View TVs critically in the store
TVs are usually set to Vivid or Dynamic mode, which pumps up brightness and color to a level that looks great under fluorescent lights but unnatural in a typical home. In addition, stores often display sports programs, which tend to have super-bright lighting and vivid colors that minimize any flaws in the picture. Ideally, you could ask a salesperson to reset a TV to Normal or Standard mode, but most retailers won't allow this. See if they'll tune in programming with typical indoor scenes (including people, if possible, so you can evaluate skin tones). With an LCD, look at the set from the side, not just head on, to judge the viewing angle. If possible, vary your vertical position too so that you can judge how it looks when you are sitting and standing. With most LCDs, you'll notice that the picture quality deteriorates as you move away from the center, but we've found considerable variation among brands and models, so check carefully. Our TV tests are based on settings that you would use at home, with content that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of a given set, so that you can use our Ratings to get an accurate assessment of picture quality.
Don't buy expensive cables
"Prestige" brands offer very-high-priced cables. You'll see some HDMI cables in the 6-foot-range (a typical length) selling for $100 or more, and longer cables that cost several times that. We've found that modestly-priced brands sold at most consumer electronics stores for half that price or less should be fine for typical use. Avoid inexpensive cables at dollar stores; those might have flimsy connectors or inadequate shielding on the cable itself.
You might be able to talk your way to a better price, especially for higher-priced TVs. See what a TV is selling for at reputable online retailers and in local stores, and use that information in negotiating a price. Once you've chosen a set, ask for a break on installation or delivery costs, or for free HDMI or component-video cables, which you'll need to get high-def signals to your new TV from cable or satellite.
Shop where you'll get a price guarantee
Many retailers will match or beat a lower price from a local competitor, so go to the store with those prices in hand. Even after the sale, some stores promise a refund within a specified period of time, often 30 to 60 days, if they reduce the price of your TV within or if you find the set selling elsewhere for less. There are usually restrictions, so check the details. Save your receipt and keep checking the ads even after you buy.
Skip the extended warranty
It's generally not worth the money to buy an extended warranty for an LCD or plasma TV. Our survey data from thousands of TV buyers show that sets of both types from most major brands have had a very low rate of repairs for the first three years of use, and most repairs cost less than $200. A warranty often costs just as much if not more than that. Use a credit card that doubles your warranty, or shop at a retailer like Costco, which adds one year to the standard coverage. Detailed repair rates by brand are available to subscribers.
Use shopping bots
Many Internet shopping sites are one-stop shops where you can check prices for specific TVs at hundreds of retailers. You can sort the listings by price, including tax and shipping, and check reader reviews of products and retailers. Some sites to consider: BizRate (and its affiliate, Shopzilla), Google Shopping, MySimon, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com (and affiliate DealTime), and Yahoo. You'll also find a price comparison and local shopping link in the Ratings at ConsumerReports.org. Remember to factor in shipping costs-which can be substantial on a big-screen TV-or a free-shipping offer into your price comparison.
Set price alerts
Some bots will send price alerts by e-mail. Indicate your target price or range for a model, and the site will e-mail you when it finds a store selling at that price. Retailers such as Crutchfield.com will send alerts too. If you're not in a hurry, and won't be disappointed if that particular model sells out, just sit back and wait for your price.
You might want to consider having the biggest-screen sets delivered. The cartons are too large to fit in many vehicles, and they can be awkward to carry. Delivery services will often remove the TV from the packaging and place it on a stand for you.
Think about setup
Though you might be able to handle a basic hookup of a cable box and a DVD player on your own, connecting more devices-a DVR, DVD recorder, VCR, and digital receiver and sound system-gets trickier, so you might consider professional installation. Installation might also cover programming a learning remote so that all your gear can be controlled by a single remote control.
Don't forget the wires
Though ads often show no cables or wires connected to a TV, they are a factor in installation. You can tuck wires behind the TV if you place it on a stand. With wall mounting, you can run the wires behind the wall or through conduits, a task that might be best handled by a professional (wires that run in walls and ceilings require a different UL rating). Ask the retailer to recommend an installer or contact the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (800-669-5329 or www.cedia.net) to find one in your area. Plan on paying from $300 to $1,000 for labor, plus $100 to $250 for mounting brackets.
Make sure you have everything you need to get HD
When you plug in your new HDTV, everything won't magically turn into high definition. If this is your first HD set, make sure you have everything required to watch HD. A surprising number of HDTV owners, about half by some estimates, are not getting HD programming because they're missing something.
Fine-tune the picture