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The flat panel TV buyers'guide

Flat Panel TVs are getting cheaper, so maybe, it’s time you bought one. Here’s a ready reckoner.

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: June 1, 2008

A few months ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a flight from South East Asia that did not have a bellyful of flat panel televisions being brought back by consumers who thought they got a better deal in Thailand or Malaysia than they did in India.

Flat screen cheaper
Flat screen cheaper
Not for much longer; a slew of new products from almost every major manufacturer have made these televisions the must-buy item this year. Of course, compelling content, such as the Indian Premier League, has also helped. The problem with buying such a television, however, is that there are several sizes, and worse still, a host of acronyms and specifications to deal with as a consumer. So, what should you keep your eyes peeled out for?

Full-HD and HD-Ready: This one is extremely important, since virtually all flat panels advertise this. High Definition (HD) is the future of television, and even though Indian broadcasters do not broadcast HD signals as yet, if you want to buy a TV with a certain degree of future-proofing, what you need is a “full-HD” TV and not one that is “HD-ready”. Full-HD means that a screen can display 1,080 lines of video in a “progressive” scan format. This is the resolution that will be displayed by next-generation Blu-Ray Disc movies. HD-ready could mean a lot of things, including that a TV can only display 768 lines of video. Basically, to cut to the chase, a full-HD TV has far higher potential resolution (if you have the input) than an HD-ready TV. Unsurprisingly, full-HD TVs costs almost 25 per cent more (for the same screen size) than HD-ready TVs.

Contrast Ratio: Here is the problem: since there are no mandated norms to advertise this, manufacturers tend to quote rather random numbers. Basically, the contrast ratio measures the difference between the light output of the blackest black and the whitest white the screen can display. Manufacturers, however, do contrast tests in completely dark rooms, whereas in the real world, people stay in homes with lights all over. The real world contrast ratio, therefore, is often a fifth or even less of what’s advertised. In fact, when it comes to blacks, you really can’t beat a good old tube television.

Response Time: This is the time taken for the screen to change to a new image. Again, a standard definition tube television is best at this, but thanks to advancements in tech, flat panels are getting better. However, before you buy a flat panel TV, a good test is to play an action movie or a sports DVD. If the picture appears choppy, that usually means the TV has a poor response time.

Inputs: Most flat panel TVs support multiple inputs, and some have several more than others. Keep an eye out for the number of “High Definition Multimedia Interface” (HDMI) and Component HD inputs the TV has. Also, given that you will probably be dealing with standard video inputs, make sure that your flat panel has multiple “Simple Video” (S-Video—the yellow video lead with white and red audio leads) inputs. If you still watch basic cable TV without a set-top box, make sure your TV has an input for a co-axial cable.

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