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TV technology has come on in leaps and bounds recently, and with careful consideration you can now get an awful lot for your money. But resist the temptation to just rush out and buy the biggest screen size you can afford - it might look great in the catalogue, but the novelty of a 50-inch screen three feet away your sofa will soon wear off.

You're probably going to spend quite a lot of time in front of your new toy, so make sure you only look at sets that suit a) your budget, b) the size of your room, and c) what you're mainly going to be watching on it.

If possible, we recommend you get an HD-ready digital model, especially if it is going to be your main TV. Digital sets don't require an extra box and messy leads at the back to pick up Freeview or other digital channels, and HD-ready sets will let you enjoy the stunning picture quality of the increasing number of programmes and films now being shot in high-definition.

While all the jargon concerning HD, or high definition, can seem very confusing to the uninitiated, the main thing to bear in mind is that more pixels = more resolution = better picture. Where a normal TV has 576 visible lines of detail, HD programming and HD-ready TVs can display up to 1080, giving truly stunning picture quality and depth of detail, along with a much more lifelike range of colours.

There are three different kinds of high-definition formats: 720p, which means the picture has 720 lines of detail and uses a 'progressive scan', that lets the whole picture be loaded at once, instead of line by line, so you get a really smooth image and none of the 'jerkiness' in motion-heavy scenes, 1080i, which has more lines and pixels for a high resolution image, and 1080p, which has the resolution of 1080i combined with the smoothness of progressive-scan 720p - basically the best of both worlds. All 1080p formats are known as 'full HD'.

For most normal TV viewers, the 720p is more than enough, especially as at the moment most HD programming is made for this format, but for serious game players and film buffs, 1080p is the only way to go if you want to get the full benefit of high-def video games, blu-ray and HD DVD releases. You'll still be able to receive the standard HD television broadcasts, but your set will just show them at 720p. Whatever you decide on, look for a set with a good contrast ratio, as this will also affect the quality of the final picture. AND GET THE RIGHT SIZE SCREEN FOR YOUR ROOM! - too big and you'll be running to the opticians and downing a pack of Asprin a day, too small and you'll miss out on all the detail. A good rule of thumb is that if there's about three metres between you and the screen, don't get anything bigger than a 42-inch or smaller than a 32-inch. It's a really good idea to measure your viewing area at home then go down the shops and stand the same distance away from a few sets to work out what size is best for you.

If you're going to get a new TV, it's probably best to go for a flat-panel set, as they take up a lot less room, have a better viewing angle, ficker-free picture and can even be hung on the wall. There are two types of flat-panel televisions now on the market: LCDs and plasmas. Both give great results, but the choice depends on your viewing habits and personal taste.

Plasma TVs tend to have high contrast ratios, so you get the deepest blacks and the whitest whites, and they can keep track of fast-moving objects better - so if you're a big sports fan, then a decent plasma will be the next best thing to being at the game. LCDs display static images better, so if your TV is going to double as a computer monitor then go for an LCD. They give a much brighter picture, so they are the better choice for those that watch TV more in the daytime, or with the lights on. They're also a lot lighter than plasmas, which can be important if you want to hang the set on the wall. To get the most out of either type, you need to make sure that the set you choose has the right inputs for what you plan to connect to it, like a games console or your camcorder, for example.

Finally, don't forget that your cinematic experience is going to go a bit flat if the sound from your set isn't up to the picture. Any HD set you get should support Dolby Digital, the official audio standard for HDTV, and either come with, or support, surround sound speakers.

Author R. Germain
date added Thu 06 08 2009

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