Tips for Buying a New TV

Tips for Buying a New TV

Are you considering buying a new high-definition digital TV? Prices have come down dramatically in recent years and the TV pictures are brighter, clearer, sharper, and with more vibrant colors and better contrast than ever. So what do you need to know to make sure you are getting a high quality set, and not just buying older inventory? Finally, what should you watch out for when you visit a store that sells TVs?

#1. New TVs Are “Digital. ” If you have an older “analog” TV with a digital-to-analog “converter box” to get free over-the-air channels using some type of antenna, you no longer will need that box with your new digital TV. Just hook up the antenna directly to the digital TV for a much better picture. If you subscribe to cable and are replacing an analog set, call your cable provider. You likely will need a different [digital] “set-top-box” or DVR (digital video recorder) in order to obtain the full benefits from your new digital television.

 #2. No Heavy Lifting. Digital TVs have flat screens, take up less space depth-wise, and are relatively light. Smaller sets weigh 8-20 pounds, once out of the box. Mid-size sets generally weigh 25-30 pounds. A larger set (over 40”) often may require two people to put the box into the car and then set it up at home.

 #3. Important: 720p vs. 1080p and 4K.  The digital TV picture’s display format is described as “720p” and “1080p”; both are considered “high definition” or “HD”. 1080p sets have significantly better clarity and sharpness of detail, having a resolution of 2¼ times that of 720p sets.  (And analog TVs have a resolution of only 480i, so the difference in sharpness of detail is very significant.)   Budget permitting, choose 1080p.  Note also: if you use “Blu-ray” discs, 1080p is important as a 720p TV set will not take advantage of the higher resolution Blu-ray discs.

If the TV’s packaging states it is “high definition” but does not give a specific format number, it likely is only 720p.  For example, if it simply says “1366x768” resolution, this designation actually means the TV is only 720p.  Look for where the box clearly states it is 1080p.  If the store clerk cannot show you the box says 1080p, make a note of the brand and model number of the TV, then research the resolution of the TV on the Internet or call the manufacturer’s toll-free number.  Unfortunately, some clerks may “assume,” or tell you, that the TV is 1080p.          

Note: it is best to avoid TVs with an “i” rather than “p” designation (such as “1080i” vs. “1080p”).  The “i” means an “interlaced” display, which is of lower quality than the “p” for “progressive” display. 

UHD TV or “Ultra High Def” TV sets are now available.  Labeled “4K,” they have a resolution 4x that of 1080p sets, and 9x that of 720p.  Up close, the sharpness of detail is remarkable; at 7-8 feet or more away, the difference between a 4K set and one with 1080p is less discernible.  While programming that takes full or true advantage of this higher resolution is not yet available, it will come.  And 8K sets will be the next item on the market.

#4. When Is 720p Enough?   On smaller sets (up to about 32”, measured diagonally), 720p may be sufficient, particularly if this is not the main television that you will be watching.  The picture is small enough that 720p resolution is OK, and these sets are $50 to $150 less expensive than 1080p.  Once the screen size is larger than 32”, the difference between 720p and 1080p becomes noticeable to the viewer. 

 #5. 60 Hz vs. 120 Hz. Hertz (Hz) means the rate at which the screen cycles or “refreshes.” Programs with fast-moving objects, such as in sports, can appear somewhat “jerky” on larger sets with only a 60 Hz refresh rate. Motion is smoother at 120 Hz. On smaller sets of up to about 32”, 60 Hz may be adequate – especially if watching the news or slower-action programming. 120 Hz is preferable on larger sets. If the TV packaging is unclear, it is highly probable that the set is only 60 Hz (the manufacturer or store does not seek to draw attention to lower-end specs). The least expensive sets are typically 60Hz, with 720p.

 #6. 240Hz and Other Labels. Very high-end sets have moved to 240 Hz refresh rate or more, but in most viewing situations the difference between 240 HZ and 120 Hz is not readily discernible to the human eye. However, it will be noticeable on a television equipped to display 3D (with 3D glasses). The illusion of depth with 3D programming and DVDs (Blu-ray) is greater at 240 Hz than at 120 Hz refresh rates.

At the same time, watch out for “special labels.”Some model TVs have begun using terms other than the “Hz refresh rate” designation described above. One term in use is “Clear Motion Rate” which, according to the manufacturer, describes how “smooth” the TV picture and motion will appear on that manufacturer’s set. This may or may not be useful, but it is not the same as the important Hz refresh rate.“120 Hz Clear Motion Rate” does not mean you are getting a 120 Hz refresh rate; in actuality, the TV may only have a 60 Hz refresh rate. The same goes for 240 Hz Clear Motion Rate: the set likely has only a 120 Hz refresh rate.

#7. Budget Sensitive?  A television set from a name brand –such as Samsung, Toshiba, Sony, Vizio, LG, Sharp, or Panasonic– is a better bet than less well-known brands.  Budget permitting, purchase a set that is 1080p and 120 Hz, especially on sets larger than 32”.  (Note: the below prices are approximate at the time of this writing; readers are advised to comparison shop.)

#8. Prices Have Come Down. If you generally sit only 3-4 feet from your TV, your set should have at least a 29” screen; this will typically cost $150-$240 and likely will be only 720p and 60 Hz.  If you sit 4-5+ feet away, a set with a 32” screen is much better;  at 720p –and with only 60 Hz– it will cost $230 to $259.  A 32” set with 1080p and only 60 Hz will cost $300; with 120 Hz it will cost $350.  If you sit 5-6+ feet away, a larger set with a 37” to 39” screen and 1080p –but only 60 Hz– will cost $370; with 120 Hz it will only cost you another $20-$50. 

#9. A Step Up. Sitting 7-8+ feet away, larger sets are best.  42” sets with 1080p and 60 Hz can be found for as low as $470-$490; with 120 Hz they are $490-$510.  A 46”-47” set with 1080p and 60 Hz will run $500-$550; with 120 Hz it will cost $570-$700.  At 9-10+ feet away, consider a larger set: 52”, 55”, 57”, 60”, 65” or more.  Prices have dropped substantially and the technology is constantly improving.  Sales in some stores may even allow you to buy a high-quality name-brand 55” set with 1080p and 120Hz for $750 - $800.  A 60” set will cost $900 and up.

#10. LCD and LED-LCD TVs.  Digital sets have either plain LCD screens (no LED technology) or the improved LED-Edgelit and LED-Backlit technologies.  Budget allowing, purchase an LED set.  Four basic types of LED configurations exist, adding $100 or more to the price of a comparable LCD-only set.  Each is a step up:  ?LED-Edgelit without local dimming – the most common type today, generally improving the overall picture.   ?LED-Backlit without local dimming.  ?LED-Edgelit with local dimming, to adjust brightness “zones” and black levels.  ?Top of the line: LED-Backlit with local dimming.

#11. How about Plasma?  The more expensive “plasma” TV screens traditionally provided a somewhat sharper and more brilliant picture.  But LED technologies have come a long way; the screens now have excellent brightness and color.  For rooms with several windows facing the TV, select an LED set because sunlight, glare, or reflections will interfere with plasma displays (most have shiny glass-like screens).  The same is true of lamps at night; if they face or are directly opposite the screen, you may see the lights or lighted lamp-shades reflected on the screen.  If you have a relatively dark room and lighting will not interfere, plasma sets can be preferable. (Or check on the cost of plasma sets that have an anti-glare coating.)  Note, however, that many TV manufacturers will likely stop producing plasma TVs in the near future, focusing instead on 4K LED sets or on OLED (see #22, below).

 #12. What about 3D? 3D sets are available, and prices have dropped substantially since Fall of 2012. 3D technology also is continuing to evolve. For example, 3D glasses have changed from “active” glasses (requiring cords from the glasses to the TV) to the newer “passive” 3D glasses (which utilize small watch batteries and have no cords). The sets generally include at least two pairs of special (required) glasses.

Top-quality sets are in the $1000-$2000 price range, although they can go to $3,000 or more, depending on size and other features. If you plan to buy a TV that you expect to use for the next five years or more, budget permitting it is not a bad idea to pay for the 3D capability. Suggestion: check for special sales that can bring the price of 3D sets down nearer to the cost of non-3D sets.

Note: not much 3D programming is currently available over cable, although this may change over time (on the other hand, satellite service via DirecTV does provide more 3D programs). 3D Blu-ray players, of course, will allow you to enjoy 3D disks. Also, newer 3D sets have moved to 240 HZ, rather than 120 Hz, providing great clarity and depth of field.

#13. Smart TVs.  TVs have been undergoing a major revolution, primarily through combining Internet access capabilities such as found on a computer and a SmartPhone (iPad, etc.) with a TV.  Going forward, most new mid- and high-end TVs will contain varying degrees of “smart” functionality.  (See items #20 and #21, below.)  Smart TVs generally add $100-$250 to the costs of a comparable “not-Smart” TV.

#14. Sound and Speakers. One disadvantageous change manufacturers made over the past year or two was to eliminate forward-facing speakers that were built into the sides or the bottom portion of the TV. Most TVs now have speakers facing out the back side. Doing so made for somewhat smaller overall profile for the TV (the TV does not take up as much space nor appear as overwhelming in a room).

But as a consequence, the TV speakers project the sound “backwards” to the wall behind the TV. The sound then bounces forward toward the viewer. This can result in a slightly muffled effect, especially for special sound effects or music, and particularly if there are curtains, drapes, blinds, or other surfaces that are not hard and flat directly behind the TV.

#15. Fixing any Sound Issues.  For those who want better sound (particularly with larger sets at 40” and above), there are several basic options available.

  • The least expensive approach is to connect external speakers that you may already own, using the RCA jacks in the back of the typical digital TV. 
  • For improved sound effects, purchase a “sound bar” (24”-40” long and 4-5” high).  It is placed just below and in front of the screen, connecting it to the audio outputs of the TV.  The simplest sound bars cost $90 to $100.  Better versions also include  a “sub-woofer” for much improved sound including bass; these cost $160-$290 and generally are quite sufficient (more expensive units, at $350-$400, are available).  These sound bars are easily installed; they can be added later if you find that the sound quality from the TV is not as good as you want it to be. 
  • Finally, there are excellent multi-speaker, home-theatre and surround-sound systems that run $250 (very basic) to $600 or even significantly more.  These may require a professional to install and balance properly.

#16. HDMI Connections.  Your new TV should have at least one HDMI connection (double-check for this in the store), and preferably two or three.  If you have a Blu-ray player, a Wii console, a sound bar, or other devices that you want to hook up to the TV, several of these will use HDMI connections. Also ask your cable provider if your new set-top box or DVR should use an HDMI cable.  It is important to use an HDMI connection rather than other types of cables (incl. standard “coax”) for the best video and audio results.

HDMI cables are also available for purchase over the Internet; a six-foot cable will cost $7-10 from such sources as Amazon.  Watch out for attempts in some stores to sell you a special high-quality HDMI cable for $40-80; experts agree that this is unnecessary. On larger sets, consider having your existing HDMI cable(s) hooked up as part of the delivery.

#17. Standard vs.  “High Def” Channels.  Your new digital set will be capable of receiving both “standard” (480i) and “high-definition” or “HD” (720p and 1080p) digital signals.  Subscribers to cable systems may watch the lowest level or they may subscribe to high definition programming that takes full advantage of the HD features of your new digital television.

Note:  a standard definition channel that you have been used to watching may also be available on another cable channel, but in high definition.  Golf tournaments, for example, frequently are broadcast both on standard and high-definition digital channels.  Consult your cable programming guide to learn on which channel a program also shows in high definition (usually at a higher channel number).

#18. Taking a TV Home; Disposing of an Older One. If you plan to bring the new TV home yourself, don’t let it bounce around in the trunk of the vehicle; place some type of padding beneath the packaging. Smaller TVs can be placed in the back seat, braced from tipping or sliding forward via tie-downs or a seat belt. “Safety first” is key. If you need to dispose of an older TV, learn how you can recycle it via information is available on the Web at:

#19. Delivery and Set-up. Digital TVs are relatively simple to set up: they are “plug and play” using either the cable company’s digital set-top box or an antenna. For a larger TV, check if the store offers delivery, set-up, and possibly hooking up at least one component (such as a DVD or VHS player, or a sound bar). The store may be willing to negotiate its standard price for this, typically $50 to $100 .Be sure to clarify what will be included with the purchase.

#20. Over the Top Devices.  Your TV can use what is commonly called an “over-the-top” box to access an Internet connection.  This is done either via Wi-Fi or hard-wiring it to the Internet router in your home.

  •  Over-the-top devices like a Blu-ray player, Wii console, Roku box, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Amazon Fire, etc. are available and cost about $70-$150.  They access the Internet to “stream” movies and other programming sources (such as NetFlix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, etc.) and generally require low monthly subscription fees.  Some other services, such as YouTube, are available for free. 
  •   It is important to note that most of the above devices do not have a browser.  The user cannot “surf” the Web or send emails.  You are limited to streaming movies and using other special applications.  (They also do not have computer programs such as Microsoft Word.)   Improved versions will likely evolve over time.
  •   One option is to buy a different type of over-the-top device that has web-surfing and email capabilities, making it into a true “Smart TV.”  The “Vizio Co-Star” over-the-top box (approx. $80) has a remote that “points” to letters on the TV screen for Internet browsing.   The “Google TV by Sony” over-the-top box (approx. $200) has a book-sized handheld wireless remote control with a built-in backlit keyboard.  Still another alternative is the “Logitech Revue with Google TV,” which has a full-size wireless keyboard ($100) to use for Internet browsing. 

#21. SmartTVs. Television usage has entered a major new era, integrating the functions found in TVs, computers, phones, and special “apps” (software applications such as on iPads, Tablets, etc.). Be sure to explore carefully exactly what features are included, and which are not, on the various “SmartTV” models.

  • A Smart TV does more than the typical over-the-top box mentioned above (#20). It has Internet-access functionality built right into the TV, so you do not need a separate over-the-top device. However, the matter then becomes somewhat tricky. Some Smart TVs do have a browser and surfing capability, others have only some capabilities, and some are only “Internet Ready” and require the purchase of additional equipment.
  • If you buy a SmartTV, determine if there is a remote keyboard available to purchase. A significantly less convenient (users say “clunky”) method is to utilize a TV’s remote control instead of a keyboard. You use it to point to the letters on a virtual keyboard that appears on the TV screen, whenever you need to type.
  • Several manufacturers (Samsung, Sony, LG) make special Blu-ray players (approx. $100) with some aspects of SmartTV functionality built in, including Internet access, for "upgrading" existing digital TVs.

#22. What Else Is New?  New technologies for digital TVs are under way; they include the following.

  •  Already available:  digital TVs with either a separate or built-in Webcam whereby the user places a call over the Internet, then sees and hears others  –such as distant family / friends– who also are using a Webcam.             
  • “Voice control” (speaking commands to a TV) and “gesture control” (using hand movements, similar to a Wii game) to manage various TV functions, supplementing the use of buttons on a TV’s remote control. 
  •  Other breakthroughs (very costly for next several years): extra-thin, flexible OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays. 

#23.  Can You Use A VCR?  It is possible to “play” older VHS tapes on your new (digital) HDTV. 

  • Connect the red-white-yellow cables from the VCR (video cassette recorder) to the TV. 
  • To view VHS tapes, on the TV menu you will need to use the HDTV’s remote to “toggle” or switch between the TV’s two video inputs to select either the cable program or the VCR tape: see the TV’s instruction manual.  The VHS tapes will display pictures at their original analog or lower resolution on your TV, and not in Hi-Def. 
  •  It is not easy to set up to “record” digital Hi-Def programs on your VCR; you should get a digital DVR (digital video recorder) for this purpose.  If you want to record on a VCR, the Internet has wiring diagrams.
  •  If you are using an older analog TV –not a digital HDTV– plus a digital-to-analog converter box with an over-the-air antenna, you can continue to play and to record programs on your VHS.  Simple wiring diagrams are available on the Internet at

 #24. Some Final Tips.

  • For your TV and other devices hooked to it, get a 4-6 or even 8 outlet “surge protector “ rated at a minimum of 3,200 to 4,000+ joules (these cost $30-40 over the Internet, such as through Amazon). Surge protectors may be substantially more in stores, or be rated with fewer joules and which offer less protection.
  • Keep the original packaging for at least several weeks in case you need to return the TV set. Determine what the store’s policy is on short-term returns, and what store and manufacturer warranties are included.
  • Be sure to keep the original sales receipt and a copy of the original manufacturer’s warranty in case you ever have to make a warranty claim.
  • Final tip: Some credit card companies will actually double the length of the manufacturer’s warranty at no additional cost when you make purchases on their card. Call the customer service number on the back of your card, in advance, to see if this applies and if there are any special conditions. Then decide if you want to use that particular credit card to buy the consumer product, such as a TV. 

Questions? We Have Answers.

If you have any questions about this information, call the TV Help Line (703-324-5902), a service of Fairfax County’s Department of Cable and Consumer Services – Communications Policy and Regulation Division.



                     A Publication of Fairfax County, Va.  To request this information in an alternative format, call 703-324-5902, TTY 711   Rev. 7-18-14


Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
Technical Questions: Web Administrator

ADA Accessibility | Website Accessibility
Awards | FOIA | Mobile | Using this Site | Web Disclaimer & Privacy Policy | Get Adobe Reader
Official site of the County of Fairfax, Virginia, © Copyright 2015

Website Feedback Website Feedback    Globe with various flags representing Web site language translations   Language Translations

Return to Graphic Version