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Welcome to the Better-Reviews TV Buyers Guide

With your local shops hosting a vast array of stylish and slim HD TVs, which one should you buy? With such an excess of information and jargon it can be difficult to decide which one should take pride of place in your living room.

HD explained

HD is short for high definition, which in turn means a sharper, much higher quality picture. Wheras SD is standard definition, or put simply, the quality of picture that has been available in the UK for decades. Full HD or 1080p means that your TV is capable of displaying high definition images to the highest standard that TV's can currently display

Be aware that there is a difference between Full HD and HD-Ready TV's. HD-Ready TV's only display 720 lines of vertical resolution. These sets are not able to provide the 1080 line display required to display Full HD. That said though, they are still a higher definition than SD, so it is still worth considering a HD-Ready TV if you're not looking for a monster-sized display. You could get away with a HD-Ready set if the screen is under 30", and you're on a tight budget, as there are some great deals around.

What next?

Telly tech-speak is notoriously difficult to trudge through - but your own common sense is useful here. Specs like Hertz, refresh rates and pixel count matter a lot less than how you and your eyes feel about the picture on the screen.

Thanks to price wars a few years ago, TVs are now a lot more affordable in general. But it's still a good idea to set a budget, otherwise you might be paying for features you may never use.

Before you dive into a top-of-the-range set, there's two main things to think about once you've found a TV you like. First of all, what you'll be plugging in to the set in the future?, and second, what you're going to plug into it now?

For instance, it's less important looking at HD footage on the screen in the shop if you are planning to watch mainly standard definition stuff from your sofa. You'll find some tellies are better than others at converting an SD feed into something watchable, as the processing chips inside will treat the pictures differently.

Plasma, LCD or LED?

TV enthusiasts have less to argue about these days - the old debate of Plasma versus LCD is no longer an issue for most mid-priced and budget sets - there is now little to choose between them, and people with a bigger budget might want to think about LED TVs.

Back in the day, LCD sets used to suffer from poor viewing angles, but that's no longer the case. These days you can sit at an acute angle to an LCD and still be able to see the picture, and the old curse of "Image Burn-in" on a plasma TV is another thing that is not something to worry about anymore.

LEDs backlight the TV producing greater contrast ratios where blacks appear blacker, leading to a sharper image. They are also slimmer, consume less power than similarly-sized traditional LCDs and are mercury free.

3D explained

It's more than 170 years since Sir Charles Wheatstone's first experiments in stereoscopy, which is now the most commonly used technique to create 3D images. The principle, developed by Wheatstone in 1838, of displaying one image for the left eye and another for the right eye to create the illusion of depth is essentially unchanged. If you have a 3D TV, it will use one of two techniques - active or passive - to ensure that each eye sees the image it is meant to see.

Active 3D
Televisions that use active 3D glasses work by displaying an image for the left eye and then one for the right eye, alternating in very quick succession. The 3D glasses contain shutters that open and close in sync with the images displayed on the screen to ensure that the left eye sees the image for the left eye and the right eye sees the image for the right eye. Since these televisions display full screen images they are generally able to deliver better quality pictures than passive 3D sets.

Passive 3D
The alternative to an active 3D TV is a passive one, so-called because the glasses do not have active shutters to send the correct image to each eye. Instead, passive 3D televisions show one image for the left eye and one for the right at the same time. The 3D glasses have filtered lenses that ensure that each eye sees the right image. The downside of passive 3D is that because two images are being shown onscreen at the same time the resolution of the picture is halved so the images are not in full HD.

3D without glasses
The dream for technology companies is to remove the need for glasses entirely. One way of doing this is by using lenticular lenses, which are shaped so that a different image is displayed depending on the viewing angle. Toshiba is using this technique in its glasses-free 3D TVs. However, the largest display is 21 inches - Toshiba says it will take time to make these displays affordable at larger screen sizes. A similar glasses-free 3D effect can be achieved using a parallax barrier, which sits on top of an LCD display to create a 3D effect - this is the approach that Nintendo has taken for the 3DS.

Interactive/Wi-Fi enabled, SMART TV's

Wi-Fi brings web services such as Love Film (movies on demand), You Tube, web radio stations, BBC iPlayer and more straight to your television screen (subject to the telivision's compatibility) by seamlessly streaming online content through your broadband connection, and many models can access your PC, giving you access to downloaded films, photos, your music library, and more, direct from the comfort of your sofa, via your TV screen and trusty remote control. Please note that you will need to obtain a wireless router and broadband connection if not already in place.

Freeview and Freesat options

Freeview

Freeview is a way of receiving free digital TV through modern television ariel. Freeview offers over 30 extra TV channels and 20 digital radio stations. You don't need to pay a monthly subscription - you just need a Freeview set-top-box or a TV with Freeview built in, and to pay your TV license as normal.

Freesat

Freesat offers the same as Freeview. The difference is in how it picks up the signal. As the name implies, Freesat requires a satellite dish. While Freesat can offers guaranteed reception, you will have to factor in about £80 to have a local ariel installation company install and setup a satellite dish

Why use Freeview/Freesat?

You can enjoy dozens of FREE channels - with more added all the time with no monthly fee or contract plus more than 20 FREE Digital radio stations. If Freeview is integrated into your TV, there is no need for a separate set-top-box.

What sort of digital TV channels will you get?

As well as all of the normal terrestrial TV channels that you're used to, Freeview has over thirty new stations to discover including: BBC3 and BB4 ITV2, ITV3 and IT4 E4, More4 and Film4. Children's channels such as CBeebies and CITV. News channels including BBC News 24 and Sky News, as well as Shopping channels such as QVC and Bid TV

Freeview HD and Freesat HD

High Definition TV has been around for a while, but was initially only available on satellite or cable services, often requiring a subscription. This has now changed with the arrival of Freeview and Freesat HD. The HD versions will give you up to 5 times the picture quality of standard Freeview, plus Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, with no monthly bills or subscription. Freeview HD is transmitted alongside the standard Freeview signal, so is received through your TV aerial. Transmitters started broadcasting in HD at the end of 2009, and the HD channels will complete the roll out across the UK in May 2012. Freesat HD has been available in all of the UK from day one, as the satellite dish only requires a buildings free line of sight to the sky.

Unfortunately, both HD formats require a different type of tuner to standard Freeview(DVB-T2) so you'll need a TV with Freeview HD or Freesat HD tuner built in, or a separate set-top box . If you're buying an external set-top box, then remember that you'll need to connect this to your TV with an HDMI cable to get the full benefit of Freeview HD, or Freesat HD. 

Connectivity

Another thing to look on the set for is connectivity - go for a healthy selection of inputs, for instance three digital High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) ports. You might want SCART sockets if you want to connect your old DVD player, and the red, white and yellow sockets if you have an older camcorder you want to view footage from. A general rule here is the more inputs, the better. Remember though that you can always attach a small external switching box to add extra inputs. So don't fret if you find a perfect TV that has two HDMI ports instead of three.

First impressions

You will notice if the picture's great but the sound isn't. It's easy to forget that TV isn't just about the visuals, and improving the audio with a reasonably priced home cinema system is a surefire way to get more bang for your buck.

A cheaper way to fix this is simply to connect your TV to external speakers - and if you're a late night TV watcher in a shared household, you can also check if there's a headphone socket.

If you don't want to buy a dedicated system, you may be able to connect the TV's audio output to your hifi using the TV's analogue audio output. This will cost you the price of a cable, and is a budget-friendly way of boosting the sound.

and Finally...

When buying a TV, get a feel for the TV itself. Take a look round the menu system and the remote control. Does it look easy to use? Do you like the TV's appearence? Are you looking for something which has bells and whistles for the lounge, or something easy for a second TV in the study?

Whenever you do decide to upgrade, the most important thing about choosing your TV is that what you end up buying matches your lifestyle and your budget. After that, you only have to decide what to watch.

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