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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?