Tips for Buying a Digital TV

Dec. 2, 2010

If you are considering buying a new high-definition digital TV, this is a good time. Prices have come down substantially, the pictures are brighter, clearer and sharper with more vibrant color and contrast. Digital TVs have flat screens, take up less space and are relatively light. A digital set receives both regular and high-definition signals and shows. Most hook up directly to a cable. If an older analog television set is being replaced, the digital-to-analog DTV converter box (for over-the-air broadcasts) and its remote control will be eliminated.

Before you buy, a few tips from the Department of Cable and Consumer Services can help you choose the quality you want and know what to watch for when shopping.

  • 720p vs. 1080p Picture Display Format — Both are considered “high definition”: 1080p has better picture clarity and detail sharpness; 720p sets are less expensive. If the packaging is labeled “high definition” without a specific format number or says “1366x768 resolution,” it is probably 720p. TVs with an “i” rather than “p” designation (such as “1080i”) have a lower quality display.    
  • 60 Hz vs. 120 Hz (the rate the screen cycles or refreshes) — Programs with fast-moving objects, such as sports, can appear jerky on a 60 Hz set. Motion is smoother at 120 Hz, particularly on a 32” or larger TV. If the TV packaging is unclear, the set is probably 60 Hz. Some high-end sets are 240 Hz and 480 Hz, but in most viewing situations the difference is not particularly noticeable.
  • LCD vs. Plasma — Plasma TV screens have traditionally provided a  sharper picture. LCD technology has come a long way and sets now have excellent brightness and color. 
    • LCDs are good in rooms with several windows, as sunlight, glare or reflections interfere with plasma displays. 
    • Plasmas have somewhat better contrast and color in rooms with little ambient light.
  • Edge-Lit LED — This feature, offered for LCDs, provides more brightness, notably to the four edges of the picture. It is not critical and can add to the price.
  • 3-D — Top-quality sets currently are expensive and there is little programming. Newer 3-D sets likely will move up to 240 Hz. It might be advisable to wait for prices to go down and more 3-D programming.
  • Cable Boxes — You may need a different cable box; check with your cable provider, particularly if you are replacing an analog set. 
  • Bringing the TV Home — Put padding beneath the packaging in the trunk. Inside the vehicle, make sure it is secure and braced from tipping or sliding forward. Digital TVs are relatively simple to set up:  they are plug and play if no other speakers or other devices are to be connected. 
  • Delivery and Setup — For a larger TV particularly, check if the store offers delivery, setup and hooking up at least one component (such as a DVD or VHS player). Be sure to clarify what will be included. The store may be willing to negotiate its standard price.  
  • Some Final Tips —
    • Ask if any new cables will be needed and how to connect them. Don't automatically buy an HDMI cable unless you know that your cable box has the correct connections (call the cable provider). On larger sets, perhaps have the HDMI cable hooked up as part of the delivery and setup price.
    • Find out store policy on short-term returns and the store and manufacturer warranties provided. Keep the original packaging for a bit in case you need to return the set. 
    • If you use their credit card, some companies will double the manufacturer’s warranty length at no additional cost. Call the customer service number on the back of your card to see if this applies and the conditions. Keep the original sales receipt and a copy of the original manufacturer's warranty, in case you ever have to make a claim through your credit card company.

Further Questions? We Have Answers. Call the Cable TV Help Line (703-324-5900), a service of Fairfax County’s Department of Cable and Consumer Services – Communications Policy and Regulation Division.




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