All About Plasma Televisions: A Buyer's Guide

Part Two: Points to Consider

What do you need to consider before you buy your plasma or flat screen TV?

Determine the right screen size based on the floor plan of your home-entertainment room. Plasma monitors are measured diagonally across the screen, just like any other television set. You can typically choose from the following sizes: 32", 40", 42", 46", 50", 61", or 63". Bigger is not always better, especially when you're buying a plasma display to serve as the focal point of a home entertainment center. To get the most out of your investment, remember what your mother always said about sitting too close to the TV-that it's no good for your eyes. For the optimal viewing experience, you need to maintain the right distance between your viewing area and your television screen.

The right distance depends on the size of your TV:

  • For 32 to 37-inch TVs, you should sit back 6 to 10 feet from the screen itself.
  • For 42 to 46-inch TVs, you'll need 10 to 14 feet between you and the screen.
  • 50-inch plasma displays look best when viewed from 12 to 16 feet away.
  • You'll need at least 15 feet of space between you and a plasma screen that's larger than 60 inches.

In determining the appropriate size TV for you, you should also consider the space required to install the unit itself. When recessing a plasma display unit, allow at least 3 inches of open space at the top of the unit and adequate ventilation space-at least 2 inches-behind it as well. Remember, too, that most plasma displays do not have built-in speakers, so you'll need to allow space enough to attach speakers (if you're not using a separate surround-sound setup) on each side of the TV. These speakers usually measure between 3 and 6 inches apiece.

Know your audio options. At this time, Philips and Sony are the only manufacturers that incorporate speakers into the frame structure of plasma televisions. Other manufacturers offer optional speakers that can be attached to the side of the display unit. Of course, you might also choose to use your own bookshelf or satellite speakers, in which case they'll need to be hooked up to an external amplifier/receiver component.

Decide if you really want an HDTV and whether it's worth paying extra to have one. What?! Plasma TVs aren't all hi-def? The answer depends on what you consider "hi-def." All plasma screens are considered HDTV compatible or HDTV ready insofar as they will display high definition signals. High-definition televisions (HDTVs) are always more expensive than enhanced-definition sets (EDTVs). Whether a high-resolution monitor actually offers a better picture than an EDTV depends-on the quality of the signal input and on the manufacturer make. It also depends on what you're using the monitor for. If you're watching regular cable or DVDs, for example, EDTVs may produce a better picture simply because they more readily display lower-end video signals. If, on the other hand, you're one of the 55+ million households sitting astride cable systems that can carry HDTV, you might opt for the slightly better (10-15%) picture you could get from a higher resolution unit displaying HDTV broadcasts.

Aside from the minor increase in quality one might expect when watching hi-def broadcasts on an HDTV, the real reason (some) people pay more for a high-definition plasma display is because higher resolution allows for markedly better displays of XGA signals from your computer. This is especially true of static images and numerals like those you would find on an Excel spreadsheet. So, if you intend for your plasma display to do double duty as a TV and as a monitor, you might spend a bit extra for a bit better resolution.

  • Tip: To learn more about the availability of HDTV broadcasts in your area, or for a lineup of programs shown in hi-def, consult the Consumer Electronic Association's website.

Determine how you're going to install your plasma TV. Plasma technology affords consumers new options when it comes to the physical placement of their TV displays. Gone are the days when you had to configure a room around the television set. Now, you can incorporate the TV into almost any décor, if you give a little thought to the matter beforehand. There are half a dozen ways to install your new plasma TV, which virtually ensures that you'll find the right way to fit one in your home:

  • You can mount your plasma display on almost any wall in your home. Flat Wall Mounts allow you to maximize the space-saving benefits of plasma technology. This option is generally the least expensive, and it adds just under two inches to the monitor's total depth.
  • Tilt Wall Mounts enable you to place your TV above eye level, keeping it out of the way though readily viewable from anywhere in the room. This mounting option is typically used to install plasma displays above fireplaces and in bedrooms. The tilt wall mount adds from 4 to 6 inches to the depth of the mounted display.
  • Table Stands are another popular way to display plasma units. Realize, though, that these units are not one-size-fits-all appliances. Each plasma display has its own custom-fitted table stand. Sometimes one is included with the monitor itself; other times, you have to purchase the stand separately.
  • Plasma TV Carts are typically used for business applications, but the benefits of a mobile display unit are in no way limited to the boardroom.
  • Articulating Wall Mounts make use of swivel arms to render the plasma unit flush with the wall-and out of the way-when not in use. Pulled out, this mounting device allows you to turn the display 120° to either side and as much as 10° up or down.
  • Ceiling Mounts enable you to mount your TV where you want it-in the event that a wall isn't handy. This option is generally coupled with a tilt mount, so that the display can be adjusted downward for easier viewing. Lengths of ceiling mount poles vary according to customer needs, though the standard lengths are from 24 to 43 inches.