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What features might I want (or not want) on my TV?

There are some things to consider when buying a TV. Features can be very important. Here's what to look for:

First, look at the picture. Are there any that definitely do not look good? Are there any that look better than the others? Use this method to narrow down the number to a select few. Turn up the sound on each of those few one by one. Are there any that sound particularly bad or good? If you plan to hook your TV up to a home theater system, this is probably not an issue. If you don't, make sure you are buying a unit that you can live with.

Check out the features on your choices. Are there any you need? Are there any you don't need? Are there any that sound really cool, but on afterthought you'll probably never use? Remember, if you aren't going to use a feature, don't waste money on it. One tip: if you get a picture-in-picture feature, make sure the television has two tuners or you will have to use your VCR as the second video source. Of course, if you have satellite or digital cable service, you probably won't be using the TV tuners unless you have a second tuner box.

Some handy features include: automatic volume control, which evens out sudden peaks and dips in volume levels; closed captioning that turns on when the TV is muted; audio and video inputs to hook up a VCR, DVD player or a digital cable or satellite tuner; and station naming so you can keep track of all those cable channels.

Depending on the brand, some manufacturers will calculate the part of the screen hidden by the black mask that runs around the edge of the screen. The intent of this mask is to make the picture tube look darker. Unfortunately, the masks on some televisions actually block information placed at the edge of the screen. The best way to tell which ones show the most information is to turn the same football game (or another sport of your choice) in each television you are interested in (if the sales staff will let you). Look for the little score box that sits in one corner on each of the screens. Note how close it is to the edge of the screen and if it is being cut off. If a television displays it very close or cuts it off, don't buy that model. It will cut other images off that sit even closer to the edge of the screen.

If you can view a demo of a satellite or digital cable television system in the television you are interested in, view the program guide on the screen. Do the characters appear skewed, slanted, or warped toward the edge of the screen (the corners, in particular)? Do they look fuzzy toward the edges or corners? Are they readable at a normal viewing distance? If you are looking at a rear projection model, move to on side until you can no longer read the characters. Can they be read at a wide viewing angle, or do you almost have to be directly in front of the screen? Most good, modern rear projection sets will allow a viewing angle that almost compares to a tube set.

Some manufacturers offer tube televisions with flat, or nearly flat, screens. These televisions are often more expensive that comparable curved screen TV's. If you plan to place the unit in a room with a lot of ambient light from lamps or windows, a flat screen can help prevent some reflections. However, checking for screen distortion is more important with these models. In order to be flat, a television screen must be thicker than a curved screen to hold up to the extra stress from the vacuum tube behind it. If it weren’t thicker, there would be a risk of the screen imploding. Also, flat screen televisions scan video differently than curved screen televisions. The best ones compensate better for the increased angle at which the scanning beam hits the screen pixels.

Look for a comb filter, which helps improve picture quality. Better units will have digital comb filters that are more accurate. Also, look for some kind of grill mask that will darken the glass to make the picture easier to see in bright light. Earlier televisions with this feature did not have powerful enough amplifiers to compensate for the darker glass and tended to operate at higher video levels than they were designed to run at. Newer televisions take this feature into account so this is usually not a problem.

If you are buying a widescreen TV and don't like black bars on the sides of standard definition video, look for a unit that offers a variety of zoom and stretch modes to allow you to find a mode that best fits your needs. In addition, if the TV offers Picture-in-Picture, look for one that can place the images side by side on the screen instead of just a small box inside a large image.

If you plan to use a surround sound receiver and external speakes for audio, don't worry about the quality of the speakers (in fact some flat panel displays don't have any). However, if you plan to use the TV speakers, pick a model that sounds good to your ears.

Finally, if you have a VCR or a cable box, make sure the television has a universal remote so you can use it to control all your devices.

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