Must-See TVs

Expert Reviews: LED • Plasma • Front Projection

LED-TV prices have fallen $500–$1,000 in the past 2 years. Nevertheless, manufacturers are putting the latest technologies into TVs of all prices and sizes. Ultrahigh-definition resolution appears to be the next big thing, but you should wait at least a year before you take the plunge.

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In the past 2 years, LED-TV and plasma-TV manufacturers have crammed the latest technologies into screens of all prices and sizes. LED- and plasma-TV prices have dropped $500–$1,000 for similar-size models in the past 2 years. You now can get a 55-inch LED TV that has the latest features for roughly the same price ($3,000) that a top-of-the-line 47-inch LED TV cost in 2011.

It once was difficult to find a 32-inch TV that had built-in Wi-Fi technology, LED backlighting and 1080p resolution. When you found such a model in 2011, it cost $1,100. Today, such a model is easy to find, and you can purchase one for as little as $400.

According to The NPD Group, which is a market-research company, 50-inch-and-larger models are the fastest growing high-definition-TV category. At the same time, many makers are eliminating models of less than 50 inches from their premium lines. Although 70 inches was the largest HDTV that you could buy 2 years ago, Sharp now makes two 90-inch models (starting at $10,000) and four 80-inch models (starting at $5,000), and Vizio offers an 80-inch model ($4,000).

What’s even more remarkable is that TVs of all prices and screen sizes are turning into computers. For the first time, every screen size in the top two model lines from each of the nation’s best-selling TV brands—LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba and Vizio—can connect to the Internet. According to Consumer Electronics Association, 28 percent of the HDTVs that will be shipped to stores in the United States in 2013 will be connected. That’s three times as many connected models that reached stores in 2011, and that number will jump to 48 percent in 2014.

Furthermore, you don’t have to buy and attach a $100 thumb-size Wi-Fi dongle to get your TV to connect to the Internet. All of the latest connected TVs from all major manufacturers at all prices include built-in Wi-Fi connectivity.

A NEW LOOK. Connected TVs commonly are called “smart TVs” by manufacturers, but we found that most of these models aren’t all that smart. TV manufacturers still are trying to devise an intuitive connected-TV interface, which is the process by which you navigate the on-screen menus to access various forms of content.

From what we saw, manufacturers simply scatter their mobile-application icons across several cluttered screens. Consumers typically have no easy way to find anything. In fact, it was only during the past year that all manufacturers added a full Internet browser as part of their connected TVs.

Each manufacturer’s connected-TV platform is proprietary. That limits the numbers of apps that are available, because app developers don’t create apps for all of the connected-TV platforms.

3-D: The Future Is Cloudy

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In 2012, LG, Philips and Toshiba helped to form Smart TV Alliance to create a unified connected-TV platform where a library of apps can be downloaded to a variety of connected TVs. However, connected TVs that have Smart TV Alliance apps won’t go on sale until late 2014 at the earliest.

The good news is that all 3-D-enabled connected TVs, as well as a few connected TVs that don’t have a 3-D mode, now include built-in Bluetooth wireless capability. Bluetooth connectivity was available on only a handful of premium TVs 2 years ago.

Bluetooth is desirable, because it improves the connection of the remote control to the TV and gives the remote control more functionality than is available on remote controls that don’t have Bluetooth. The technology also allows you to pair a wireless keyboard from any manufacturer to your Bluetooth-connected TV, so you can type in your TV’s apps directly instead of painstakingly tapping the up-down-left-right buttons on a standard TV remote control to choose letters from an on-screen keyboard. (If your connected TV lacks Bluetooth connectivity, you now can add it via a $14 USB Bluetooth dongle.)

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