Buying guide: TVs

We show you the differences between LCD, plasma and LED televisions

What is an Electronic Program Guide or EPG? One of the advantages of digital TV is the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). In Australia, the EPG is rather limited as it only offers very basic information detailing the show that is on at the moment and what is coming up next. However, each network has a dedicated guide channel that has listings for the few hours ahead as well. If you have a PVR or media centre PC you can also sign up to a subscription service with IceTV, which provides thorough listings for a monthly fee.

What is an LCD TV? LCD stands for Liquid Crystal Display. Liquid Crystal is an amazing substance that reacts when you pass electricity through it. It is normally transparent but when you add an electric current it turns black. The way LCD TV works is that millions of tiny dots each have Liquid Crystal in them and behind each one there is a little circuit that controls the electricity flow. Every second, millions of dots turn on and off and a light shines through them from behind. The dots that are still transparent allow light to pass through and the ones that are black block out the light. Just on top of each dot are three colour filters which change the colour of the light and produce the colours you see when watching.

What is the difference between an LCD TV and a plasma TV? Plasma is different to LCD as it doesn't have a light that shines from behind but instead produces its own light from within each dot. Instead of Liquid Crystal, each dot has a small pocket of gas which lights up when you run electricity through it. It also has the colour filter on top as well to produce colours. The advantage of plasma over LCD is that the colour black looks better but the dots are usually a little further apart and you can sometimes see the spaces between them. The result is that the images can look a little blocky on cheaper plasma TVs. Also plasma uses more power to run and can get pretty hot (enough to heat up a small room). Plasma televisions have become more power efficient over the past few years, but still use more power to run than LED and LCD televisions.

Do LCD TVs come in large screen sizes, like plasma TVs? LCD TVs come in a range of sizes up to about 65-inch screens. But if you compare a similar sized LCD and plasma, generally the plasma screen will cost a few hundred dollars less.

Can I also use an LCD TV as a computer monitor? Yes. Many TVs come with a connection at the back to plug in your computer.

Are all LCD and plasma TVs also HDTVs? No. In order to be a High Definition television it needs to have a minimum of 720 horizontal lines. Anything below this number is a Standard Definition television. The way to tell whether the TV you are looking at is HD is to look for a figure called the "native resolution". This is the number of lines of dots that the TV has vertically and horizontally. A typical High Definition resolution is 1920x1080 (also known as 'Full HD'). A TV with this resolution will have 1920 vertical lines of dots and 1080 horizontal lines. Plasma televisions can have many different types of resolutions but as long as you make sure that horizontal (second) number in the "native resolution" is over 720, you can be confident that you have bought a true HDTV. Some manufacturers say the TV is HD when really they are stating that it will play HD. In those cases when you play HD on a TV with less than 720 horizontal lines, everything is converted to Standard Definition so you are not really watching HD at all.

Will an LCD/plasma TV work with my old VCR? Yes. All you have to do is plug it in and it will work fine. However, you should probably be aware that VHS probably won't look as good on an LCD or plasma television as it does on your old CRT TV.

What do I need to know about getting my TV home myself? All flat panel televisions are fragile devices. If you are going to transport it yourself, make sure that you pack it well and that it can't slide around in your car. LCD TVs are a little sturdier than plasmas but they don't have glass over the front of the TV so you should be careful that you don't scratch the surface when setting up. When taking a plasma TV out of the box, make sure that you have enough people to carry it comfortably and try not to twist the panel as it can damage the TV. You should also take care to follow any transport and handling instructions on the box and/or supplied by the manufacturer.

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Campbell Simpson

Campbell Simpson

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