Key television features and connectivity optionsUpdated February 13, 2009
Convenience features, inputs, and even the sound system are all factors to consider in your next TV purchase. Many TV makers differentiate their baseline models from step-up versions by including all kinds of add-ons, so check our list to help determine whether that "loaded" set you're considering really has the features that matter. For features that relate to picture quality, check out the next page.
What it is: PIP lets you watch a second program in a little window. More-elaborate versions can resize the window, move it around the screen, create still or multiple still images, or simply divide the screen into two same-size pictures, often called "picture-outside-picture" (POP).
What it isn't: PIP has a dirty little secret, though: If you use an external tuner such as a cable box or a satellite receiver, you can watch only one program at once. If some of your channels are unscrambled, you can watch those on the second window, and you can usually watch other sources such as VHS or DVD on it, as well. But even with two-tuner PIP, a single cable/satellite box will prevent you from watching two live scrambled channels simultaneously unless the box itself has two-tuner PIP.
What it is: Plenty of TVs now come with universal remotes that can control other A/V gear. Usually, they work with a cable or satellite box, and many can also command DVD players, VCRs, or even A/V receivers. If you like watching movies in the dark, you should look for a remote with backlit or glowing buttons.
What it isn't: Not every universal remote can control everything. Some, known as unibrand remotes, can control only the same brand of equipment as the TV itself. Most are preprogrammed with a set list of codes, and if the codes don't match your older or off-brand gear, you're out of luck. A few are learning models that can accept the IR codes from your other remotes and, thus, control any kind of gear.
What it is: Almost every TV sold today has MTS stereo reception and stereo speakers, which provide much better sound than a single mono speaker. When TV makers list readings of 5 watts per channel or higher, it means the set has a respectable audio system for a TV. Some sets with simulated surround provide a semblance of the effect of rear speakers.
What it isn't: No TV can compete with a dedicated audio system, so even if your set has lots of watts and simulated surround sound, you should consider a home-theater audio system for maximum impact. If you have such a system, the TV's sound becomes a moot point.
What it is: Channel-surfing modes, favorite-channel lists, and other features that rely on your TV's built-in tuner can make switching channels a lot more efficient--as long as you use that tuner.
What it isn't: The problem is, many people use external tuners such as a cable or satellite box to change channels. If you're one of those people, tuner extras are all but useless to you
Perhaps the single most confusing item on a TV spec sheet is the forest of inputs and outputs used to hook up the set to other equipment. The following trail of breadcrumbs, arranged in order of video quality, should help put you on the right connectivity path...
|Jack||Cable||Name||Typical use||Level of video quality|
aka radio frequency; antenna; cable; screw type; F-pin
|Antennae, VCRs, cable and satellite boxes||Lowest, Highest (digital) for HDTV tuners|
aka yellow video; video; A/V (when combined with audio jacks)
|Cable and satellite boxes, VCRs, DVD players, game consoles||Low|
aka DIN 4
|Cable and satellite boxes, S-VHS VCRs, DVD players, game consoles||Medium|
aka component; Y, Pb, Pr; Y, Cb, Cr; broadband component; 1080i; 720p; HDTV
|HD cable and satellite boxes, DVD players, HDTV tuners, Blu-ray and HD DVD players, game consoles, other HD sources||High|
Connections can also be made through RCA or BNC-type connectors, and adapters are available between all of them
aka PC, computer, VGA; 15-pin D-sub; RGB-HV
|Computers, video processors||High|
aka IEEE 1394; iLink
|some HDTV tuners, D-VHS VCRs||Highest (digital)|
|DVI-D with HDCP|
aka DVI-D; Digital Visual Interface; High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection
|Computers; older HD cable and satellite boxes, HDTV tuners and DVD players||Highest (digital|
Antennae, VCRs, cable and satellite boxes
aka High-Definition Multimedia Interface
|HD cable and satellite boxes, DVD players, HDTV tuners, Blu-ray and HD DVD players, game consoles, computers, other HD sources||Highest (digital)|
Another factor to add to your TV buying checklist is power consumption. A new HDTV can potentially use a lot of electricity, and buying a model that's more efficient can save tens or even hundreds of dollars per year, depending on how much it's used. Numerous factors affect TV power consumption, including screen size, technology (plasma or LCD), picture settings, and the presence or absence of power-saving features. To get a handle on TV power use, check out our Quick Guide to TV power consumption.