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As you're getting ready to install a new flat panel TV, leave room for all the other things you're going to want to hook up to it:
Before you buy a flat screen TV, you'll probably want to go to a store and see how it works in real life. (The exception might be if you've bought a certain model before and want another of the same kind.)
Picture quality is subjective -- the 50" flat panel TV that looks awesome to one person may look awful to you. Testing may even help you discover that a 42" flat panel TV looks better to your eyes.
If possible, test the TV in both low and ordinary light. Bring a DVD or two to try with it -- preferably a movie that includes some night scenes, so you can test the blacks. If possible, choose DVDs that are familiar to you so you can compare picture and audio quality for your favorite moments.
One useful test is to play a movie that was shot on film, which rolls at a rate of 24 frames per second. You're looking for how well the TV converts the signal to its own standard of 30 fps. If you see lots of "artifacts" (jagged edges), try another model.
Also pay attention to color saturation and accuracy. Do skin tones look right? Do gradations from light to dark look smooth, without discernible bands of color?
There are two main technologies being used for flat screen televisions: plasma and LCD. Which one is right for you? It's a matter of taste, largely. When you compare flat screen TVs in a store, it's hard to tell which ones are plasma and which are LCD, if you don't already know. That being said, here are some of the considerations to keep in mind:
Plasma TVs are somewhat better at displaying motion and may be available in a wider range of large sizes. They are fragile and expensive to ship, and some do not work well at high altitudes.
LCD TVs are more durable, lighter in weight, and easier to install. They are also slightly thinner than plasma TVs.
In real-world situations, both kinds of flat panel TVs are likely to produce pictures that satisfy viewers, and will last for many years. It may be a matter of discovering which TV looks best to you and has the best price.
The most obvious advantage to buying a flat panel television is the great reduction in size and weight over standard CRT models. A 32" flat screen TV can weigh as little as one-third as much as a CRT model of the same screen size, making it possible for a single person to carry and install a screen of significant size.
Flat screen televisions are also easier to incorporate into the design of a room, with the flexibility of sitting on a narrow stand or being mounted on a wall. Instead of having to organize a room around a large, bulky TV, the television can become a pleasant, but not overwhelming element.
Finally, flat screen TV prices have come down significantly, allowing these models to be manageable for many people who might have previously considered them a too-costly luxury.
Your flat panel TV will be part of your life for years to come. Before you bring home the new "baby," figure out where it will sit and what furniture it will need. This is especially important if you're wall-mounting the TV, which will require some real repairs if you change your mind later.
It may not be enough to plunk the new TV down where the old one went. For one thing, you'll want to consider the proper viewing distance for your new screen -- a decision that may affect what size TV you buy.
Some people will decide to make their new flat screen TV the center of a home theater, redesigning a room for the maximum entertainment value. Others will be drawn to flat panel TVs because they can free up room for furniture, hobbies or storage. Only you can decide what the purpose of your TV is, and where it will best live in your house.
If you're just looking for a big TV at a relatively low price, you can find it. Here are some of the considerations that might prompt you to spend a little more:
While flat screen TVs are definitely the next wave in television technology, there are some issues that buyers should be aware of.
Flat televisions often have great pictures, and the addition of HDTV means that even a cheap flat screen TV looks far better than a standard model. Yet, the very finest pictures are still seen on upmarket CRT televisions. If you are an extreme videophile, you'll want to shop around carefully.
Some plasma TVs are also vulnerable to "burn-in" over long periods of time, particularly if used for gaming or as PC monitors.
Finally, of course, there's price. Even discount flat screen TVs are still more expensive than old-style CRT models.