Buying a new television can be confusing, but we're here to help. (Credit: Ty Pendlebury )
1. Research first
One of the most important things to do to ensure you get a good deal is to spend a little time researching first. Televisions can be quite technical, and sometimes marketing materials can be either wrong or just simply misleading. It's worthwhile knowing what the important features are and be able to use them as direct comparison with other brands.
As a rough guide, the features we would classify in the order of importance are:
- Panel type : LCD/Plasma
- Contrast ratio (actual not dynamic, anything over 1,000,000:1 is meaningless)
- Number of HDMI ports,
- High-definition tuner
- Viewing angle
- 100/200Hz modes
- Panel thickness.
Occassionally, a manufacturer will use a feature with a number in it, say 600Hz Sub-Field Drive, because it sounds more impressive than a product that only has 100Hz of something else. Of course, in this example a sub-field drive is a technology unique to plasmas and is required by the TV to work. While 600Hz is a slight improvement on the 500/550Hz used on other plasmas it is in no way comparable to the 100 or 200Hz modes used on LCD TVs.
Other technology hobgoblins to look out for are LED TV (it's still an LCD), dynamic contrast ratio, and 1080p-ready (native resolution could be lower).
2. Read customer reviews
While we ensure each product is thoroughly tested here at CNET Australia, there is no way we can test it over an extended period and detect any long-term problems that might develop with a device — at most we will keep a review item for a month. Conversely, most people own their TVs for years. Some common faults only develop on a TV set in the long term and are impossible to pick up during our review periods. Reading other people's reviews help give you an overall picture of a television's performance — this is why we include reader's reviews on our site!
3. Consider the warranty period
After a car, the TV is probably one of the most expensive things you'll ever buy so it's worthwhile knowing that it will give you many long years of service. With TVs now able to run for 10 years or more non-stop you'd expect that all TVs come with a long warranty period, right? Wrong!
To help you narrow down which brand to get we've collated the warranty periods of the most popular television brands.
|Manufacturer||Warranty period in years|
Many companies offer after-sales extended warranties, so if the TV you like only offers, say, a 12-month warranty it's worth getting extra coverage. At the time of writing, Sony is running a promotion which extends its warranty period to three years.
4. Shop around
It pays to shop around, and we're not just talking about for better pricing here. Service is also an important part of the equation. While you most likely won't have to deal with the shop again after you buy a television it's good to get the right advice at the time of purchase. We've always been fans of specialist AV dealers over large electronics stores — particularly "cut-price" ones. In a specialist dealer you'll usually be able to see the television in a "home" environment and try it with your own test discs. We've found their retail assistant's advice to be friendly and well-informed. We're sad to say that staff turn-over tends to be a problem with larger stores and you may simply get the wrong advice. But as always, forewarned is forearmed. If your bullshit meter goes off you can call them on it or simply shop elsewhere.
5. Buy new, not second hand
eBay is great for clothes, books and CDs, but we're incredibly wary of buying a piece of electronic equipment sight unseen on the net. Fixing someone else's broken TV could end up costing you more than a new one and won't come with a warranty either.
6. Avoid getting the cheapest TV you can
Your old CRT is probably better than the cheapest "flatscreens" out there. Just because it's flat doesn't mean it's good. Some of the cheapest TVs are based on ancient LCD technology and feature quite poor picture quality and sound. Though the bottom keeps dropping out of TV prices, if you're looking to buy a screen that's 32 inches or bigger you want to spend at least AU$1000.
7. Don't get upsold on cables
There's no point in saving $400 on your TV to blow it on an expensive Monster Cable. Stores like Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi make almost nothing on their LCDs, and so they look to highly profitable items like HDMI cables to make their money. The thing is, you don't need to spend a lot of money on a HDMI cable unless you're looking at putting a device in a different room — ie, more than 10m away. Good quality cables can start at as little as AU$15, and while they lack a brand name are virtually indistinguishable from a $400 cable.
8. Turn off "shop" or "Vivid" mode
By default TVs come with a mode designed to make it stand out under the bright lights of a shop floor, but will look awful when watched in your house. When in the shop try to turn a TV to a less "exciting" picture mode that more accurately reflects regular useage. There should be an "AV Mode" button on the TV remote, but if not under "Settings" you'll find an option called "Picture Mode". At the very least change it to "Standard" mode, but "Movie" is even better. Once you get it home, calibration is the best thing to do.