Buying a new television today is nothing like it used to be. There are so many new features and terms, it's barely comparable! I hope to clarify a lot of the terms and give a little help for the buyer in this article!
Most retailers have both a "fact tag" and a salesperson at your disposal when you go TV shopping. The fact tag will give you information regarding the televisions' specifications, things like resolution, picture engine, brand, diagonal viewing area, weight, dimensions, etc. Alongside that, you have the salesperson, which may or may not know exactly what they're talking about, and may or may not be making commission.
If you went to the your closest Home Electronics store right now, you would find as many TV options as you would computer options.
Resolution: We all know what resolution is here on EE, the number of pixels on the display, well currently on retail televisions the standard for Full HD is 1080p. This means there are 1080 pixels on the vertical axis, or 1920x1080 (if it is the 16x9 standard (which is also a retail standard right now)). You will also see 720p, which is 1280x720.
Depending on your location, and the use you will have for your new television, you may want 1080p, and you may not! 1080p IS the biggest resolution out there right now, but not everything plays in 1080p. Unless you are watching bluray, downloaded HD Content (which is often only 720p, so check!), or playing games on the PS3 or xBox 360, you may not need 1080p! Many cable or satellite providers advertise HD television, and you get to pay more for it, get another dish, et cetera. Before buying a 1080p television for your HD television service, call or read up on your provider in your area (calling may be best), I know where I live, we can only receive 720p for our "HD Television" service!
Contrast ratio is simply the difference between black and white, the higher the number, the more colors the television will produce, the whiter the whites, the blacker the blacks.
The refresh rate of the television is only moderately important anymore. Most standard LCDs are 60Hz, or 60 frames per second. Some newer LCD televisions are being advertised as having 120Hz and 240Hz. This is because many videos are still recorded at 24 frames per second (instead of 30 fps), if you're watching a 24 fps movie on a 60Hz (or 60 fps) television, when the motion starts getting rapid, you may start to notice the frames having to skip because the television cannot divide 24 frames among 30 segments per second properly. To fix this, 120Hz can help, but sometimes has buffering issues, as 240Hz fixes the motion blur almost entirely.
LCD, Plasma, or LED?
Well, again, this depends on your use of the television.
LED televisions use less energy, put out more color, are thinner, weigh less, and are brighter than Plasmas and LCDs. An example of the specifications on an LED (Samsung 46D6000 series for about $900) has 3,000,000:1 contrast ratio, is full 1080p, 120Hz.
Plasma will use more energy, weigh more, and have the fastest refresh rates. An example of a plasma specification (Samsung 43D450 for about $400) has 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, is 720p, and 600Hz. A downside to plasma is that they can get what is called burn-in, ghosting, or image-retention. This is only a minor issue, depending on your use habits. You will only get burn in if you have a still image on a part of your screen for up to 18-24 hours. At that point, most plasmas now have a "burn-out" mode in their menus. Plasmas are also cheaper than a comparable LCD of the same size, due to 42" being the smallest available plasma TV size.
LCD televisions are the most basic set we can buy today. You can get these in smaller sizes for cheaper than Plasmas and LEDs. LCD uses 120Hz and 240Hz technologies to try to fix their natural born weakness to what is called the 3:2 pull-down (previously described as method used to convert the 24fps feed to 60 fps). LCDs take longer to burn-in, you would seriously have to TRY to burn an image into an LCD. An example of an LCD specification (Samsung LN46D630 for about $800) has 250,000:1 contrast ratio, and 1080p with 120Hz.
Today, we can even purchase 3D televisions! 3D generally brings the cost up a little bit, but if you are going to want to watch 3D in your living room, it's the way to go! 3D has been out for a couple years now, and is still a bit low on content. Many new movies are being released with 3D versions, but you are still bound to find only a small shelf of 3D movies at your local movie store.
In the end, I would recommend the LED for any type of use, if you can afford it. Next, the plasma, unless you will be using it as a computer screen for desktop purposes; if you will be using it for computer gaming, it just depends on how long you play! LCD if you want to use as a computer monitor, or for use as any sort of constant purpose screen (such as for a game store where the demo stays on the screen for days on end).
I hope this helps some of you with your next television purchase, and give the salesperson a chance to give you his sales pitch before you decide whether or not he's worth talking to!