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best hdtvWe’re a big fan of value here at MakeUseOf. We prefer software that is free or inexpensive and we prefer hardware that provides bang for the buck. Yet we also recognize that, when it comes to hardware, going with the cheapest option isn’t always the best idea.

The compromise between price and quality comes to a head when purchasing an HDTV. Almost everyone is going to make a television purchase at some point in their life, yet quality information about value-oriented sets can be hard to come by. HDTV companies do not usually send these sets to journalists to review – they instead send more expensive models with gee-whiz features.

Let’s shed some light on the topic and see how you can take home a great HDTV without spending a small fortune.

LCD vs. LED vs. Plasma

best hdtv

LED has become the new dominant technology among high-end HDTVs, but value buyers will often find themselves pitting HDTVs with different technologies against each other. The best option depends on your needs.

LCD sets are no longer in vogue and sometimes considered outdated, but a good LCD can still hold its own. The main drawback of an LCD is relatively poor black levels, which hampers contrast and can cause dark scenes to appear washed out. With that said, the best LCDs can match poor LED sets – and the LCD model is often less expensive. This is a good pick for a general-purpose television that will be used in a variety of lighting conditions.

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LED options are hard to find on a budget, but there are a few options. As mentioned, the use of LED does not guarantee better black levels, though LEDs are better on average. LED sets also tend to be the slimmest – particularly edge-lit models, which can be an inch thin or thinner. This is a good option for buyers who want decent black levels without making other sacrifices – though, as noted, not all LED sets are superior to LCD alternatives.

Plasma is the king of budget image quality. These sets offer the deepest black levels, offer good color accuracy and rarely suffer from motion blur. Modern plasmas are also no thicker than LCD alternatives. Plasmas always have a reflective display, however, which makes them a poor pick for bright rooms.

Forget Web Connectivity

affordable hdtv

If you visit an electronics retailer you will almost certainly see a large display of big, beautiful sets placed smack in the middle of your view. These sets will be surrounded by cardboard cutouts, stickers and banners telling you about their wonderful features. They have built-in Netflix! Web connectivity! Angry Birds!

Manufacturers love these features because they justify higher prices. But anyone buying an HDTV needs to stop and ask – do I love these features as well?

Let’s take web connectivity as an example. Browsing the web on your television might seem cool, but most of the built-in browsers bundled with HDTVs are not enjoyable to use. Services like Netflix and Hulu Plus usually work well, but they’re nothing that you can’t find in a $99 Roku 6 Reasons Why You Need A Roku [Opinion] 6 Reasons Why You Need A Roku [Opinion] Electronics can be evil. A short time ago I wrote an article about using the Xbox 360 as a media center. I concluded that it wasn’t the best choice. Sensing my betrayal, the 360 promptly... Read More .

If you can forget about these features you can find a set with good picture quality at a low price. In fact, manufacturers often use the same basic display panel for an entire line of televisions. The least expensive one in the line – the one without web connectivity or apps or other extras – usually offers a picture quality similar to the most expensive set in the line at a much lower price.

Consider Cutting 1080p From Your Plasma Purchase

affordable hdtv

If you have decided to go with a plasma set you will need to make a choice between 720p and 1080p. The difference is resolution. A 1080p set has roughly twice as many pixels as a 720p television.

That sounds like a big deal, but it might not be. There are limits to the detail the human eye can resolve, and as you sit further away from a set, those limits can become a limiting factor. You may not be able to notice the difference between 1080p and 720p if you sit about 6 feet away from a 42” television or eight feet away from a 50” television. Even if you do notice the difference you may not find it large enough to distract you. An exception is use with computers Using HDTV As a Gaming Monitor: Good Idea? [Geeks Weigh In] Using HDTV As a Gaming Monitor: Good Idea? [Geeks Weigh In] Read More –  in this case, 1080p can be a benefit.

Accepting 720p resolution opens you up to some excellent budget products from LG and Samsung, both of which offer surprisingly good 50” plasmas for $500 or less. Jumping to a 1080p option will generally cost at least an extra $200 – which isn’t worthwhile if you don’t sit close enough to perceive the difference.

Accept Some Motion Blur On LCD/LED Sets

best hdtv

Until recently, almost LCD and LED televisions had a refresh rate of 60 Hz. The same has been true – and is still true – of most computer monitors. This has been used for years because it’s usually sufficient. But in can, in some cases, allow for motion blur when an object moves quickly across the display.

Increasing the refresh rate to 120 Hz can help rectify that. And since bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers, manufactures have taken the concept to the extreme. It’s now possible to find televisions with 240 Hz, 480 Hz and even 960 Hz labels slapped on their bezels.

But ask yourself – do you even find this a problem? You shouldn’t spend money fixing what isn’t broken. There are also issues with the way the image processing that enables high refresh rates impacts image quality. Many of us have become accustomed to motion blur and feel as if something is missing from a film when it is removed.

Going with a basic 60 Hz or 120 Hz set instead of a 240 Hz+ model can save you a couple hundred dollars. And remember, if the television is in the same model line as the more expensive 240 Hz+ version, it probably uses the same display panel.

Taking Basic To The Bank

Obviously there is a theme here. If you want to buy an HDTV with good or even great image quality, but you don’t want to spend a lot on it, you should take out the added features. Refresh rates, web connectivity, even 1080p resolution (in the case of some plasma sets) can be kicked to the curb.

The savings can be dramatic. The Samsung UN46ES6100, for example, is about $1000 less than the UN46ES8000. What’s the difference? Well, the UN46ES6100 is “only” 120 Hz and it lacks some high-end features like a built-in camera for video conferencing, but otherwise it’s the same. And guess what? The UN46ES6100 has more favorable consumer reviews. Or you can buy the UN46EH5000, which is a 60 Hz set lacking web connectivity that’s half again the price of the UN46ES6100. It has even better consumer reviews.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the UN46EH5000 is a better HDTV than its more expensive cousins, but I am saying that neither of those alternatives justifies their premium. The basic model provides good image quality at a low price – and isn’t that what most of us want?

Image Credits: Matt Stratton,Larry Armstrong

  1. Nemo Gaby
    August 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Top 10 Plasma TV 2012: Which TV has the best picture quality?
    Consider the following:

    - Do you need a high-definition model?

    - Select a screen size that is suitable for your room.

    - Look for a Plasma that has TV Input Ports - HDMI and USB.

    - A important factor is the screen resolution - 720p, 1080i and 1080p - also known as full HD.
    ....

    http://www.squidoo.com/top-10-plasma-tv-2012-which-tv-has-the-best-picture-quality

  2. susendeep dutta
    July 25, 2012 at 10:37 am

    A very good article.This has made clear about many confusions that I had in my mind.Although,in my country,there are no 720p TVs I can find.I also didn't like web connectivity in TVs as they are best used in PCs,laptops and other portable devices.I always thought that what's there in such ultraexpensive Smart TVs.These companies are simply looting us.

  3. Luke Brannon
    July 25, 2012 at 9:16 am

    At the end of the day, if you don't need it then don't buy it, most people can get away with a nice cheap but yet still beautiful LCD display yet everyone is trying to score brag because everyone wants the best so they feel better than everyone else, bit pointless if you don't need it really

  4. Oluwaphemmy Popoola
    July 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm

    nice info

  5. Doc
    July 24, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Wow, you completely glossed over the fact that all LED TV sets are in fact LCD TVs with LED backlighting (as opposed to the older Cold Cathode lighting).

    There's another reason to go to 120Hz refresh rates - it syncs up perfectly with most commercial DVD and Blu-Ray movies, which are typically filmed at 24Hz, which don't sync up properly with 60Hz TVs. This will provide a more steady picture; I'm not going to go into that in detail, however.

    A TV with built-in Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, or other Internet connectivity can eliminate the need for a Roku, Apple TV, Blu-Ray player, or other set-top box with that feature that you may or may not want or need; having it built into the TV will definitely lower the power requirements (you don't have to turn on the set-top box to use the feature).

    1080p may not give you a better TV picture, but if your TV is doing double duty as a PC monitor, you may (or may not) want the extra pixels for your desktop. I've hooked up an older PC to my 40" TV's VGA port to use as a media center/home server, and I do occasionally enjoy the huge desktop. I'm thinking of getting a 32" TV (1080p) for the bedroom, for TV, video gaming, and PC use.

    • Matt Smith
      July 24, 2012 at 11:23 pm

      This is not an article about LCD vs LED and, to be frank, that revelation actually tells the average consumers absolutely nothing about how they perform to relative to each other. I think everything you need to know is listed here.

      Yes, the 120 Hz is nice. It is not needed, however, for enjoyable picture quality.

      You can spend the yearly power savings you'd achieve with built-in web apps by buying a couple sodas at your local 7-11. It's a non-issue. It also leaves you tied to whatever comes with your display, whereas buying an external device allows more flexibility.

      1080p is, again, not needed for good picture quality.

      I think you've missed the point. Yea, you've listed some nice things, but this is about getting a good picture for as little cash as possible.

  6. Mark Thornley
    July 24, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    My theoryis, wait one year and what you want today will be half price then ;)~

  7. Tug Ricks
    July 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    The importance of refresh rates depends on what you spend your time watching. The O'Reilly Factor looks the same in 60/120/240 HZ. However, if you watch a lot of football, the difference is much more noticeable.

  8. Athos
    July 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Great review thanks.

    But you should talk more about those fake refresh rates...

  9. Nick Williams
    July 24, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    I think it's important to note that LCD and LED TVs are not separate categories, which this article post doesn't seem to point out (in fact, it makes it sound like they *are*).

    LED TVs are just LCD TVs that use LEDs for backlighting instead of the traditional tech (that I believe is more on par with how fluorescent lights work).

    To put it another way, LED TVs are to LCD TVs as minivans are to four-wheeled cars.

  10. Garey Boone
    July 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I went with 42" 720p plasma for the simple reason I'm pretty sure that there isn't a television channel broadcasting in 1080p yet (at least in my area) you can check your channel list at the silicon dust website. One of the other reasons was kids nothing messes up and lcd screen like kids. I do I have to deal with glare on occasion but that's what blinds, curtains and light switches are for :) There are some good online and phone apps to help you buy as well like pricegrabber.com also you have to remember the picture you see at the store might not be the best picture the television can do because it's in a demo or store mode so definitely do your homework. ; )

    • Matt Smith
      July 24, 2012 at 11:24 pm

      I also went for a 720p plasma. I actually downgraded from a 1080p set. While I do notice a drop-off in sharpness, it's made up for by overall picture quality. Also, older game consoles look better because they are not stretched as much.

  11. nahid saleem
    July 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Wow this is cool thought. Yeah I do not need the browser on my tv, I wish to watch youtube!

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