TVs Buying Guide

May 20, 2011 No Comments by

As manufacturers pack ever more features into their TVs, those sets that don’t have the spangly new additions are flogged off on the cheap.  So for even the slightly tardy adopter there are some serious bargains to be had.

Screen size?

There is a calculation you can do that converts the dimensions of your room and where you usually sit into an ideal screen size but who can be bothered?

As a rule of thumb;

  • small room: 32-inch
  • big room: 42-inch
  • loft apartment: 50 inches+ (or a projector)

NB: Wall-mounting brackets are nearly always extra.

NBB: Mounting a TV on a plasterboard stud-wall is not the best idea.


How much do you want to spend?

If price is paramount, go for an HD Ready 720p set.

For a 32-inch HD Ready set  pay no more than £400

For a 42-inch HD Ready set  pay no more than £600

For a 50-inch HD Ready set  pay no more than £800

There will be TVs for more and less.  It depends how fussy and/or minted you are.

If price isn’t an issue, get a 1080p Full HD.  How much you pay for one of these will depend on what kind of TV service you receive or subscribe to – see ‘features and built-in stuff’ below – but mostly whether you own a Blu-ray disc player. It’s hardly worth bothering with a Full HD TV that’s less than 42 inches.

For a kid’s bedroom or the kitchen 19” or 22” is usually acceptable.

The Fogey Five covers a spread of prices, screen size and spec.

NB: As you get into the larger screen sizes (50 inches+) the 720p HD Ready resolution will become noticably inferior to a set that is Full HD 1080p.

NBB: Incremental increases in screen size can cost progressively more once you get past 42-inches.  You might not think a 52-inch screen is worth £400 more than a 50-inch, for example.


LCD or plasma?

Who cares?  They’re both fine and any differences, although measurable by boffins, are so small as to be insignificant to the average punter.

There is also a new LED screen technology.  It’s expensive.  Wait until it’s cheaper.



Yawn.  If you must, but you’ll pay over the odds and then have to sit there like a lemon in a pair of 3D specs.  Some sets have the 3D technology mostly in the glasses, others have it in the set.  3D sets don’t show everything in 3D, of course, only the stuff that’s filmed in 3D, of which there is precious little unless you have the top Sky package or a Blu-ray player that plays 3D Blu-ray discs.



The back of a TV used to just have one socket – for the aerial.  Not any more.  Nowadays the back of your TV could look like this from a Toshiba Regza:

You don’t really need to know what all those sockets are for but when you set off to shop you do need to know exactly what you plan on plugging into the back of your TV; Freeview box, Sky box, DVD player, VCR, Blu-ray player etc.  If you have impressionable spawn they might want to plug in a video game controller (although you’d be better advised to invest in a bedroom TV and headphones for that). The TV in the pic also has an input (the one labelled RGB/PC) that would allow you to use it as a computer monitor.  There’s even a LAN (local area network) Ethernet input for accessing the Internet.

A good feature of this TV is that the rear inputs are over to one side instead of in the middle where they’d be much harder to get to.

There’s also a side panel with other inputs; in this case, USB, another HDMI, analogue S-video and analogue RCA (that’s the red/white/yellow ones) and DVB (digital video broadcasting).  If you ever use that last one alert the media.  To give you some idea of the advanced muppetry the DVB fraternity exhibit, try this from the DVB entry on Wikipedia: DVB has established a 3D TV group (CM-3DTV) to identify “what kind of 3D-TV solution does the market want and need, and how can DVB play an active part in the creation of that solution?”.

The key words here are: ‘want’, ‘need’ and ‘solution’. The market doesn’t want 3D, doesn’t need 3D and there is no problem created by its absence that requires a solution.  As if the hard-bitten fogey didn’t realise what he/she was up against; some evidence for the persecuted.

Fundamentally, the more and varied the inputs, the more likely your new TV is to be compatible with any fangled black box you might have or might acquire in the future.  So what if you never use them; at least they’re there.  So you could.

The Premier League of TV manufacturers are: Sony, Panasonic, LG, Philips (soon to stop making TVs) and Samsung with Toshiba and Sharp in the Championship.  Pioneer have now stopped making TVs, although their Kuro plasma screens are still much sought after.  There are plenty of other brands, some cheap and nasty, some posh and expensive.  Fogies tend to be none of those things.


Features and built-in stuff

If you have an HD Ready TV you might imagine it would have at least a Freeview HD tuner (as opposed to standard def Freeview) built in.  Or maybe even a Freesat HD tuner.  You get marginally more ‘free’ HD channels on Freesat HD (for which you will need to cough up for a satellite dish which needs installation by a man in overalls) than on Freeview HD.  How wrong you would be.  HD TVs without an HD tuner inside are a bit like a Ferrari fitted with the engine from a Fiat 500.  If you buy such a TV – and it will be tempting because they’re cheap – you will also need an HD PVR set top box (see the Fogey 5 for those here) which might cost a few hundred additional pounds.  Add the cost of the TV and set top box together and you might be better off buying an HD TV that does have an HD tuner built-in.  You won’t necessarily save money but you will save on needless clutter.

If you subscribe to Sky HD or Virgin HD you already have an HD tuner in your black box, so you could buy an HD set fitted with a standard def tuner and be very happy – the standard def tuner would be redundant.  Be aware, though, that Sky and Virgin broadcast in 1080i – as opposed to 1080p.  i = interlaced; p = progressive.  The latter is better.  1080i and 720p are, to all intents and purposes, the same.  In fact, all broadcast HD TV is 720p/1080i.  Whichever of these resolutions ends up on your screen will depend on your TV.  So for now, the only rationale for buying a Full HD 1080p set is if you’re going to hook it up to a Blu-ray player, the output of which is 1080p.

There’s much more info about the various HD TV services in the Overview section on PVR set top TV tuners.


BBC iPlayer on your TV.

There are now several TV sets and Freeview set-top boxes with the iPlayer built in.

For more info click here.


Internet-based stuff on your TV.

In the US, Netflix – the major provider of on-demand TV and movies via the Internet to your TV – has all but destroyed the market for pre-recorded DVDs.  It’s no exaggeration to say they drove Blockbuster to the wall.  But we don’t yet have Netflix in the UK.  Such ‘on demand’ services as there are here usually require subscribing to some sort of bundled TV/broadband package (BT Vision) or satellite TV (Sky Box Office).  But widespread video on demand (VoD) will come, and soon.  So it’s not a bad idea to be ready.  Most new TVs have an ethernet port for hooking up your TV to the Internet via your broadband router.  A few have built-in wi-fi, so your TV doesn’t have to be within cable distance of the router.  There is also Internet connectvity now built in to many PVR TV tuners and Blu-ray players.  But they all require a high-speed broadband connection (around 10 megabytes per second or more)  to stream even standard definition content properly.  And until the UK’s broadband infrastructure is upgraded (by laying hundreds of miles of fibre-optic cable at a cost of many, many millions) it’s likely that only larger cities will benefit.  The main problem is that if more people stream video, the slower the average delivery speed will be.  It’s a bit like having a high density of traffic on the M1 – even without roadworks, breakdowns or accidents average speed reduces.  The BBC happily concedes that they limit the speed at which iPlayer programmes are streamed during times of high demand.