LCD TV Buying Guide

Buying a new television can be a surprisingly overwhelming experience. Store shelves are filled with dozens of different models that come in a variety of sizes and with a dizzying array of features. Spec sheets are crammed with data, most of which doesn't actually help you make your choice.

Right now, LCD televisions make up 88% of all TVs sold. These popular televisions have a number of advantages, including that they're available in smaller sizes (under 32") and are often the most affordable choice in any given screen size or feature category. Here's what you need to know about LCD TVs to select the model that's right for you.

LCD basics

There are three types of televisions on the market today: LCDs, LEDs and plasmas. What distinguishes the different types of television is the technology that is used to light the screen. Most LCDs use CCFL lighting, which stands for cold-cathode fluorescent lamp. That single lamp illuminates the whole screen, in areas of brightness and darkness, so darker areas are simply blocking out the light. LED TVs are a subset within LCDs that use LED (light-emitting diodes) backlighting instead of CCFL. That means that instead of having the whole area lit up, the screen is lit in small sections. Dark sections of the screen simply aren't lit, saving power and giving deeper blacks. Plasmas use millions of small cells filled with electrically charged ionized gases: essentially tiny fluorescent lamps.  Each type of television has pros and cons, and often outspoken fans and critics. When you're on the market for a TV that provides good image quality, comes in a variety of sizes, has some good features and offers real value for your money, an LCD television is a great choice.

Where LCD excels

If you want a television with a screen that's under 32", then LCD is going to be your only choice, assuming you aren't going to go for the nearly obsolete CRT (cathode-ray tube) models. Where LCD TVs really excel is in their brightness, which is an important factor in picture quality. They're brighter than plasmas, although the latter are usually sufficiently bright except in the sunniest of situations. Another advantage of LCD models is that they have plastic screens that can come in a matte finish, which means they're much less vulnerable to glare and reflection from ambient lighting. LCD TVs tend to use much less power than the equivalent sizes of plasma TVs, which helps save money on your energy bill and lightens your environmental footprint. LCD brands tend to come in the widest range of feature levels, from basic TVs that are easy on the wallet to models that include a variety of additional options.

Where LCD falls short

The biggest potential drawback of LCD TVs is the flip side of the coin from their brightness. It is achieved through backlighting, but that also means that there's always going to be some amount of light leaking through the pixels. LCDs don't achieve the sharpest contrast and color saturation on the market; but this realistically matters only if you're very focused on this aspect of the viewing experience.  Another critique of LCDs is viewing angle. If you are watching the television from the side, there may be some image distortion. This varies widely from model to model, so be sure to read reviews and look closely at specific brands to get the latest info on this issue. Some viewers complain that LCD models have trouble keeping up with images that have a lot of fast motion, which is related to the set's refresh rate and response time. This is continually being improved, however, and most watchers won't notice any of the slight blurring that might occur in today's cutting-edge models.

Extra Features

Many of today's LCD televisions come with additional features that go beyond the basics of watching television. One feature that's showing up in more models is 3D compatibility. When paired up with a 3D source device like a Blu-ray player or internet box and appropriate 3D content, you can experience a theater-like 3D effect in your home. Another popular feature is the ability to connect to the internet, usually through a smart device, gaming console or Blu-ray player. TVs with internet compatibility allow you to stream content from services such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu directly to your television.

LCD televisions are a great choice if you need a television smaller than 32" ? and they're often the most affordable sets on the market today in any screen size. If you're ready to purchase a new LCD TV, Sears offers a range of brands, screen sizes, and price points to help you find the perfect set.

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