10 things you need to know before buying an HDTV

Here's how to see through the in-store demo tricks and save money on the set that's right for you

6. Have the set put in home-use mode

Almost all current HDTVs have first-time-use wizards that begin with the option to put the set in home-use or store-demo mode — and it's a safe bet that what you see in a showroom is the latter.

Store-demo mode turns the brightness way up since people are attracted to bright images, but in a darkened living room the same picture might look annoyingly glaring. Ask the sales rep to let you see what the default home-use setting looks like (usually you can run the first-time setup routine again from the HDTV's settings menu).

7. Inspect the presets

Most HDTV models have preset picture modes that adjust key image controls (brightness, contrast, tint, and the like) to optimize for games, sports, movies, and so on. Check them out; most menus allow you to see how changes affect whatever you're watching. Make sure you have a way of creating a custom preset or two, in case you don't agree with the vendor's tastes.

8. Love the skin you're seeing

Do you like the colors you see on the TV? One good way to verify this is to look at clips with people and use the set's picture controls so that the skin appears lifelike and pleasing — and then see whether everything else on the screen looks good to you.

If you're enjoying bright colors in a scene, make sure that the people in it don't look sunburned — a problem we notice when some colors are oversaturated.

9. Don't use animated material for your tests

There's a reason many vendors choose popular animated features to show off their sets — and it's not because they're family friendly. Today's computer-generated cartoons look great on almost all digital displays.

You're much better off with live-action movies or TV shows, which can't always be engineered to perfection. The same goes for gaming shots: Unless you plan on playing lots of games on your HDTV, you don't really need to pay attention to gaming demo footage.

10. Look and listen

Unfortunately, most big-box stores display dozens of HDTVs in rows upon rows, so you don't get to hear what any of them sound like. If you're planning on hooking up your set to a home theater audio system or to other external speakers, this isn't an issue.

If you do plan to use the set's audio, see if you have a way to test it with a Blu-ray movie that will show off its surround-sound capabilities. Fortunately, built-in audio is really improving on newer sets, with more-robust speakers and increasingly capable surround-sound simulation. Some sets even have three-speaker systems. But again, don't judge on the specs alone — listen for yourself.

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Yardena Arar

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