How to buy the perfect flatscreen TV

EWAN SARGENT
Last updated 13:28 16/10/2012

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Ewan Sargent has found out how to buy the perfect flatscreen TV for under $800 and the secret to the ultimate 3-D experience.

One, two, three . . . my wife and I heaved the massive 29-inch Sony Trinitron into the air at the Wigram transfer station.

The rubbish drop-off was just that: a pit 1.5m below. The television sailed out and down then face-planted itself into the pit's concrete floor.

BOOM. It exploded so loudly and shockingly everyone at the complex stopped and stared. Smoke spiralled up from the back plastic grille. We drove briskly away as annoyed-looking men in fluoro vests started moving towards our drop zone.

Poor old TV. We bought it before our 13-year-old daughter was born and once it was just about the finest thing we owned. It was our first TV after wearing out old ones handed down from parents.

We'd ignored the digital revolution and stuck by it through Baby Mozart, four Olympics, home movies and school production DVDs, four Rugby World Cups, earthquakes and eight Harry Potter DVDs.

But it was getting cranky and took ages to warm up. The tuner struggled to find a scattering of free channels and sometimes it showed everything in strange colours. Then one day a sparky "crack" from deep inside followed by a blank screen told us it had died.

After the horrors of the transfer station our backup five-year-old $100 Dick Smith 14-inch CRT with broken rabbit ears stepped up.

It perched lost and tiny in the rimu entertainment unit while we dragged couches and chairs into a tight circle around it. But something was missing - like the rugby ball and players, for example, in the NZ v South Africa game I tried to watch.

A new TV was needed. Back in the Trinitron's day, you bought one by choosing a brand and a screen size. Job done.

Now you need to a diploma course in TV-ese because the TV makers are in some escalating war of copyrighted technology features that are the greatest thing absolutely ever . . . until next month when a better, smaller, faster, shinier version makes last month's look sad and clunky, and, by definition, its deflated owner.

But there is a way.

Treat it like a night class and swot up what things such as passive 3-D, active 3-D, smart, LCD, LED edge lighting, LED direct-lit lighting, LED full array lighting, plasma, projection, HDMI and UHF mean.

Then when you walk into a store and glance at a TV screen and the on-commission mosquitoes fly at you, you might hold your own and not get flummoxed by TV-speak.

Most importantly, turn up at the store knowing what you want the TV to do. The trick here is what you want it to do and not what the TV industry wants you to want it to do.

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As an example, for a couple of days of panicked madness I thought I wanted a smart TV, but thank goodness it passed.

Smart TVs let you run your internet on the big screen. Sort of. Actually they do everything much worse than the PC, except showing the result bigger. They also add hundreds of dollars to the price. We decided we just wanted a TV to watch TV and DVDs/Blu-ray. If we really wanted to see a YouTube clip on a big screen, then we'd run an HDMI cable from the laptop for that precious moment.

For us, it simply came down to wanting a good, cheap 40-inch screen.

We ruled out plasma because of reflection problems in our lounge, even though they are wonderfully cheap and the image is very good.

That left LCD and the improved LED-lit versions. I decided that screen refresh rates were important to picture quality, even though I've read that the jury is still out on that.

So while there were lots of cheap LCD TVs with the standard 50hz screens that had been tweaked by manufacturers and sometimes given confusingly higher ratings, I wanted a true 100hz screen for the best chance of seeing things like rugby balls and players.

Among the brands, Sony seemed to have the best natural colour, Panasonic the best plasma, Samsung had a colour that "popped" more, LG the best 3-D, but ultimately it didn't seem to matter too much.

And the ultimate 3-D experience?

Take the dog for a walk after tea and look around. The depth of field is fantastic, the colours are rich and natural, there is 3-D surround sound, touch- technology and smell-technology with sun backlighting and it features a proven automatic dimmer technology called "dusk".

It doesn't get obsolete and skipping the gimmicky 3-D saves a couple of hundred dollars.

In the end, we got a 2012 Samsung with a 40-inch, LED-direct lit, full HD, 100hz screen for $797 - which is amazing given the old Trinitron cost $1000 in the 1990s.

It's quite stunning compared with the Dick Smith 14-inch, especially now we are getting the digital channels with the in-built Freeview tuner.

A new era of TV watching has emerged in our house and I don't care that one salesman who didn't stock our particular model sniffed that it had already been "discontinued". Our $800 rimu entertainment unit ($1 reserve, must pick up) has joined all the many others on Trade Me because the TV hole is too small.

I look at that skinny screen and wonder whether it will explode with rage when the day comes for it to land face down in the concrete pit. Sadly, I don't think it will be 13 years before we find out.

- The Press

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