Looking to upgrade your TV for Super Bowl Sunday? Last year, 22 percent of consumers who bought new sets did so to watch the NFL championship game, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The latest smart TVs with motion control and voice commands starred at the Consumer Electronics Show this month. But most of us shopping for a television will focus on how big a screen we can get for our budget. Prices for flat-panel sets have fallen from thousands to hundreds over the past decade. Technology keeps improving: LCD/LED models make up the majority of the market, though plasma sets are still around. According to the electronics association, 34 million TVs were sold in 2011, 18 million of them with screen sizes of more than 40 inches.
Internet connections: Internet-connected sets are a growing part of the market. They can take you directly to services such as Netflix and Hulu.
3-D: A growing number of movies and sporting events are available for at-home 3-D viewing with 3-D-ready sets.
OLED: Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs offer clearer, higher-contrast pictures and even thinner screens.
Keep it dry: Use only a piece of soft cloth or microfiber to clean the screen. Never water.
Update: If you have an Internet-connected TV, make sure your software is up to date, says Rob Manfredo, spokesman for Sony Electronics Home Division.
Turn it off: Switch off your set when you're not using it. Some models have energy-saving switches that totally disconnect power from wall outlets.
Low, middle, high
We asked Jeff Stanton, sales manager of Belmont TV in Virginia, to choose three TV sets from the store's inventory. We focused on the store's bestselling size range, about 46 to 51 inches.
Toshiba 46-inch LED HD TV built-in WiFi: Four HDMI inputs (to connect multiple audio/video components). 120Hz screen refresh rate (faster is especially good for sports and video games). Energy Star qualified. Model 46SL417. $898.
Samsung 51-inch plasma HD TV: WiFi-ready (you provide an adapter, about $69). Four HDMI inputs. 600Hz refresh rate (offers less motion blur). 3-D (with two pairs of glasses). Model PN51D550. $998.
LG 47-inch LED HD TV: Built-in WiFi. Four HDMI inputs. 3-D (with four pairs of glasses). 120Hz refresh rate. Energy Star qualified. Model 47LW5600. $1,198.
- Come armed with room measurements and discuss placement with salespeople. The screen size is the diagonal measurement of the set. Experts caution consumers to be realistic about what will fit. But screen size is a major selling point in today's market. "The No. 1 regret people have after they buy a TV is that they didn't buy one that was big enough," says Carl Laron, senior editor at ConsumerSearch.com.
- Study the different technologies available and decide which features are important to you. Set a budget.
- Nearly all flat-panel sets are sold with a swivel base. If you plan to hang your TV on a wall, you'll need a bracket ($50 to $300), and you'll have to decide whether you can do it yourself. "If you are comfortable hanging a large mirror, you can probably handle hanging your television," says Sony's Manfredo. "The brackets of today are better designed and much easier to mount and manipulate than they used to be. If you have any doubts, get a professional." At Belmont TV, the labor charge to mount and connect a new TV and remove the old set is $200 to $500.