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How to Buy a TV: The Basics You Need to Know

By August 3, 2013May 20th, 2019TVs

Twenty years ago, buying a TV was a lot easier. The amazing advancement in technology that we have witnessed has given us an exponentially better viewing experience with our TVs. However, it’s also given us more choices, and while it’s great to have choice, it inevitably makes for a more complex purchase decision if you aren’t aware of some basic fundamentals about the product you’re about to buy.

The goal of this article is to give you those fundamentals. No one likes making any kind of purchase when they have to put complete trust in the salesperson. That’s why so many people will bring in their friend who knows everything about cars when purchasing a vehicle. We want this article to give you the information that you need to walk into a store with confidence, and ask intelligent questions of the salesperson. Ultimately, this brief article won’t make you an expert. Your best bet is still going to be to buy your TV from a reputable store/company, with a knowledgeable salesperson that is willing to listen to you, and ask you questions in order to help you find the perfect TV that’s suited for your wants & needs.

Size of TV

The first thing that most people think of when buying a TV is the size of the TV. The decision on size should largely be a function of your space/room, and the distance that you’ll typically be sitting away from the TV. There are many different variables to consider, and this is definitely not set in stone, but you can use this as a starting point comparing the size of TV (in inches) to the number of feet you should be seated away from the TV.
26’’ = 3’-4’
32’’ = 4’-5’
42’’ = 5’-7’
50’’- 60’’ = 8’-10’

If you’re regularly watching standard definition content (on an HDTV), be it a VHS tape, or standard definition TV channels, you may want to move back a bit because the closer you sit, the more ‘imperfections’ you’re going to notice.


Most consumers toss these words around without really having much understanding as to what they really are. One of the most common mis-understandings is that only 2 of the 3 are actual types of screens – Plasma & LCD. If you’re buying an ‘LED TV’, you’re really buying an LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) that is backlit (or maybe edgelit) with LEDs (light emitting diodes). A liquid crystal display itself does not illuminate, so that’s why some other light source is required. With a Plasma TV, no backlighting or side/edge lighting is required because the phosphors themselves act as the light source. A straight LCD TV – one that doesn’t use LEDs as a light source – will use CCFLs, or cold cathode fluorescent lights as the light source. More recently, these TVs have basically become a budget TV, so if you’re looking for anything middle, or top of the line, you’ll definitely be focused on either a Plasma screen or an LED (technically an LCD screen that is lit with LEDs).

LED TVs are typically going to give you an edge in terms contrast ratios (see below), energy efficiency, and they are more slim than a Plasma TV, which may be important to you in terms of aesthetics.

Plasma TVs can be a better option when you’re watching the TV from a variety of viewing angles and not straight on, when you’re watching in dimly lit rooms. They can also provide a bit of an edge when watching fast motion sports or movies.

Contrast Ratio

When buying a TV, particularly if you’re comparing different brands, you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the actual number, but it’s important to know the idea behind it. Contrast ratio can be measured in different ways, so when you’re looking at the contrast ratio of 2 TVs from 2 different manufacturers, you’re not necessarily comparing apples to apples. In general, contrast ratio speaks to how white the whites are, and how black the blacks are. Whiter whites, and blacker blacks will ultimately give you a better picture, and the higher your contrast ratio, theoretically, the better your picture will be.

Refresh Rate

The refresh rate expresses the speed (expressed in Hz) at which your TV panel refreshes the image. In theory, the faster the refresh rate, the smoother the image, so when you’re watching those action scenes in moves, or fast-moving plays while watching sports, you’re not going to experience any kind of blurring effect. In the early days of HDTVs – particularly with LCD screens – there was definitely some degree of truth to this, but this isn’t really a concern today. It’s worth noting that the original footage that you’re watching will not go beyond 60Hz, so if your TV has a refresh rate of say, 240Hz, the refresh rate can’t add something that’s not already there. This idea is comparable to watching a VHS tape on a 1080p television – you’re not going to get a better picture quality than is available in the original source footage. The higher refresh rates of 120 or 240Hz can reduce some shakiness or quivers in the image, but some super high rates of say, 600Hz, can almost make the picture look artificially smooth, which many people won’t like.

More than Just a TV

Today, TVs like Samsung’s SMART TVs are much more than just TVs, offering things like internet connectivity, built-in cameras and gesture control. These options can be fun to explore, and can add a lot of value that you may not have originally expected.

Despite seemingly endless options, there is a TV out there that’s suited perfectly for you & your family, and we hope this little primer has given you a solid foundation before you go out and make your next TV purchase.