JLP Needs Your Advice: Buying a TV

October 12, 2007

Samsung LNT5271

You might have noticed a statement I made at the end of yesterday’s kitchen remodel post about filling that big hole in the built-ins with a new TV. We currently have a GIANT 36″ Sony Trintron that’s about 7 years old. It’s a great TV but it is too big. We decided not to have the built-ins built to accomodate the Sony because it would look funny and eventually we wanted a nice flat screen. The problem is that as soon as all the construction is done, I won’t have a place to put the Sony. So,….

I’m shopping for a new TV.

I’m favoring a Samsung 52″ LCD (Model #LNT5271), while my wife thinks a plasma is the way to go. My wife’s opinion is based on Consumer Reports while mine is based on “research” done at Best Buy. Of course my “research” needs some follow-up. However, once I saw the Samsung in action, I was amazed that it was an LCD! The model I looked at seems a bit pricey at $4,399 so I definitely want to be sure it’s the right way to go before I spend that kind of money. One thing that confuses me is that Samsung has another 52″ (Model #5281) that looks identical to model #LNT5271 but sells for $4,999.

I did a side-by-side comparison and the only difference I saw was in the contrast ratio. Model LNT5271 has 25000:1 dynamic, while Model LNT5281 has 50000:1 dynamic (LED Smart Lighting) 500000:1 dynamic (LED Smart Lighting). Three questions:

1. What does this mean?


2. Will it matter to me?


3. Is it worth $600 more?

Anyway, Samsung seems to be the best way to go but I would like to know what you guys think. My maximum budget is $5,000 and my goal is to get the best I can for the money I’m spending. I would be happy to spend less as long as I’m not giving up quality. Walking down the aisle at Best Buy I noticed a lot of differences in picture quality. It seemed like the cheaper the TV the less-quality of picture it had.

Oh, and I haven’t ruled out DLP. I just don’t know much about them other than the fact that they are bigger. Both my brother and brother-in-law have DLP TVs and have been happy with them.

Weigh in please…

56 responses to JLP Needs Your Advice: Buying a TV

  1. I just read this month’s Consumer Reports (which is all about HDTVs and Digital Cameras), and I came to a different conclusion!

    First of all, LCDs use 30-40% less energy–i.e. electricity. Plus they look as good as plasmas now and are similiarly priced. And they work in a well-lit room–which plasmas do not!!! So LCD is the clear choice for me.

    I want to buy the 42 or 46″ Sony Bravia HDTV (720p), which is the Best Buy in Consumer Reports. It only costs $1500 (for the 42″).

    By the way, I’m going 720p because you can’t tell the difference unless your TV is over 54″ or so–and even then only “experts” can tell. Plus, there’s basically NO programming in 1080i/p yet anyway. AND according to Consumer Reports (and based on my untrained eye in Target and Best Buy) some 720ps actually look even better than some 1080i/p models. Obviously the television I’ve selected is one of those models.

    And in any event, the “upgrade” from 720p isn’t worth $1500-$2000 to me.

  2. PS, often retailers will adjust their cheaper TVs to have a worse picture in order to upsell their more expensive models. My father keeps reminding me of this in his effort to get my to buy an Olevia instead of a Sony (which, sorry dad, I still probably won’t do).

    Apparently at Target they flip some switch on the Olevias to make the picture worse so people will buy the Samsung’s. As a particularly anal stockholder in the manufacturer of Olevias, my father drops by Target once or twice a week just to secretly flip the switches back and/or argue with the salespeople.

  3. Ok, so first off quick run down of differences between LCD and Plasma. LCDs are better if you are always going to have light in a room, Plasmas are much better if you are going to be having the room dark most of the time. If you try watching a dark movie in a dark movie on the majority of LCDs it will just wash out. Also when I saw dark room, a room with the lights turned out, and very little natural light, say in the evening and the movie is gone. So right there your viewing habits should decide on the actual type of monitor.

    Personally also I think the Plasmas do look better in general, however that is my own opinion and people’s viewing habits and taste are very different.

    Ok, the dynamic tells you how fast color changes can occur in the display. A higher number a faster transition, a clearer picture especially in action movies when there is a ton of fast action. In general however this won’t make a huge difference again unless you are an expert or are closer than say 15ish feet to the screen (which at that size hopefully you aren’t).

    I personally don’t have a recommended screen, however in terms of companies Toshiba and Sony tend to make very good screens.

    So you have an idea of my background and how much of my opinion to take – Computer Engineering Major (still in college though), I tend to be asked by friends and family, even girlfriend’s family for buying decisions on electronics.

  4. I paid $5k for my last car. But what’s another $5,000 with the cash you’re sinking into the new rooms. 😉

    Ask Flexo — I think he just got a new TV.

  5. You have $5k in cash ready to spend on the TV?

  6. A question better suited for AVS forums perhaps. Those guys are crazy about their tech.

  7. Well, assuming you have the cash…the units you are looking at are pretty darn pricey. You might also want to consider a 720 instead of a 1080 – mainly because most people can’t tell the difference.

    Between plasma and LCD I would choose plasma. LCDs are not capable of delivering the rich black colors that Plasma can, so you get what appears to be a sharper image. The viewing angle is also usually greater.

    You also have to consider your source. There’s no point in getting a 1080 TV if you’re upscaling with a 480 DVD player. You’ll need to get a HDDVD player. You’ll also want to make sure your DVD player accepts an HDMI cable. Add $300-$1000 for the HDDVD player.

    Don’t forget sound! You’ll want a good quality 5.1 surround sound system. Audiophiles claim the speakers that come with all-in-one boxes are junk, but I honestly can’t tell the difference. Expect to spend around $500 there at least.

    I also think $5k is far too expensive. Look at this Insignia 50″ 720 Plasma from Best Buy: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8454996&type=product&id=1184369165854

    Selling for $1,299. Compare that to the $5k Samsung LCD. The are virtually identical except the Samsung has a bit higher resolution and can display more pixels. Most people simply can’t tell the difference once you get into that high of a resolution on such a small screen, and your sources to display such an image are limited. Opinions may vary.

    If it were me? I’d take the $5k, buy a $1,500 720 Plasma TV, a $500 HDDVD player, a $500 surround sound system, keep $2,100 in the bank and take my wife out to a formal dinner with an expensive bottle of champagne and then cuddle up afterwards in front of the new TV with a brand new HD movie.

    Oh, and check out monoprice.com for your cables (retail big box stores overcharge like crazy for cables – I also know because I used to work for CompUSA and base price on a $30 cable is about $5!)…I used them when I set up my home theater system and was very satisfied – though my theater is a front projection with a 75″ screen at standard resolution. I don’t watch cable TV and don’t watch enough movies to make the expense worth it for me. Quite a different setup, but by buying used/sale equipment I ended up with a $400 total cost.

  8. I can’t help it. I guess I’ve been living under a rock or something, but… I’m rather shocked at these prices for a tv, of all things. I can’t even imagine considering this.

  9. JLP, piece of advice #1: DO NOT BUY IT AT BEST BUY! Or Circuit City for that matter. You will overpay considerably. Use froogle.com or pricegrabber.com or scan the bargain sites to find a much, much, much better deal. I repeat– DO NOT BUY IT AT A BIG BOX STORE! You almost always end up paying at least 20% more when you do. There are web stores with far better deals.

    Do not be afraid of some of the “off” brands like Olevia and Vizio. They are good TVs. I have a 37″ Olevia LCD and love it. Great picture.

    As for LCD vs. plasma . . . the difference isn’t great. There are pluses and minuses for both. You could just decide by finding the TV that best matches the size and features you’re looking for, combined with the best price– no matter LCD or plasma. I don’t recommend DLP, as I understand the bulb life is short and replacement expensive.

    Good luck! You don’t have to come close to your $5000 budget. You can get a good LCD or plasma in your size range for half that or less.

  10. I only paid $1400 for my 37in Sharp LCD TV and it does 1080p. That just seems way too much of a difference in price for a 15 extra inches. If I could afford it I would take a Plasma over an LCD but I like my room dark when I’m watching movies or playing video games. You should pay more attention to the physical pixel resolution and the refresh rate of the TV more than the contrast ratio (it really doesn’t matter since everyone has their own “measurement” for this spec).

  11. I got the 50″ Panasonic Plasma after a TON of research. Plasma is best for sports because it keeps up with the action better, and the Panasonic is the best plasma out there. Plus you can get it for substantially under $5000, it retails around $2000. My friend who has a Sony says he likes mine better.

  12. check Amazon.com….prices for samsung are much better than best buy/circuit city

  13. Try dealnews.com and type in ‘samsung lcd’ in the search bar. I always watch this site when I am in the market for electronics or anything else.

  14. Blimey that’s a big tv. I’m still on a 14 inch freebie. Then again my living room is 12ft by 12ft (max). I vote for the lcd because (I imagine) you’re not going to be treating the room like a cinema.

  15. Wow JLP! $5,000 on a tv?! I think it’s interesting how even the most frugal among us still can rationalize splurging…I went through this myself recently when I bought a new 24″ aluminum iMac. Now the 20″ iMac would have been just fine, but really really enjoyed the bigger screen because (there I go rationalizing)…

    Regarding your purchase. I’d heavily recommend you consider something cheaper. I bought a 32″ Sony Wega a little three years ago. I think we blew $1,600 on the tv. Then we saw hdtv prices drop like a rock *and* we were unable to use the tv for a couple of years due to unusual living circumstances…

    So my advice would be to buy a decent flatscreen for $1,000-1,500 and save the rest. If the tv dies in three years, you’ll probably be able to buy one of today’s $5k sets for $1-2k.

    Also, keep in mind that *you are financing the purchase of the tv.* If you still have a mortgage, you are spending money that could reduce your mortgage.

  16. Plasma’s have better contrast, but LCD are quickly gaining on them. I am in love with Samsung LCDs. I work at one of the big box electronics stores, so i’m around all the models all the time and the Samsung’s are my favorite. Although Sharp has some very nice displays as well.

  17. Oh…Aaron #15, you do NOT want to go there (mortgage pay down) You’ll never win that one w/JLP!! But you and I do think alike!

  18. Aaron,

    Don’t misunderstand. The MAXIMUM I want to spend is $5,000. But, if I could get something cheaper that is good quality, I would be happy to spend less. From the prices I have seen, I don’t see myself spending $5,000.

    Sure, there’s always ways to spend money and there’s always better ways to save money. However, I don’t see anything wrong with treating yourself every once in a while.


    I just Froogled the 5271 and I don’t see it cheaper anywhere else so I think Best Buy’s price is fair for that particular TV.


    LOL! You know me too well.

  19. I’d like to put in a good word for Vizio. I bought a 37″ from them over a year ago and convinced my roommate to buy a 42″ instead of a 40″ Samsung. They has been awesome.

  20. I meant to say, they ‘have’ been awesome. I swear I speak English. :)

  21. I would go with a Vizio and skip the big name brands. We got my mother a 37″ for $750 on Mother’s Day and I think it looks just as good as other 37″ for half the price.

  22. FYI: here’s the range on Price Grabber:

    Samsung 5271.

  23. Foobarista, thanks for linking that. If you skip the questionable 3* place and go with a reputable retailer (electronics depot), it can still be had for more $700 less than Best Buy. That’s what I was trying to tell JLP. I think he’d be happy to save $700+ if he has his heart set on that model. Or he could save even more and get a Vizio, like this 50″ that’s under $1400 even at Circuit City: http://electronics.pricegrabber.com/plasma-lcd-televisions/m/29441303/

    I paid that much for my 37″ Olevia almost 2 years ago. Prices are dropping like crazy.

  24. Vizio was one of my first choices, but I went with Sharp Aquos, my “other” first choice. Got a great price (comparatively) for the 42″ LCD. I’ve written about it quite a bit. I have a living room with a lot of light, so LCD was the natural choice. 1080p looks fantastic with HD cable, HD DVD, and the XBox 360.

    Ignore stats like “dynamic contrast ratios.” You can’t actually use them to compare between brands. Look at response rate (under 6 ms) and go with 1080p for a 50″+ screen that you’ll want to keep for years to come.


    Aslo, don’t buy the Monster HDMI cables from Best Buy. Get cables from monoprice.com. $12 each compared to $120.

    There’s no need for you to spend $5,000 for the TV. You can get something fantastic for a lot less… even plasma if you decide that’s better for you.

  25. Check the power consumption of each model as well. These screens are known for pulling a lot of juice. Long term cost of ownership could be quite high.

  26. @ JLP – I didn’t mean to suggest there’s anything wrong with treating oneself! I just hope you come up with the right definition of “good quality” because we paid for the quality and ended up regretting it. TV prices are moving too quickly for me to see it as anything but a temporary purchase. I wouldn’t be surprised if 50″ tvs are common in another decade with the way prices are dropping.

    @ Stacey – Yikes! Thanks for the warning. I don’t think eliminating one’s mortgage is a black and white issue. It’s a personal decision, but it is important to understand that we have to pay the debt off someday!

    Of course, if I knew for certain that we would have massive inflation in the next decade—I wouldn’t be in such a rush to pay off my mortgage!

    @ Mikeb – If someone is running their tv enough to make a significant dent in their electric bill, they’re probably going to be paying other kinds of costs as well. Namely, poorer health and lots of time down the drain.

  27. Higher contrast ratio is usually considered better but I don’t know how much the difference between 25000:1 and 50000:1 you will see. Generally you want a higher number if the tv will be in a brightly lighted part of the room.

  28. Whoa! 5 grand for a TV? I didn’t realize they were that expensive!

  29. Another vote for Vizio. I have the 37 and my buddy has the 42. Awesome picture and the price is definitely right.

  30. My father has the Samsung 56″ DLP, it has a great picture from in front of it, and from an angle. Every couple of months Amazon puts these on sale for about $1500, half of what my father paid less than a year ago. At that price, its a great deal.

  31. My brother has a big Vizio and is really happy with. We have a 46 inch Sony LCD rear projection (LCD based, but slightly different technology – it’s similar to DLP). The set is deeper, and thus not wall-mountable, but it’s still pretty slim compared to an old school TV — about 14 inches front to back at the base, slimmer as you go up. The picture is great, and it “only” cost about $1050.

    Truth be told, we actually have two of these. One is a 42 inch model, and we liked it so much that we added the 46 inch model in our family room.

    If you don’t need a truly flat display, then I would recommend taking a look at the Sony LCD rear projection or Samsung DLP models. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

  32. Let me make this easy for you. Buy a SHARP LCD you won’t regret it.

  33. I love samsung computer monitors, but I’m not sold on them for TVs. You definitely don’t want to skimp on this purchase. There are times to buy off brand and this isn’t one of them. Vizio’s are good for your spare bedroom, but not for the main room.

    I prefer LCD. I have a 46in Sharp Aquos and love it. The new Sony LCD’s are very nice. I spent over a year looking at tv’s before finally buying. Decision was based on performance, brand, and price.

  34. thomas, I disagree completely. Especially since the smaller brands use panels manufactured by the big boys (LG, etc.). The small brands are making very good flat panel TVs and selling them for FAR less than the big boys. And this is a PF blog after all. :-)

  35. JLP, I have been in the market for a new TV for a couple of weeks now. After a lot of “research” which included going to best buy stores, reading consumer reports and avs forums, and hearing opinions of other reputable users (geek friends), I believe plasma does offer better picture quality than LCD just because of black levels. Since TVs are depreciating assets…Id rather you go a generation behind in the 720-1080p debate since you cant even tell the difference between them and besides there are hardly any true 1080p sources available right now besides HD/Bluray DVDs. All major TV stations current only go up to 1080i which looks pretty good on a 720p set. My recommendation within plasma is a Pioneer 5080HD which can be had online for ~2400-2500 shipped from a reputable pricegrabber store. Panasonic come in second with lower picture quality than Pioneer but good overall. I hope this has helped.

  36. One of the dangers with plasma is screen burn-in. If you watch news channels with a scrolling banner at the bottom, be careful. I think the newer plasmas have some technology *reduce* the problem, but it’s still there (inherent to the technology).

    Also, people suggesting off-brand TV’s may be correct. Philipps and Samsung are the top two panel manufacturers (the panel is the most important component of the LCD TV) and the panels are used by many different brands. Vizio, I believe, uses Philipps.

    As for me, I’m waiting until A) I have money and B) some future display technologies are available in stores.

  37. It didn’t look like anyone answered your original question:

    Contrast Ratio basically refers to how bright and dark the colors are. Contrast Ratio also has to do with how “black” the color black is. This sounds strange, but if you have seen old LCDs, the blacks look gray, and if you watch a dark movie or TV show it is almost impossible to see what is going on, especially during the day.

    The LNT5281 enhances the contrast ratio by using LED backlighting, thus making the contrast ratio jump from 25,000 to 500,000. It brightens up colors, but leaves blacks alone. This especially helps when watching TV during the daytime (helps reduce the effect of glare).

    With a TV your size, you want to consider spending a little extra to enhance the contrast ratio. You will notice it when watching a very dark show/movie or play a dark video game.

  38. 5k for a TV is overkill. Buy the 50″ Vizio for ~1500 and keep 3500 in the bank!

    I’m tired of hearing all the TV hype. The reality of it is, put 10 people in front of different sets and maybe 2 of them can tell a difference.

  39. Dude. $5k on an LCD TV right now is ludricous. Luuuudicrouuus. First off, Chris (#7) is right on all fronts (except IMO concerning plasma vs. LCD, although I’m not going to come down too hard on one side or the other). Secondly, the prices of LCD’s are only going to go down and the quality is only going to go up. In 2 years a TV comparable to your $5k set will sell for $2k. And the $5k TV’s will be much improved. There are all kinds of technological improvements going on in this arena right now. From LED backlighting to OLED to God knows what else, improvements are being made left and right.

    Any technology purchase can be narrowed down pretty easily: never pay for Technology N. Always buy N-1 or even N-2. Go for last year’s model if possible. You get far more bang for your buck by getting a $1500 TV and enjoying it for a while and then spending another $1500 a couple of years down the road which at that point will buy something substantially better than the original $5k would have gotten you.

    BTW check out Sam’s Club/Costco… and you can actually get some pretty sweet deals at Best Buy if you wait for the right timing. Every once in a while the new models come out and they put the older ones on clearance for huge discounts. Also their “Open Box Buys” can be a very good deal (make sure you check it out thoroughly though) and they are often cleared out all in a bunch. Just be patient! Sam’s Club has open-box (display model) deals pretty often too.

    BTW congrats on 3 years!

  40. First, what are your needs (i.e. features)? Second, take a look at http://www.lcdtvbuyingguide.com/ and http://www.plasmatvbuyingguide.com/index.html

    contrast ratios: yes, higher the better; however, manufacturer listing of contrast ratios is completely out of wack with reality.

    lcd versus plasma: matter of choice. there are pros and cons to both. you have to determine what is more important and what you can live with or actually notice.

  41. I did alot of research on this and just ordered the 5271 on Ebay.New in box $2775.Don’t pay $4,400.

  42. It seems to me one of the question you asked and never got a very good response was concerning Samsungs smart led (or something like that). This is a relatively new feature for LCD screens. Most high-end laptops are going in this direction. There are a few distinct advantages that make Buying this Samsung a smart move. LCD that don’t use LED backlight use CCFL (cold-cathode fluorescent ) these are already being banned in European landfills because they contain a lot of mercury and other heavy metals. So lets say that you are not environmentally concerned enough to spend extra for your TV, what is the advantage to LED’s ? Much more even backlighting. Second, LED use much less energy (esspecially on start-up) and run cooler than CCFL. Third LED backlight LCD TVs weigh much less than the equivalent CCFL LCD.
    Lastly, don’t be dissuaded by all those telling you that $5000 is too much, get a 720p, get a Visio etc. I am sure THEY can’t see the difference. But the only thing you need to do to convince yourself that you are spending your money wisely is view the Samsung with a Blu-Ray player and the movie Stargate. You will feel you are watching the movie through a window rather than on a TV.
    There will alway be room in the world for VIzio and Walmart, just not in your front room. Good Luck

  43. Ok, I see a lot of passion on this issue. Let me start by saying I’ve done at least a half dozen in store comparisons, scoured the web and research pages. I bought the Samsung and LOVE it. There is VERY LITTLE in the way of reviews on the 5271 to date. The AVS forum has a very detailed thread and comparison with the Sony which you may want to read.

    1) In my opinion the Samsung looked better in store than the Sony or other TV’s. Saw it hooked up to a blue ray and it was stunningly real.

    2) The Consumer Reports (magazine..don’t know about on-line)
    has NOT reviewed the 5271 yet (11/30/07). So keep that in mind when someone talks about the magazine and this TFV.

    3) Personally, I CAN see the difference between 720 and 1080 and with HD cable and movies (blu-ray and HAD) coming out it is the wave of the future and I”d updgrade to 1080 because you’ll likely keep this TV for years.

    4) Some people have said the screen on this TV is too reflective. Not been my experience. I have a bright window next to the TV and not a problem.

    5) LCD v. Plasma…..much is personal preference but Plasmas do get burn in with those little logos so beware if you watch channels with the logos in the corner (food channel..some sports etc.)

    Had the Samsung 2 months now…ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT.
    Have fun and good luck!

  44. the main difference is the 5271 is using 120mhz processing, fairly new technology as opposed to the old 60hz. It basically helps get rid of ghosting effects in sports and fast movements that are common on lcds. If you ask at bestbuy the tv should have a demo of it, it is quite noticeable and very worth the money in my opinion.

  45. I see a lot about LCD and Plasma but not a lot about DLP I am thinking about a DLP does anyone know anything about them

  46. The way I see it—
    I am one of the people who can see the difference, as a generalization plasmas look better then lcds, lcds will draw less power then plasmas and run cooler. lcd no burn in, plasmas maybe? 1080p is a virtual standard theses days brung in by the ps3(blu-ray) if you don’t plan on getting ps3(bluray) 720p is fine for hdtv viewing. With bluray the picture is amazing and noticeable go to a dedicated hifi store and ask them to demo the best they have for you… The sound on bluray using the new sound formats with a reciever capable of processing is also much better but the jump in picture is more noticable then the jump in sound quality. Buying a tv is like buying a car could you could buy a Ferrari to go place to place or buy a Ford Fiesta both will probly take you where you want to go but one will probably leave you breathless while the other will be a humdrum ride.

  47. I choose the LNT5281 over the pioneer kuro (best TV ever period) which i can see has a better picture by maybe 10-15%, because of power consumption and possible burn in with plasmas (play games). The 81 series was the best for my needs. Glad I bought it cause dont think they make them anymore. Sorry bout the long posts but tired or reading post from people telling him to go buy a no name brand tv. Buy whats in your budget and what fits your needs best, use your eyes if you cant tell the diff buy the cheapest one, if you can buy the best that you can afford. You get what you pay for, theres a reason why they are $5000. Do your research people.

  48. LCD TVs are having some massive price drops. pretty soon those big 32′ screens will be dirt cheap.~,`

  49. LCD TVs are lightweight but i do not like its low contrast and muted colors’`~

  50. Buy both!
    Then you can watch one and your husband can watch the other!
    Since your mindless salespeople blogging for the purpose of advertising, who really cares?

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