You're in for some fun if you haven't shopped for a TV in a few years.
Streaming Internet videos and 3-D are adding excitement to TV viewing, say the editors of Consumer Reports. Wi-Fi and full Web browsers make it easy to expand your online horizons. Remote controls are evolving as well, giving you new ways to interact with your TV. And prices continue to fall, so you'll get more for your money.
There's much more to come. Over the next few months, new technologies -- such as superwide screens, a new type of TV designed to combine the best of LCD and plasma displays and screens with ultrahigh resolution -- should start showing up.
Here are more details on those developments, along with the latest news from CR's tests of 142 TVs.
Bigger and better TVs abound. Bigger screens are an obvious trend. CR's Ratings included 10 TVs with 60-inch or larger screens, including a 70-inch Sharp LCD TV, and more than 30 models with 50- to 60-inch screens. Big as they are, many of those sets are superslim -- two inches or less in depth.
Very good or excellent HD picture quality is almost a given, with 135 of the 142 tested TVs achieving that level. CR found a number of sets from secondary brands that delivered commendable picture quality at relatively low prices.
There's more to watch online. Connecting your TV to the Internet might be the single biggest thing you can do to expand your viewing possibilities. Many new TVs have Internet capability built in.
But even if you buy a basic TV (or already own one) that lacks Internet connectivity, you can connect it to an Internet-enabled Blu-ray player, streaming media player or game system; prices start at less than $100.
Once you're able to access your broadband service, you'll find a wealth of online content. There are free videos from YouTube, and movies and TV episodes from subscription and pay-per-view services such as Amazon Instant Video, Blockbuster On Demand, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, Netflix and Vudu. Music fans can connect to online music sites and services, such as Rhapsody, Pandora, Slacker and Spotify.
Even if your TV isn't Web-enabled, you can enjoy your digital photos, videos and music on it. Just insert a thumb drive into the USB port, connect a camcorder to an HDMI input or put a memory card into the TV's SD slot.
3-D is worth considering. There are good reasons to get a 3-D TV, even if you don't plan to use that feature now. Remember, these are HD sets that have an extra viewing mode for 3-D, so you can watch regular programming as you normally do, without glasses. Many of the 3-D TVs in CR's Ratings were among the highest-scoring sets it has ever tested, and they often have other features you might want, such as Internet access and Wi-Fi.
For 52- to 55-inch LCD TVs, recommended models include the Vizio XVT553SV, $1,350, a CR Best Buy. For 46- to 47-inch LCDs, CR recommends the LG 47LV5500, $1,300; the Samsung UN46D6300, $1,150; and the Samsung UN46D6000, $1,100. For 40- to 42-inch models, the JVC JLC42BC3000, $550, is a CR Best Buy.
For plasma TVs that are 60-inch and larger, the Panasonic Viera TC-P60S30, $1,400, is a CR Best Buy. For 50- and 51-inch models, the Panasonic Viera TC-P50S30, $800, has excellent picture quality and many features, including optional Wi-Fi and access to online content. Three CR Best Buys of this size are the LG 50PV450, $750; the Samsung PN51D450, $650; and the LG 50PT350, $600.