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Consumer Reports advice on buying HDTV, Plasma TV, LCD TV sets

Posted Wednesday, March 15, 2006

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March Issue Has Latest Ratings of HDTV, Plasma TV and LCD television sets

Yonkers, NY – A combination of holiday deals on high definition TVs, hoopla surrounding HD television broadcasts of the Super Bowl and Olympics, and the arrival of sets with bigger screens and lower prices will find many consumers pumped up about buying an HDTV. And the March 2006 issue of Consumer Reports magazine suggests that there’s no reason to hold off that purchase but also offers consumers some must-have advice when shopping for a new HDTV set. The March issue also contains CR’s latest expert and unbiased Ratings on LCD TV, plasma TV, rear-projection and picture-tube TVs.

  • New brands: Be open to some new names but wary of others. Some off-brands cost much less than major brands and consumers may expect them to be mediocre, as was the result in many cases. But several of the low-priced LCD television sets that CR tested did surprisingly well.
  • Time a purchase to take advantage of expected price drops. While lesser-known television brands are playing the price card, consumers also will find that major brands are becoming less expensive. The price erosion is likely to continue especially for the biggest, priciest sets. By summer, prices of 50-inch plasma TVs and LCD TV flat panels larger than 40 inches could fall by $500. But little change is likely for picture-tube TVs and CRT-based rear-projection TV sets. The magazine notes that consumers could save money on the biggest-screen TVs if they are willing to wait a few months. But CR also advises that there’s little reason to wait to buy a smaller LCD television or plasma TV set, or a tube-based set.
  • Buy a big screen TV to see the best HD broadcasts. Consumer Reports’ survey of 500 HDTV owners showed that viewing enjoyment increased with screen size, and many wished they’d purchased a bigger set. The magazine recommends opting for a 16:9 wide screen, which is better suited to viewing HD TV programming. And for optimal viewing, sit at least 4 feet from a 37-inch or smaller HDTV set and 5 to 9 feet from a 40-65-inch screen. Images may appear coarse to viewers sitting any closer.
  • Consider the digital-tuner setup. HD-ready TVs require an external digital tuner such as a cable or satellite box to receive high-definition broadcasts. Integrated HDTV sets have built-in digital tuners that enable them to receive free broadcast digital signals, including HD, via VHF/UHF antenna. But they need a cable or satellite box to receive HD programs and premium channels via those subscription services. Some integrated TV sets also have QAM tuners. Besides getting digital signals by antenna, they can receive unscrambled digital-cable signals – including the local HD channels in cable packages - via a cable into the set, without a box. Digital-cable-ready (DCR) televisions can tune in HD TV programming and premium channels with a CableCard (rented from the cable company for a few dollars a month) that goes into a slot on the TV. But CR notes that DCR TV is one-way, so there is no access to interactive program guides, video on demand, or pay-per-view ordering via the remote. Second-generation DCR-TVs aren’t due for a while.
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  • Decide whether to pay top dollar for a state-of-the-art 1080p TV. In Consumer Reports initial tests of 1080p sets (the first with the potential to display all the detail in 1080i signals, the most common HD TV format) some showed very fine detail but others didn’t make the most of the high resolution. Improved detail related to 1080p resolution alone doesn’t guarantee excellent images. If consumers want the best possible quality and cost is no issue, CR recommends shoppers buy a 1080p set. But if excellent picture quality is top priority, consumers can save by buying one of the best non-1080p TV sets instead.
  • Consider differences in reliability. Consumer Reports notes that it’s too soon to know about the long-term reliability of many of these TV sets and advises that consumers not rule out an extended warranty for LCD television and plasma television sets, especially for off-brands and expensive models. But the magazine also warns that consumers should pay no more than 15 to 20 percent of the TV’s cost. Microdisplays using LCD TV, DLP, or LCoS TV technology have been the most repair-prone type during their first year of use according to CR survey data. Toshiba DLP TVs have been less repair-prone than most.
The full report on CR’s must-have advice for HDTV shoppers and the latest Ratings of LCD television, Plasma television, Rear-projection television and picture-tube TVs appears in the March 2006 issue of Consumer Reports which goes on sale February 7, 2006 wherever magazines are sold. The report will also be available online to subscribers of ConsumerReports.org at www.ConsumerReports.org.
 
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