We're giving away $1,000 in March!
Click to enter for your chance to win.

Can You Pick a TV in 20 Minutes or Less?

By Aaron Crowe, dealnews writer

For something that has an average lifespan of 17 years and takes up a large chunk of a living room — and that you stare at a few hours each day — it's surprising that many TV-buying decisions are made at the spur of the moment after just a little bit of browsing.

There's more to buying a TV — or at least a good TV — than buying a sweater or a pair of jeans. But that's exactly how shoppers are treating the decision. They see markdowns on prices and they simply pick one they want to take home after a little deliberation. This goes for buying online and buying in stores. The only difference is that they may, more often than not, ask for some help when they are in stores — just not much help. TV shoppers typically give a salesman just 20 minutes to make a pitch, according to Robert Cole, owner of World Wide Stereo, which has sold TVs since 1979. He says what's really needed is an hour.

If you're determined to cut it short, you need to arm yourself with these simple strategies so you can make the most of your short shopping time, and this especially goes for buying a TV online, sight-unseen. If you really want to make an informed decision, you're going to have to do a little in-person window shopping, even if you end up standing on the showroom floor of a store, and ordering one on sale after getting an alert on a price drop from the dealnews iphone app.

  • Throw Out the Viewing Ratio Theory:
    "It's really difficult for a TV to be too big," Cole says. But that said, you don't really want a TV in your living room that's going to overpower everything else, and that will make you want to cover it with expensive furniture. There used to be a formula that said to measure 1.5 times the height of the TV set to see how many feet back you want your couch to be for the "sweet spot" of viewing. But now with HDTVs, Cole says, that idea is out the window and people should buy the biggest TV they can without it looking ugly.
  • Do Your Homework:
    To figure out what will look nice on your wall, Cole recommends cutting out a piece of cardboard as big as the TV you want, and hang it up to get an idea of how the TV will look. If you're stuck in the old mindset that you need smaller TVs in rooms other than the living room, think again. Coles says that the days of the 22-inch bedroom TV are long gone and not most people are opting for 50" sets for secondary rooms.
  • Tune Out:
    With so many televisions next to each other in a typical showroom, it's difficult to envision what it will look like at home. "Turn the picture off and look at the machine itself," Coles suggests. "And think, Is this what I want hanging on my wall?"
  • Bring on the Decor:
    Shoppers should also keep in mind aesthetics that are unique to some manufacturers. For example, Samsung is known for slimmer televisions that are designer friendly, while Panasonic has thicker TVs than most, but better pictures displays.
  • Pick Your Showroom Carefully:
    You want to go to a store where you can see how a TV looks in a living room setting, and not just in a row of other TVs on a wall.
  • Consider the Ceiling:
    You want to pick a store that doesn't have glaring, awful lights. Since most people don't have fluorescent lights at home, shopping for a TV in a store that has them won't give you a fair idea of what you'll see at home. Different wall colors also affect the in-store view, as does having many TVs reflecting off the screen you're looking at.
  • Gets Hands-On:
    Many stores set their TVs on "dynamic mode" with the color settings on high, creating a bright picture that will be overpowering at home, Cole says. Best Buy has one stream of video for all of its TVs, which may look better on some but not others. "You should see the TV in the real world somehow," he cautions. So don't be afraid to take control of the remote and play with the settings.
  • Get Your Game On:
    Another thing to keep in mind is what you'll be watching on the TV: Sports and movies look great on an HDTV, but not all discs are created equal. You should check out how regular DVDs look as well as Blu-rays. Watching concerts will require a good sound system. If you have kids, you should also consider what Internet-enabled features come with the TV and how to exert parental controls on them.
  • Think About It:
    By the time you're ready to actually plunk down several hundred dollars, you should know a lot more about what you want from a new TV than simply how it looks in the store. You're making an investment that should last 15 years or more and will likely be a centerpiece of your living space, not hidden in a dusty basement.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has worked as a reporter and an editor for newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter — @AaronCrowe.

Photo Credit: Zappowbang via Flickr.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
You might also like
Leave a comment!

or Register
So nothing about contrast ratios or response times? Number & type of inputs? I think tech specs are wildly important in making this buying decision. These decorator puff pieces need to be gone from dealnews!
Wow, clearly from the poll results, the typical dealnews reader is far different from the typical in store purchaser. Interesting. Kinda makes this whole article feel out of place.
I really expected something more than how to pick a tv that looks pretty in a room. :(
Why did my comment not post?
Thanks for correcting your confusing statement about some DVD's being HD and some not. BluRay vs. DVD makes much more sense.
"Samsung is known for slimmer televisions that are designer friendly, while Panasonic has thicker TVs than most, but better pictures displays" Are you trying to compare Samsung vs. Panasonic or LED-backlit LCDs vs. plasma?
There is very little I dislike about Dealnews.
But these "10 things you need to know about chewing your food" articles are simply horrible.
There isn't much to salvage from this article.

How about renaming it, "Don't buy your TV in 20 Minutes!" and then give the reader some decent advice?

Actually seeing the TV in the store for example has little value in making the decision. You need to know what you are buying, or if you have a friend that knows and can point you in the right direction. However, most people do not want good advice, they would rather just listen to the Best Buy guy and take the chance. Oh well.

Here is my advice for any TV noobs. Lurk for a while on http://www.avsforum.com. When you get a little closer to your decision, create an account and ask your remaining questions to the display forums (search first!).
I find it tough to believe that they way technology is turning over that even if you buy the best most advanced TV right now that you will have it fifteen years from now. It is not like the old days of tube tvs where some tube tvs that were ten or twelve years old had about the same picture quality of the new tvs. We cannot even fathom where we will be in terms of technology in five years let alone fifteen.
It's hard to take this article seriously when the argument is to ignore the viewing ratio theory. If you buy a HDTV that is too large, you will start to see pixels as the resolution is fixed regardless of the screen dimensions. There are quite a few articles that discuss the appropriate size and seating distances for HDTV's.