Should you buy LCD or plasma, and what are the technologies and features you should be looking out for when buying a HDTV?
By Billy Teo, freelance writer
AT THE IT show, a small budget of $800 is enough to buy you a high-definition TV (HDTV) large enough for the living room.
It might even be a 42-inch full HD screen (resolution 1,920 by 1,080 pixels) perfect for watching Blu-ray movies and more than good enough for HD programmes from StarHub Cable TV or SingTel mio TV.
In general, though, hardcore movie buffs will spare no expense at getting the largest HDTV possible to deliver sharp images with strong contrast and dynamic colours and which can show action scenes without any blurring.
As with any other tech purchases, the basic premise is that you pay more for better features:
A larger screen, advanced capabilities such as Wi-Fi and Internet connectivity, three or more HDMI ports to connect to more devices and USB ports to plug in a flash memory drive or portable hard drive for viewing of photos and video clips.
The newer the technology, the more you pay. So it will cost more for such things as light emitting diodes (LED) that generate the light for the LCD panels of LED TVs.
Newbies, take note that there are three main types of flat-panel screens - plasma, LCD TV and LED TV - on the market. Each has its pros and cons.
Plasma TVs are generally reputed to have the best reproduction of black, with better contrast and colours on the whole.
But they have a higher risk of screen burn-in. LCD TVs consume less energy than plasma TVs and can display images better in a room with bright lighting.
The newer LED TVs, which are more expensive, are actually based on LCD panels illuminated by LED lights, either at the back or the sides of the HDTV.
Conventional LCD TVs are illuminated by cold cathode fluorescent lamps.
Back-lit LED TVs offer better colours than LCD TVs, including black levels that are comparable with plasma screens.
Edge-lit LED TVs, on the other hand, consume less power than all other types of HDTVs and are so thin they can be hung on walls like a painting.
Do not drown in the detail.
Just remember that no single HDTV display technology is overwhelmingly superior to the others.
For most people, budget is still the deciding factor.
Here is a rough guide: A 42-inch LCD TV can cost as little as $800 compared with a 50-inch plasma TV for $1,500.
Buyers with deeper pockets might be drawn to slim LED TVs, which can cost $4,000 and up for a 40-inch model.
Whatever you pick, rely on your eyes to look at the models before you hand over the cash. That is, avoid basing your purchase on the brochure specifications alone.
Ultimately, the numbers that define the specifications, such as dynamic contrast ratio, billions of colours or refresh rate are not that important.
What is most crucial is how you personally like or dislike the way your favourite movies or console games appear on these screens.
Surf as you watch
3-D HDTVs may be coming soon, although Internet-enabled ones are already here.
You may want to consider paying a premium - say, $4,000 and up - for HDTVs that offer built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to access the Internet sans computer.
These HDTVs are preloaded with widgets - tiny applications that allow you to watch YouTube videos, get weather forecasts or stock market updates from the comfort of your couch. Future content updates could bring more services directly to the HDTVs.