10 tips: Buying a HDTV

By Laura T. Coffey, Times Correspondent
Published March 18, 2007

High-definition televisions aren't just for the rich and famous anymore. Prices have dropped over the past few years, and HDTV channel offerings have increased. Consider these tips:

1 Reflect on what you'll need. To view high-definition images at home, you'll need an HD-capable TV and a provider with HD programming. Channel offerings vary: cable provider Bright House Networks has more than two dozen HD channels; satellite provider Dish Network has 31; and satellite provider DirecTV has fewer than 12 but promises more by year's end.

2 On-demand or recorded content may be ideal. It's getting easier to watch HD content whenever you feel like it, thanks to on-demand content offered by cable companies and digital video recorders offered by cable, satellite and phone companies.

3 Shop around for bundled packages. Ask the cable, satellite and phone companies that serve your area about three-way bundled plans that include TV, Internet and phone services for a flat monthly fee.

4 Incorporate added costs into your budget. If you seek out HD programming via cable, you must subscribe to digital cable and get an HD cable box for each HDTV in your home. If you use satellite, you typically must invest in a receiver and dish that can accommodate HD signals and pay extra each month for HD programming.

5 Memorize some magic numbers. Be aware that "1080p resolution" refers to the highest form of high-definition available. But 1080p content is hard to come by most HD cable channels broadcast in 720p and the benefits of 1080p resolution aren't all that noticeable on TVs with screens that are 42 inches or smaller. Choose an HDTV with a capability of at least 720p and 1080i.

6 Take standard-broadcast channels for a test drive. If you invest in an HD set and you're able to get a strong, clear signal, your TV could improve the picture quality of even standard-definition programming. But you run the risk of the reverse being true: the lower quality of standard broadcasts could get magnified and look terrible on your new HD-capable TV. The risk of the reverse is true: lower-quality standard broadcasts look terrible.

7 Try out a movie. Bring a DVD to the store and test it out on the HDTVs you're considering. Use a colorful action movie with lots of quick motion so you can analyze each TV's response time and see whether the picture breaks up on you.

8 Select a TV type. You can get an HDTV in a plasma, projection or LCD model. Research the pros, cons and costs of each TV type before you buy.

9 Bars or no bars? Depending on the size of the screen you buy, you may want black bars to appear around nonwidescreen content, or you may want to squeeze or enlarge the image to fit the screen.

10 Think about the future. The HDTVs being sold today shouldn't become obsolete for quite a while. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to choose an HDTV with a DVI/HDCP or HDMI connection because they're the most "future-ready" connectors on the market today.

Sources: CNET.com (www.cnet .com); MSNBC.com's Tech/Science section (www.msnbc. com); Consumer Reports (www. consumerreports.org); Bright House Networks (http://tampa bay.mybrighthouse.com); DirecTV (www.directv.com); Dish Network (www.dishnetwork.com)