out of the box. They can pick up any available over-the-air HD signal with an additional antenna. However, to get all the content offered by cable and satellite providers, you still need a provider-specific converter.
  • LCD-TVs that are labeled HD-Ready include an NTSC (analog signal) tuner and are capable of showing HD content but require a separate tuner for HD signal reception. An HD tuner is usually included in a Media Center PC or can be included in a cable or satellite box.

Ports
There may be lots of ways to connect a cable to a TV, but when selecting a TV, make sure it has enough ports to connect all of your devices such as a cable TV box, DVR, VCR, DVD player and game console. If you're connecting all of your devices though a home theater receiver, you only need to worry about matching the ports of the TV to the receiver. LCD-TVs are grown-up versions of LCD monitors that you connect to your computer. Most will have a VGA (or DB-15) analog video port so you can connect either a computer or Media Center PC. Composite, S-Video and Component ports are also analog video connections and are standard in most TVs and A/V devices. For you hard-core videophiles, you'll want a digital video connector instead of analog. Look for a DVI, or better yet HDMI port, on your TV and A/V equipment. This will keep the signal purely digital.

Specs and Numbers
Many specifications of LCD-TVs are measured in unfamiliar numbers. Which number is best? Here's a quick guide:

  • Brightness: The measure of how much light a panel can produce measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m²) or nits. LCD-TVs typically go from 450 to 800 nits. The larger the number, the brighter the TV.
  • Pixel Pitch: The distance between like-colored pixels in the display. The closer the pixels, the sharper the image. 0.4mm is better than 0.5mm.
  • Response Time: This measures how fast the image is redrawn on the screen, specified in milliseconds (ms). The smaller the number, the better. 25ms is good, less than 20ms is excellent.
  • Contrast Ratio: This is the difference between the darkest black and the brightest white. The larger the ratio, the better. For example, an 800:1 contrast ratio has a better contrast range than 600:1.

Plasma vs. LCD
For the sake of keeping this article short, we've mainly focused on LCD-TVs. Plasma TVs are the more expensive big brothers to LCD-TVs. While Plasma TVs have the same types of ports as LCD-TVs and come with or without an HD tuner, they come in larger sizes (40" to 55"), are brighter (more than 1000 nits), and have much higher contrast ratios (up to 3000:1). With these high-end features comes high-end prices.

Buying an LCD-TV comes down to finding the right size for your room and budget. With this guide you'll be enjoying flat, widescreen HD goodness in no time.

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