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Video: Choosing an HDTV

Julie Govan is the Brand Manager at Crutchfield, and has been writing about consumer electronics since 1999. Her areas of expertise include home theater, surround sound, digital cameras, and HDTV. In her spare time, she also writes book reviews and fiction. She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College, and went on to receive a master's degree in English literature from the University of Virginia.

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Steve Kindig has been an electronics enthusiast for over 30 years. He has written extensively about home and car A/V gear for Crutchfield since 1985. Steve is also a volunteer DJ at community radio station WTJU, where he is a regular host of the American folk show "Atlantic Weekly," as well as the world music program "Radio Tropicale."

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Confused by HDTV specs and lingo? Get a grip on the key features to consider when choosing an HDTV, including screen size, TV type, resolution, and contrast ratio.

Video Transcript

Steve: Hi. I'm Steve.

Julie: And I'm Julie. We're here in the Crutchfield studio to talk about what you need to know when choosing a new TV.

Steve: You can watch this video from start to finish or go to to learn about the topics you're interested in.

TV Screen Size

Julie: Now the saying "bigger is better" is actually a pretty good guideline when you're deciding on TV screen size. Our experience has been that in most situations, you should go with the largest screen your room, your viewing distance, and your budget will accommodate. That's because while we occasionally hear people wishing their TV screen was bigger, we pretty much never hear them wishing it was smaller.

So how do you know how large a screen to get for your room? The key is the relationship between the TV's screen size and the distance you'll be sitting from it. To help people find a good screen size for their room, we use a loose formula to recommend a viewing distance range. Here's how it works: We suggest you sit at a distance that is 1.5 to 2.5 times your TV's screen size for the best picture. So if you're considering a 50" HDTV, your ideal viewing range would be between 6-1/4 feet and 10-1/2 feet. If that sounds really close, keep in mind that you can sit closer to an HDTV and still get an awesome picture. This is especially true if you mostly watch stuff that's in high definition, like Blu-ray discs and HDTV. Then, you can try sitting at the closest end of that range. You can find out more about choosing screen size at

LCD vs. Plasma

Steve: Both LCD and Plasma TVs will give you a bright, detailed picture, and of course they also have a slim design that allows them to be set on a stand or hung on a wall.

Plasmas are known for their smooth motion, rich colors, and impressive contrast levels. If you're considering a plasma, there are two things to keep in mind. First, they're not available in smaller screen sizes, just 42" and larger, so they're generally not a good fit for small spaces like a kitchen. Second, some plasma screens may reflect room lights. This isn't going to be a problem in many rooms, but if you have a room with a lot of lamps and windows you'll want to turn the lights down and pull the curtains.

So how do you know if a plasma is right for you? If you want a movie theater like experience in a dim or darkened room you'll appreciate plasma's fluid motion and true to life color.

As we've said, LCD TVs also offer a bright, clear picture, plus many LCDs have anti-glare screens that cut way down on room reflections, so they're good for brighter rooms. However, some LCDs don't have quite the same richness of color and deep contrast as plasma. Overall, LCDs are good all purpose TVs. They offer the widest range of sizes and look good in bright settings, so they can work well in any room, plus some top of the line LCDs give you smooth, plasma like motion. To learn more about plasma and LCD TVs you can visit

HDTV Resolution

Julie: TV makers use picture resolution numbers like 720p or 1080p to describe how sharp the picture is on their HDTVs. That is the amount of picture information a TV can display. Now, throwing around these numbers can make this topic seem pretty complicated, but the stuff you really need to know isn't hard, so here goes.

Today's digital TVs create their pictures using a grid of dots called pixels. Generally, more pixels mean a sharper picture. So an HDTV with top of the line 1080p resolution can show a more detailed picture than an HDTV with 720p resolution. You may be wondering if they're both high definition. Will I really see a difference? Chances are you're going to spot it. If your TV only has 720p screen resolution, but you're watching a 1080p Blu-ray movie, it's kind of like trying to shove ten pounds of sugar in a five pound bag. Your TV has to throw away some detail to fit that 1080p image on the screen. But with a 1080p screen resolution you can see every type of high-def signal without losing anything. That extra detail is especially visible on today's larger screens. That's why we usually recommend a 1080p TV for your main viewing area where you're likely to have the largest screen in your house.

Now when it comes to the resolution of video signals as opposed to screen resolution, there are just a couple of things you need to know. First, the "p" in resolutions like 720p and 1080p stands for progressive, while the "i" in resolutions like 1080i stands for interlaced. The main thing to remember here is that a progressive signal has twice as much picture information as an interlaced signal with the same resolution and generally looks a little more solid and stable, with on screen motion that's a little more fluid.

Second, although you will find standard definition 480p TV signals and high definition 720p and 1080i TV signals, you may be surprised to learn that there aren't many 1080p broadcasts available. Right now your main source for 1080p content is actually high definition Blu-ray discs. For more information on TV resolution see

TV Contrast Ratio

Steve: Contrast ratio measures the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks that a TV can produce. The higher a TV's contrast ratio, the better it will be at showing distinct details especially in the darkest areas of the screen. Now you might see contrast ratios ranging from 5,000:1 to 5,000,000:1. Now if you're shopping for a TV it might seem obvious to just compare the contrast specs between TVs, and buy the one with the highest contrast ratio. But actually you need to keep two things in mind when comparing these numbers.

First of all, you'll find that some TVs list two different contrast ratio specs. Static contrast ratio measures the difference between the brightest and darkest images a TV can produce simultaneously. Dynamic contrast ratio measures those same differences over time, so that number is always much higher. For example, a TV with a static contrast ratio of 3,000:1 may have a dynamic rating of 100,000:1 so make sure you're comparing apples to apples.

Second, there is no agreed upon industry standard for measuring either type of contrast ratio, and measurements of dynamic contrast ratio are especially varied. While static contrast ratio is a more real world measurement, there are still likely to be differences in how that number is calculated across different brands. The bottom line: The contrast ratio spec is most useful when you're comparing different TV models from the same manufacturer. Just don't rely on it as the most important factor when assessing picture quality. You can learn about other HDTV terms and technologies at

We hope we've been able to answer some of you questions about HDTV.

Julie: You can find lots more info at

Steve: Or you can always call our experts at 1-800-555-9408.

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