How I Chose a New TV

Aside from occasionally becoming obsessed and bingeing on entire seasons of a TV show, I wouldn’t say that I watch a lot of TV. I’ve never had a cable subscription as an adult — or even seriously considered buying one — and didn’t even own a TV until the Apple TV 2 came out. I think I mostly bought one the 32″ Panasonic (for about $400-500 in 2010) that I bought at that time so I’d have something to hook the Apple TV up to. The living room in my old apartment was a bit smaller, so at the time 32″ was fine. In my new place though it was small enough to be hard to find a position for it where it wasn’t hard to read, so I recently upgraded to a 50″ Samsung Plasma (which seems huge).

Requirements

I knew what size I wanted, and that I wanted it to look good. Since I didn’t really want to spend more than about $500 though, I needed to prioritize what was important to me. To get the size and quality I wanted, I came up with a few guidelines:

No apps or similar bullshit

I wanted the closest thing to a dumb screen I could get. It’s going to be hooked up to an Apple TV all the time, so there’s no value there for me.

Plasma

Plasma is supposed to have better picture quality for the money. The only serious issue I could hear about people ever having with was screen burn in, and everything I found said that it’s not an issue with newer models.

720p

I’ve never owned a 1080p TV, but everything I read said that you have to sit really close to a 50″ TV to tell any difference between 720 and 1080. Since I knew I wouldn’t be, there didn’t seem to be a value for me.

What I Chose

The model I landed on which fit was the Samsung PN51F4500, which The Wirecutter also picked as their choice for a $500 TV a few weeks after I bought mine. The speakers aren’t great, but it hasn’t really bothered me. I figured that if I really wanted good sound I’d have to buy speakers eventually no-matter how much I spent on the TV. The 5.1 sound bar system that Vizio makes looks pretty sweet and isn’t too expensive if it really starts to bother me.

The TV definitely looked better than my old one as soon as I hooked it up, but I knew the out of box settings are not what you’re supposed to use at home and that I should change something. The problem was that I had no idea what to change. Last week I heard about the THX app for calibrating your TV from John Siracusa on the Accidental Tech Podcast and bought it. It took about ten minutes to go through all of their calibration steps, and the difference was immediately obvious. If you’ve never calibrated your TV, you should get the app and use it. I also turned off every setting I could find that sounded suspicious like automatic brightness and some things that had to do with audio delay.

I don’t know if my specific case is useful to anyone else, but I’m happy with my choice, so maybe the little bit of research I did can save someone some time.