50 inch TVYou can trace the trajectory of TVs through garage sales: this seems to be the year people let go of their “fat screens” and bought into the sleek, wall-mounted, 50-inch-and-up range. But let’s face it, these TVs don’t go for peanuts. You may find the occasional cheap 50 inch TV at Costco or Walmart, but what are you giving up in terms of performance? It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize until you’ve shelled out the money.

Instead of going for the cheapest model, try to save by knowing what your needs are—and not paying for more. Much of the retail price of today’s TVs is for features that only a small portion of buyers understand. For instance, bigger isn’t always better. The 46- to 50-inch range looks swanky, but you’ll need a big room or basement to get the most of it. In a medium-sized living room, 42 inches or less should be more than enough.

The same goes for the “thin factor”: thinner isn’t always better. Of course, if you’re short on space it’s nice to have something you can hang on your wall, but any thinner than that is usually just for show. It’s what’s inside that counts, after all—and if anything, a thicker TV better protects the delicate technology inside it.

Terms like “contrast ratio” and “refresh rate” may sound important, but most watchers don’t really notice the difference until it’s pointed out to them. They’re little tweaks in the image, such as deeper blacks and less noticeable blur, that enhance it but don’t make a world of difference unless you’ve got ultra-sensitive eyes.

For the average user, according to experts, the most important features are resolution, size, and the number of HDMI ports (i.e. how many devices you can plug in, such as video game consoles and media centers). Resolution-wise, 1080p should be plenty for a main TV; a secondary or bedroom TV can have 720p. you’ll also want at least three HDMI jacks, because any devices you buy in the future will be plugged into them.

Finally, don’t buy the first HDMI cable they offer you at the store. It’s common knowledge that HDMI cables at retail stores are grossly overpriced—you’ll find retailers charging as much as $150 per 6 feet of a “brand name” cable. Tests have repeatedly shown that if there is any difference between brand-name and generic cables, it’s negligible, and certainly not worth paying three times as much for.

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