Size not the only option to consider when buying a television

Apr 27 2013 - 10:54pm

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When it comes to buying a new TV, most people look for the biggest TV in their price range. While this can be a good strategy, it also can backfire. The trick is understanding the trade-offs.

Here are ways to get a deal on a new TV and the possible pitfalls of each. Only you can decide what's worth giving up, but at least you won't be surprised.

Reconsider size

You may think you want a 50-inch or larger TV, but the ideal size for viewing depends not only on the size of the screen and your viewing distance, but on the resolution as well. The higher the resolution, the closer you can sit to the TV without seeing the pixels.

New Ultra HDTVs, with four times the resolution of regular HDTVs, cut the optimal viewing distance in half.

"To see all the UHD resolution, you'll need to be at half of the ideal 1080p viewing distance," said Gary Merson, who runs the website HD Guru. "For a 50-inch UHDTV, it's just over 39 inches."

This principle means you probably don't need a higher resolution HDTV.

"At 10 feet from the screen, you won't see any difference between a 720p and 1080p," Merson said. Referencing his TV database, he said that meant a $100 savings on a 2013 Samsung 50-inch 720p ($549) set compared with a Samsung 1080p ($650). Both sets are plasma, the technology that Merson finds superior under almost all conditions compared to LCD.

In fact, he recently finished testing a middle-of-the-line $998 Panasonic 50-inch plasma that he said was the best TV he's ever seen -- and Merson has seen hundreds.

Also, he said, people don't have to bother with price-checking if they're buying a Samsung, Sony or LG television. Beginning in 2013, these manufacturers adopted unilateral pricing, so you won't find more than a $2 difference from retailers.

Forgo features

Cheap TVs are often missing features found in pricier models, but picture quality is usually just as good.

"If you're trying to save money, fancy schmancy stuff doesn't matter," Merson said.

The advice holds true for any type of HDTV, including the new 4K models. Seiki, a Chinese manufacturer, released a 50-inch UHDTV for $1,500.

"It's so detailed, it's more like looking through a window than a TV," he said. But buying a Seiki is a lot like buying a new car with optional accessories -- no built-in Internet connectivity, no camera for Skype calls and gesture control, no 3-D and no voice control.

But you don't have to live without the frills. For $100 you can add a Roku 3 streaming media device for smart TV channels, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spotify and live sports, to any HDTV. Likewise, you could add a camera (under $100) for video calls and a Kinect ($110) to play motion-gesture-based games.

Total for accessories is around $300, which will save you money -- and lots of it if you opt for a cheap TV over a fully loaded one. However, you can't add 3-D capability.

Unfamiliar brands

You may be taking a chance with lesser-known brands, but don't rule them out.

For instance, Seiki executives said they realized people may not be comfortable buying a TV from a lesser-known brand, so the company is backing its sets with a one-year replacement warranty. If a problem can't be resolved over the phone (for 52-inch sets or smaller) or in person (for larger TVs), Seiki will replace the TV.

But Seiki is an exception, Merson said, who believes off-brands aren't worth the savings if you need repairs.

"Some companies charge you $100 just for a box," he said.

But TVs are the most reliable electronics and can be expected to be trouble-free for seven to 10 years. If you're willing to take a small risk, you could save several hundred dollars or more.

Demo model

You may get a decent discount on a demo model on display at your local electronics retailer. But before you buy, make sure that the TV's accessories -- such as the remote control, manuals and stand -- are included. If they're not, and you want them, you could pay more than $300 in replacements.

Game plan

Here's a three-step plan to follow when you buy your next TV:

* Determine the right size for your room, viewing distance and resolution of the TV you plan to buy.

* Go online and compare specification sheets for high-end and low-end TVs. Determine what features are missing from the cheaper model and then calculate what it will cost to add extras you want, such as a streaming media player.

* Check the store's return policy -- many, including Best Buy's, are as short as 15 days. You'll still have the manufacturer's warranty, but you'll usually have to pay to ship it back.

Ogden-based TopTenREVIEWS.com guides consumers by comparing products in the world of technology, including electronics, software and Web services. Have a question for TopTenREVIEWS? Email Leslie Meredith at lesliemeredith@technewsdaily.com.

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