Step 1: Selecting the Components

There are two things to pay attention to when buying a television: shape and size. To watch movies in their original widescreen format, you'll need a TV with a rectangularly shaped 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the traditional, squarish 4:3. Sizewise, go for the largest screen you can afford; 27 inches is probably the bare minimum. For optimal viewing, the distance between the viewer and the screen should equal about three times the screen size. So a 40-inch TV is best viewed from a distance of 10 feet (120 inches). Figure out where the television and seating will be located and calculate screen size accordingly. And remember: Whatever TV you choose, measure it to make sure it will fit through the door.

Cathode-ray tube. Surprisingly, old-fashioned CRT sets have among the sharpest pictures — and often the lowest prices ($500-$2,500). Newer flat-screen CRTs eliminate the distortion that plagued the curved edges of older models, and most can display the widescreen formats of DVDs (although sometimes with slight cropping of the image). Unfortunately, the tubes become too long and heavy to make manufacturing sets larger than 40 inches practical.

Rear-projection. So-called big-screen TVs offer the most screen — up to 80 inches — for the money. They produce near-CRT quality in a much slimmer package while remaining relatively inexpensive ($1,500 for a 45-incher). The drawback is that the picture may appear obscured when viewed from an angle.

Plasma-screen. These TVs are so light and thin — only 3 to 5 inches deep — you can hang them on the wall; they're also expensive ($4,000 and up). And while newer models are as sharp and bright as CRT displays, fast-moving images may have a tendency to blur. Also be aware that whenever you watch traditional broadcasts, you'll have to put up with vertical bars on each side of the picture (or distortion if you use the screen-fill function).

Front-projection. If you want virtually unlimited screen size — and have a virtually bottomless wallet — this one's for you. Front-projection sets send the picture across the room to a screen, much like a traditional movie projector. Prices range from $1,000 to well over $50,000.

A Note on HDTV: High-definition television is a type of digital signal that carries a more detailed image and is encoded with surround sound information. All of the above televisions are available in HDTV-compatible models (though you may need a separate HDTV-decoding tuner), which because of their higher screen resolutions can be viewed from a much closer distance — about half that of a traditional display. The FCC recently decided that all television programming must be broadcast in digital format by 2006.
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