How to Buy a Future-Proof TV

Ailing electronics retailers are trying to unload this year's crop of high-end TVs, but picking one without doing the research could leave you betting on stupid technologies. Here are the trends to buy by.

[Homepage image: Flickr user foistclub]

IPTV
A lot of high-end TVs distinguish themselves by adding WiFi, apps, and even QWERTY keyboard remotes for surfing the Web. Meh. Don't take the bait. TV manufacturers aren't exactly UI experts, if memory serves, so you're probably better off getting your Netflix or MLB.com experience from an Apple TV, XBox, Boxee or other set-top device. The latter also tend to get more frequent software updates than smart TVs do, which means you get new apps and features faster.
The 3-D-bacle
There are two types of 3-D TVs. One of them, unbiased experts might agree, sort of sucks. "Active" 3-D TVs (like those from Samsung, Sony, Sharp and Panasonic) require expensive battery-powered 3-D glasses that need constant recharging and make you look like a dope. "Passive" 3-D TVs put the magic in the TV display itself, which means you can watch 3-D in your home with cheap, light, 3-D glasses like the ones in the theater. Passive 3-D manufacturers include LG, Toshiba, Philips, and Vizio.
Energy Star
The fact is, Energy Star guidelines today are relatively lax. Even in the State of California, which has additional low-power requirements for TV manufacturers, nearly every mass-produced television passes muster. That will all change in 2012 when Energy Star makes its certification requirements more stringent. The State of California will do the same in 2013. So if green is a requisite, wait two years for a TV that will be around 65% more efficient than today's.
Buy LED
Plasma TVs are power hogs. LCD TVs use about 1/3 the power. LED TVs, however, are the most miserly about power consumption and can also use localized dimming to turn "off" the backlight on areas of the screen where the picture is dark. A lot of people say this makes for richer lowlights and, as a bonus, LED TVs tend to be the thinnest of the crop.
Wait Longer?
If you've played with a Ninendo 3DS, you know they're incredible. And you're probably wondering when this autostereoscopic--jargon for 3D without glasses--experience will come to televisions. Don't hold your breath. Producing autostereoscopic screens the size of big-screen televisions would be astronomically expensive, and manufacturers still haven't solved another problem: This technology tends to make people motion sick.
Forget Speakers
A TV is an enormous household object that you have to look at every day--whether it's on or off. Best to make it easy on the eyes. In the minds of most TV buyers, thinner is better. So why add the bulk of a couple of crappy internal speakers? If you're going high-end, get a model with no built-in sound and spend a couple hundred bucks outfitting it with a decent sound system. If you're rocking an Apple TV, connect the optical line directly to the receiver (while the HDMI heads to the TV) and you'll be able to stream music to your speakers from anywhere in the house -- whether or not the TV screen is on.
Pick a Brain
Boxee, Apple TV, Google TV: They all have their strengths. Boxee can browse the Web, play a lot of TV shows online for free and do apps like Netflix and Vudu On-Demand. Apple TV has Netflix, too, though few other apps. However, it adds AirPlay connectivity, which is killer with an iPhone or iPad. Google TV hasn't proven itself to be any better than most smart TVs. Try all of them out in a store before buying, even if you plan on ordering online.

How To Buy A Future-Proof TV

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