Impress your friends with this TV buying guide - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Impress your friends and enrage your spouse with this Super Bowl TV buying guide

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By Caleb Denison
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As Feb. 2, 2014 approaches, electronics stores across the US are wringing their collective hands in anticipation of your arrival. They know that if sports fans didn't pull the trigger on a new TV during the holiday season, there's a good chance they will during in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. But just because they know you're coming doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to haggle until you're blue in the face to get a good deal. Late January can be a great time to buy a new TV, and most sales associates will be only too happy to help you get one. Actually, the greatest foe you face when it comes to making sure you walk away with a TV you'll love for years to come, is your own impatience. 

We get it. You want a TV as big and bad-ass as the sporting event it commemorates. But while size does matter, it isn't everything. A huge TV makes a big impression on the short term, but eventually the honeymoon is going to end, and that's when you'll start to take notice of the little things that didn't leap right out at you before. Sadly, if the TV you buy isn't of high enough quality to suit your long-term needs, you could end up getting stuck with something you can't get rid of without some considerable hassle and expense. Not to worry, though. We're here to help. 

It's actually a good time to buy a TV

From a pricing perspective, the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl are a good time to pick up a TV. The models for the new year won't be available for a few months, and prior year models have been out long enough that they've long ago shed their introductory prices for something a lot more manageable. Retailers know the new models are coming, though, and they'll need space for them when they arrive. Now is the time for discounted prices and great deals, so go get ‘em! But before you rush out the door, have a read through our list of TV shopping tips to help make sure you come back home with something you'll enjoy watching for years to come.

Do your research ahead of time

The last thing you want to do is pull out your mobile phone while standing in front of a row of TVs in a desperate attempt to validate your purchase plan. For one thing, it shows weakness – you look like you're in over your head, even if you really aren't – and that can attract unscrupulous sales agents to you like wolves to a wounded lamb. Don't get us wrong here, a mobile phone can be a real lifesaver in a pinch situation, and if you need it, use it. Maybe just take a trip to the vacuum cleaner section to do your homework.

But, even if you are shopping at some consumer electronics retail utopia where the salesmen hunt online for a price they can match to get you the best deal, and steer you away from the extended warranty, you should still educate yourself ahead of time. You'll want to walk in to any retailer with a short list of televisions to compare so you don't spend all day at one store. You never know, you might need to go to more than one place to get what you want.  If you're reading this right now, you're already well into your research duties. Congratulations. When you finish up here, you'll want to start comparing televisions and read some reviews. We're about to help you with the research part, but before you go there, let's discuss what you need to be researching. 

Sort out your priorities and know your limits

It is in our nature to want the biggest TV we can get, but too often, we don't take a moment to digest what that means. There is such a thing as too big, and, for those working on a budget, giving a little on size will open up some leeway for more features or a higher-quality panel. Set a budget, take a second to read our guide on how to pick the right size TV, then reconcile the two. 

Speaking of features: Take a moment to figure out which ones you need in a television and jot them down in one column. Then, figure out what it is you simply want for the sake of cool-factor, and put those in another column. Seek to find a TV that covers as much as possible in column A. (the must-haves)  before getting too caught up in column B. (the want-t0-haves). For instance, if you've got a cable/satellite box, game console, Blu-ray player and a set-top box like a Roku or Apple TV, you're going to want to prioritize getting a set with four HDMI inputs over one that has just three, but comes with voice control. Unfortunately, you don't always get to pick and choose from a menu of different features, which brings us to our next important point …

Accept the fact that high-performance TVs will come with features you probably don't want

It has been said that you get what you pay for, and we tend to agree with the spirit of that statement. Before you hit the point of diminishing returns, you generally get better performance as you move up the price spectrum for a given product. TVs are a little different in that, to get the picture quality you want, you often have to accept a bunch of other features you don't really want to pay for, and there's nothing you can do about it. Let's say you want a LED/LCD TV that has really even backlighting and great black levels for a picture that really pops. To get it, you'll need to look at the top-tier televisions from trusted manufacturers. In doing so, be prepared to buy into 3D, Smart TV, voice recognition and gesture control. You may not want all those bells and whistles, but manufacturers include them in all of their high-performance sets. That's just the way it is. We've looked, and we have yet to find a 2D, dumb TV with no cameras or microphones on board that has the kind of premium picture quality we seek in a top-tier television. The manufacturers have decided that if you want premium picture quality, you want premium everything. Right or wrong, that's how it is. 

Plasma TVs are better for fast-moving sports, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should get one

By nature of the way they work, plasma televisions are superior for fast-moving images of any kind; especially sports. They also have better black levels, contrast and color accuracy than LED/LCD TVs. And – you're gonna love this – they are less expensive on average than LED-LCD TVs. Given those facts, why wouldn't you buy a plasma?

First, Plasma TVs can't get as ultra-bright as LED/LCD sets. If your TV is going to bathe in direct sunlight for a good portion of the day, a plasma might not be the way to go. Also, LED/LCD TVs are thinner and lighter than plasmas, and you might have your heart set on a razor-thin TV. You can find out more about LED/LCD vs. plasma here. Also, side note: LED televisions are LCD televisions. They just have an LED backlight instead of a compact fluorescent bulb. 

Rule 5: Beware of misleading refresh rate numbers. 

Manufacturers love using refresh rate numbers to make unwitting consumers think a TV is better than it is. And since all of them love doing it, the issue has escalated. Geoff Morrison does a great explaining what refresh rate numbers actually mean here, but here's the CliffsNotes version you need to keep out of trouble: Look for the TV's native refresh rate at a trusted review site (not on the box) and never trust a number over 240Hz … unless it is a plasma. Plasma TVs get a pass because it doesn't really matter what number they stick on the box – plasma is always better for clear fast-motion pictures. But with LED/LCD TV's, what you need is at least a 120Hz native TV. The difference between 60Hz and 120Hz is obvious, the difference between 120Hz and 240Hz is marginal. Anything else is a bunch of smoke and mirrors and usually ends up making everything look like a soap opera. 

Read professional reviews first, then turn to user reviews to avoid lemons

In order to rank one television better than another, you have to have had experience with a wide array of them. As professional reviewers, we get that opportunity. We can tell you whether brand A's smart TV interface is faster or slower or more intuitive than brand B's, C's or D's because we've played around with all of them for extended periods of time. That rings true for all performance-related aspects of a TV. What we can't tell you, however, is how that TV and its remote are going to be holding up in six months or so – we just don't get to keep them that long. That's where user reviews at popular online retail sites can come in useful.

If you find multiple reviewers on multiple websites complaining that a TV broke on them just outside the store's return period, or that the TV developed a weird contrast issue a few months after purchase, then it's probably a sign that you don't want to take a risk on that TV. With that said, remember the notion of the vocal minority. You're a lot more likely to speak up if you're pissed off about something than if you are pleased as punch. So if you see a handful of user reviews saying something "sucks" without really qualifying it, don't give it a ton weight in your consideration. Refer back to the professional reviews and see if they address the concern.

Don't be intimidated by the sales person

If you feel the need to see the TV before you buy it, then you'll wind up in a retail location with sales agents on the floor instead of online. Depending on where you go, these agents will range from useless to annoying to genuinely knowledgeable and helpful. Remember this: They are supposed to be there to serve you in the way you need to be served. If it seems as if they are trying to lead you down a road that serves their interests more than your own, that's probably exactly what they're doing.A great salesperson will listen first, ask clarifying questions later and then make suggestions in an effort to help you get what you need/want, and nothing more. Expect the extended warranty conversation to come up and be prepared to handle it. Decide now, not when you're standing there. Our position: Unless you think you might break the TV yourself, don't bother with the warranty. These sets are designed to last beyond the supplemental warranty period and if they are going to fail, they will probably do so within the store's return/exchange period at best and during the manufacturer's warranty at worst. 

Or you can buy online, have the TV arrive at your doorstep and speak only to the delivery driver as they walk away from your residence. It's your call.

Hire an installer with electrician credentials for new installations

When big box retailers market their "nerd herd" TV installation service, they give you the impression that the installers coming to your home are going to perform a complete installation and leave you with a gorgeous TV hanging on the wall, with no visible wires or cables cluttering up your space. While it's true they will leave the TV on the wall, and might even get it connected to your components, they aren't going to be able to do anything about installing a power outlet behind the TV, or running cables through the wall to wherever your source components might be. These installers usually aren't certified low-voltage electricians, but even if you were to luck out and get one on the install team, they aren't allowed to perform that kind of work. 

Contract your own installer, who will be able to take care of the electrical and in-wall work in addition to the TV mounting and basic connections. You'll end up with the look you wanted, and your new rig will be that much more impressive during the big game. 

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends


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