A Guide to Buying a New Television

From a Dummy’s Perspective

Admittedly, I know very little about all of the technical aspects of new televisions or high-definition television (HDTV), but I did a good bit of research while trying to decide which television to buy. Hopefully this guide will help some other people with as little technical knowledge about new televisions as I have.

What Size Do I Want?

The first decision you need to make is what size television you want. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. Do a little of your own math to figure out what you want. Just because the new television’s total diagonal viewing area is larger than what you have, that might not mean it’s actually bigger than your current tube television.

For instance, a 32″ widescreen television is actually shorter than a 27″ standard tube television. To figure out the size of your television, I would use the following rules of thumb:

  1. A standard tube television has an aspect ratio of approximately 4:3, while a widescreen TV uses an aspect ratio of approximately 16:9
  2. Television sizes are measured according to the diagonal viewing area. Therefore, if you were to purchase a television that’s 16 inches wide by 9 inches tall, it would most likely be called either an 18″ or 19″ TV (using the Pythagorean Theorem – we add the square of the height to the square of the width, and then take the square root of our sum).
  3. To figure out the height or width of your television, use these basics:
    1. With a tube television, divide the “total viewing area” (the printed size of the television), divide it by 5, then multiply it by 3 to find the height or multiply it by 4 to find the width.
    2. With a widescreen television, divide the “total viewing area” (the printed size of the television), divide it by 18.36, then multiply it by 9 to find the height or multiply it by 16 to find the width.

Another thing you need to watch out for is the fact that television sizes are actually measured in cm, then converted to inches for sale in the U.S. Therefore, a 42″ television does not actually provide a full 42″ of viewing area. Rather, most of the boxes and printed circulars will say that it is a 42″ class television (meaning that converting the total viewing area from cm to inches, then rounding to the nearest whole number puts it close to 42″). Therefore, a 42″ television can actually offer you anywhere between 41 and 43″ of total viewing area.

Plasma or LCD?

Honestly, I know very little about the technical differences between plasma and LCD. In the old days, LCD was great for smaller sizes, but became prohibitively expensive when you got to larger sizes. Now, however, the prices are fairly comparable between LCD and plasma no matter what size you are looking at.

When we were looking for televisions, we were told that LCD televisions were brighter, and weren’t as susceptible to glare as plasma televisions. That’s about all I got.

Honestly, I think I would go with LCD if given the choice, but I can’t really quantify why. If you are shopping in an electronics store, it might be a good idea to ask the salesman for advice about the differences.

What Resolution Should I Choose?

The two main resolutions available at this time are 720p and 1080p. Apparently 1080p is considerably better than 720p. The salesman we spoke with told us that we wouldn’t really notice any difference between the two if we were using standard television input. However, if we were to use a BluRay player or HDTV or even an Xbox 360 or PS3, the difference would be very noticable.

While we don’t currently own any of those electronics, we decided to go with the 1080p. Why? We’ll hopefully be using this TV for the next 10-15 years. By then, we will almost certainly have upgraded to high-definition electronics (in fact, by then, that might be our only option).


There isn’t a whole lot to know when looking into a new television. You just need to make sure you get what you want. Do your research before you buy anything.

Walk into a few different stores and look at the different TVs they have on display. The different brands can have drastic differences in the quality of their displays. For instance, Sony televisions looked fantastic, but they were usually close to twice the cost of any other brand. If the picture is that important to you, then go for a Sony. However, if you don’t need the absolute highest-quality picture (most of the rest are still extremely good), go for a different brand.

We found that Sharp had the best picture besides Sony, and were considerably cheaper. We also found that Toshiba televisions had great-quality pictures. Vizio, though generally less expensive than all of the others, had very poor-quality pictures. In many cases, they were not much brighter than a standard old tube television.

Again, do your research and make sure you look at a lot of different options. Then, make sure you choose the one that’s best for your situation.