Reader Question: HDTV Product Recommendation

Q: Is the [name omitted] 37-inch LCD HDTV any good? Should I buy one?
Frank Noweder

A: This is a reasonable question to ask, but it’s one that I can’t answer. In order to be able to tell you how good a given HDTV model is, I’d have to be able to compare it to everything else that is available. In2005, manufacturers released more than 850 new models of LCD and plasma televisions and monitors 30-inches or larger. Even if I could get them to loan me one of each of them, I’d have to test three a day to get through them all. I wouldn’t get any other work done, and I don’t know of a working business model that would pay for all that time. And that’s not counting the rear-projection and front-projection models.

And even if I had the time to do all the testing, and write up all the reviews in a way that was meaningful and useful to people, most of it would be wrong in a very short time. Prices change, models get discontinued, and what was good this week might be average by comparison with new products that come out a month later. So there would be an endless cycle of trying to update the old information while trying to stay current with all the new models.

The bottom line is that it can’t be done. But there’s a better way. How do you buy a car? You probably do some research to see what’s available, and you may read reviews about what’s reliable. But in the end, you go to the showrooms, and you sit in the seats and twiddle with the dashboard controls. And when you’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, you take the for a test drive to find out how you like the performance: handling, acceleration, road noise, braking, and so on.

I recommend that you do the same thing for buying HDTV. You’re likely to buy from a local store anyway, so you’ll probably buy one of the models that they have available. What you need is to know how to look at the displays in the store in much the same way that you look at the cars in the showroom. You need to learn what the key performance features are that will have the most impact on your viewing experience, and how to evaluate them for yourself in the store. You also need to understand how the store conditions — lighting, signal, setup, and the like — can make a given model look better or worse than it will in your livingroom.

You’re going to spend a lot of money on your HDTV purchase, and you’re going to live with that choice for many years. Don’t let someone else spend your money for you; learn what you need to know to get the best HDTV for your needs.