The Lowdown On New TVs
Don't know your Plasma from your LCD? Or Blu-Ray from HDD? Here's the lowdown on choosing a new TV for the 21st century.
High-definition, Plasma, LCD, Blu-Ray, HDD, HD DVD, 1080p. These are all terms you might come across when choosing a new TV and some of you will be in tears at the thought already. When some of your correspondents were kids, buying a new box was easy -- you waited until the old one no longer worked and then you bought a single box rather than a TV and loads of boxes to go underneath it.
That hasn't been the case for some time. The first thing to consider, though, when buying a TV, is whether you really need one. The standard analogue channels are being switched off region by region in a process lasting until 2012 it's true, but the addition of a simple digibox means your old TV will still work.
OK, so let's assume you're determined to buy a new telly. The next question is what size. Dealers, whether they're small independents or the largest branch of Currys, will tell you that if you're going for your first flat screen TV, your room will be able to take a bigger screen than you had before. Well, that's true -- but did the size of your old picture bother you? If not, this might be a good time to reclaim some of that room space. The price of a new TV goes up as the screen size increases. Plasma is more expensive than LCD and the difference between the pictures, unless you go for a huge screen, is tiny.
Do you go for high-definition or don't you? The answer is yes you do because it's compulsory; the bigger question is whether you want to pay for any high-def content. High definition is about four times as clear as standard definition TV and the highest-of-the-high is 1080p, which refers to the number of pixels on the screen. 1080i is a notch down but on screens up to around 40in you won't see the difference.
Your new TV will have a Freeview tuner built in so you'll be able to watch it straight away but for high-def you'll need, at the cheaper end, a Freesat box. Freesat is a subscription-free satellite service; you'll pay for the box and for someone to come and install a satellite dish and that's the lot.
Later this year there will be Freesat boxes with recorders on them so you can use it to record programmes while you're out; for a wider choice of channels, particularly if you're into sport or kids' channels, you might want to consider a Sky+ box or Sky HD (which includes the HD channels), which will cost for the box, for the installation and a monthly subscription. If you're potty about your cricket there's no way around this.
We're pretty much at the stage of thinking about what plugs into the TV. Here's a quick jargon buster so you'll know what the various dealers are talking about:
Blu-Ray: High definition comes to DVD with Blu-Ray disks. The quality is excellent and the players will happily play your old DVDs. They players are expensive for the moment and the DVDs themselves cost about 2.5 times the price of a standard disk. Hint: If you want a games console as well, consider a Playstation 3 as this plays Blu-Ray disks, so you don't need a separate player. If you're not worried about high-definition on DVD, buy a cheapie player for £30 or so in a supermarket.
HD DVD: A rival for Blu-Ray that bit the dust this year. Think VHS v. Betamax; this is the Betamax of the modern day. You can get second-hand players and disks and they'll play really, really well - but there won't be any new releases.
High-definition: Definitely the way the industry is going, cinema quality in your living room, available free on Freesat but every other source costs. NB: You'll need the right cable (called HDMI) to get an HD signal to your telly -- SCART will downgrade the picture back to standard definition.
LCD/Plasma: Competing technologies, these are the screens themselves. LCD is far cheaper and the quality has all but caught up with plasma sets.
PVR: Personal video recorder -- it'll have HDD on the box, NOT to be confused with HD DVD. HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive and means it'll record programmes while you're out.
Sky, Sky+, Sky HD: The various flavours of the Sky satellite offerings. Sky gives you the satellite channels but no recording; Sky+ allows you to record programmes straight from the menu and Sky HD offers high definition. The cost increases as your requirements get more flashy.
You should now be able to work out roughly what you want. Opt for a known brand -- you'll pay a premium for, say, Sony or Panasonic but you know they'll be around to honour their warranty if it goes wrong. And if it's not urgent and you really want to save money, wait until the manufacturers and retailers start to panic about the credit crunch and slash prices in the run-up to what they think's going to be a terrible Christmas. Just watch those prices tumble...