Out of the box
Most TVs are set in the factory to give a very bright display. This is done to try to make sure the TV isn’t overshadowed by other TVs in a showroom. They can provide a better picture and power consumption with some basic changes to their brightness and contrast settings. Some LCD TVs allow you to vary the backlight intensity, which can improve picture and power consumption in some situations.
The simplest way to make changes is to choose from the options in the “picture mode” menu. These usually have names such as dynamic, standard, normal or vivid, as well as many others which may or may not actually give you an idea of what changes they make to the picture. Take time to cycle through them all to see which one is best for your watching conditions.
Some TVs also offer an energy saving mode. It may look a bit dull compared with the very bright out of the box settings, but give it a little time to see if you can get used to it. You can always switch back to a brighter setting if necessary.
- Built-in digital tuner so you don’t have to buy a set-top box to receive digital TV. For most people standard-definition (SD) or high-definition (HD) doesn’t matter, as not much HD TV is being broadcast, but there will be more in future. All the TVs on test are HD and have HD tuners.
- Look for easy-to-access sockets that allow you to get to the connections for DVD players, cable TV and other devices, particularly if you plan to mount the TV on a wall. Some have additional inputs, usually on one side.
- Look for a remote control that’s easy to read with large, well-spaced buttons and clear labels.
- On-screen menus should be easy to read and understand without having to resort to the manual.
- If you’re likely to lose the remote control, choose a TV with easily accessible controls on the TV itself.
- All models in this test are wall-mountable. However, none comes with wall mounts, so you have to buy a separate kit.
Look for easy-to-use sockets that allow you easy access to the connections for DVD players, cable TV and so on. Connections for each TV are listed in the comparison table.
Check that the input connections on the TV match the outputs on the devices you want too hook up to it, such as a DVD player/recorder, cable TV, or game console, and that there are enough connections for all the devices you want to attach at the same time.
HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) is an all-digital connection for both sound and video in one cable. You may not have any gadgets with HDMI output at the moment but we expect more in the future, so it might be worth looking out for a TV with at least one HDMI socket.
If you want to use your TV as a computer display, you’ll need one with a DVI input for newer computers or a VGA input for older ones. An HDMI socket will do if your computer has an HDMI output, but not many do at the moment. DVI to HDMI adapters are quite inexpensive to purchase.
It’s easy to get confused in the HD world. High definition for TV sets refers to the number of pixels on the screen — anything above 1366 x 768 is generally considered HD. On the other hand, high-definition sources such as Blu-ray and HD TV broadcasts, can be anything from 720 x 576p at the low end of HD broadcasting up to Blu-ray with 1920 x 1080p. The "p” stands for progressive which gives a more stable picture than an interlaced picture which usually has an “i” after the number.
There isn’t really a simple definition for high-definition TV sets either. However, 80cm or smaller screens with 1366 x 768 pixels or more should be capable of delivering an acceptable image from an HD source. The size of the screen has to be taken into account because it influences the size of individual pixels.
The quality of the image is not necessarily tied to the number of pixels. Colour accuracy, smooth transitions between colours and blacks that don’t look muddy or lose detail are far more important. The TV’s picture processor handles these functions, and more pixels may actually make it harder for the processor to deliver a good image.
This is assuming that most people sit about two metres from the screen. At this distance, we think 1920 x 1080 on an 80cm TV is overkill. To get some benefit from this resolution you’d have to sit about 125cm from the screen.
Comparing TVs in store
Viewing angles have improved in newer models, but some still have a dimmer picture when viewed from different angles, which is important if several people will be watching the TV at once. Stand square on to the screen then walk sideways until you notice the image quality drop. If you normally sit lower than the screen, make sure you try looking up at it as well.
Watch a variety of programs in the shop. Look for natural skin tones and texture on a person in a studio setting, such as a news presenter.
Check the picture for a colour cast, such as a pinkish or greenish.