Our 32″ Sony Bravia LCD TV wasn’t really old but felt a bit obsolete. There were no USB ports, the TV wasn’t network-capable meaning it cannot connect to the Internet or the home network, the 32″ screen looked rather small in the living room and, most important, the TV didn’t support full HD.

tvIt was therefore time to upgrade to something bigger and more advanced.

I am no expert to offer you any advice on buying TVs but I’ll still try to summarize the key things I learned from the various websites and my Twitter friends while researching for my own purchase.

A Buying Guide for TV

There are several points to consider before buying a TV. What screen size should you choose? Is LED better than LCD or Plasma TVs? Which ports should you look for in a TV? Is it worth paying extra for networking related features? HD (720p) or Full-HD (1080p)? Which TV brand should you go for? And finally, is 3D necessary?

LCD, Plasma or LED?

There are basically two types of TVs – LCD and Plasma. The other category, LED, is actually a type of LCD but one that is slimmer (looks matters) and consumes less electricity than regular LCDs. I haven’t had a chance to compare the picture quality of equivalent LED, LCD and Plasma HDTVs side-by-side but most online material seem to suggest that Plasmas offer the best picture quality.

The other point in favor of Plasma HDTVs is the viewing angle. LCDs and LEDs are best viewed from the front but if your room’s seating arrangement is such that people may have to watch TV while sitting at either sides, Plasmas may be a better option as the have a wider viewing angle. That said, if your TV room is brightly-lit or has too many windows, the Plasma screen may carry glare or reflection. LCDs have a matte screen and thus don’t have the reflection problem.

Size of the TV Screen

HDTVs are available in various sizes and the one you should choose depends on two factors – the length of your room and obviously your budget.

As a rule of thumb, the ideal size of the TV screen should be anywhere between .3x and .6x where x is the distance between your sofa and the TV. For example, if the viewing distance is 6 feet (or 72 inches), you can go for a 24″ – 48″ screen.

TV Input Ports

Most newer TVs have HDMI and USB ports but what’s also important is the location of these ports. If you are planning to wall-mount the TV, make sure that there are enough free ports at the sides of the unit because, once you mount the TV, it will be inconvenient, or rather impossible, to use the back ports for connecting your gadgets to the TV.

Screen Resolution – 720p, 1080i or 1080p

The next factor is the screen resolution where your choices are 720p, 1080i and 1080p – also known as full HD. Unless you are getting a small screen TV – like 32″ – go for 1080p resolution and here’s why. More and more TV channels are becoming available in high-definition, the HD picture quality is vastly superior but you need a 1080p TV to experience the difference.

Jason Bonney adds – “Although I see no reason NOT to get a TV supporting 1080p, it’s currently only really needed for Blu-ray. Broadcast HD TV is only 1080i and most video games (XBox 360/PS3) are native 720p being upscaled to 1080. So you can get by with 1080i if need be. I had an HD DLP 1080i for years before upgrading recently, and for HDTV and my 360 games it was still great.”

3D or 2D?

All brands are working hard to sell you 3D-capable TV sets but is 3D worth the extra cost or should you just settle for the good-old 2D? It depends.

We have a joint family and the TV is placed in a common room so we mostly watch it together. In order to enjoy 3D content, one needs to wear 3D glasses. If there are four other people in the room, they also need to wear compatible 3D glasses. The glasses are expensive but cost aside, I highly doubt if folks at home would be willing to wear a pair of glasses for watching a movie or a TV program. Also, there’s isn’t enough 3D content available anyway – especially in regional languages – so we decided to go with 2D.

Network Connectivity

The other important feature to consider while deciding a TV is network connectivity. The expensive TV models often have built-in WiFi (or Wireless LAN) while others are WiFi-capable meaning you can attach an extra dongle, always old separately, to connect the TV to the home network or for watching web videos – like YouTube – on your TV wirelessly.

All Internet-ready TVs have an Ethernet port so if you can stretch the LAN cable from the router to the TV, you can go for the WiFi-capable model but without spending on the USB wireless adapter. Also look for DLNA support as it will become easy for you to stream photos, music and videos from your computer and mobile phone to the TV screen.

One more thing. TV vendors like Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and LG bundle various ‘apps’ to help you watch YouTube videos, Flickr photos and other web content on the HDTV. However, the number of apps offered by these vendors is still small, they have no built-in browsers, no web search and you are thus limited to a very tiny portion of the web.

So what we finally picked is a 50″ Panasonic Viera Plasma TV, full HD, lacks 3D, Internet-ready but without built-in Wi-Fi. It is definitely not “razor-thin” but since the unit is mounted on a wall, you rarely notice the thickness. Also, Panasonic offers limited Internet apps but not that we have connected it to Logitech Revue (read review of Google TV), family members can access almost the entire web in the living room.

While everyone has different requirements or “wants” and there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ when it comes it to buying electronics, the above points may help you make a slightly more informed decision and get more value for your money.