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Don't Forget the Picture!

This article focuses mainly on the audio and electronic components of your home theater system, but we can't forget the piece you look at the most—your television monitor. Other articles on this site will cover monitors in more detail, but for now let's quickly go over what you need to consider when shopping for a new TV:

  • Display type. Direct-view CRTs still offer the best picture, but they're limited in size. The traditional CRT-based rear-projection TV (RPTV) offers a big picture at a relatively low price, but is also quite bulky. Newer micro-display RPTVs—using DLP, LCD, or LCoS technology—are a better compromise, delivering a big picture with bright colors in a smaller and lighter package, but for a few dollars more. Flat-panel LCD and plasma displays look good hanging on your wall, but they're expensive and (in the case of plasma) prone to screen burn-in. Front-projection systems are viable for big rooms that you can darken when viewing.

  • Screen size. Bigger is better, to a point. Most living rooms can handle up to a 55-inch widescreen set, and anything smaller than 40 inches isn't truly theater-like. However, you need to judge the size of the screen by the size of your room. Sit too close to a bigger set and you'll see all the graininess and scan lines in the picture; sit too far away from a smaller set and some details will be too small to see.

  • Aspect ratio. Most direct-view sets have the standard 4:3 aspect screen. Newer HDTV-capable sets have the wider 16:9 aspect screen. Obviously, the wider screen is better for watching widescreen movies, but the squarer screen is better for watching most television programming. Whichever you choose, you'll either need to put some black bars on the top/bottom or sides of the screen, or stretch the picture appropriately.

  • HDTV capability. There's little high-definition programming today, but it's coming. When you invest a couple of grand on a big-screen TV, make sure that it's HDTV-capable, meaning that it can display HDTV programming with the purchase of an add-on HDTV tuner. Some high-end sets have an HDTV tuner built in, which is even nicer.

  • Connections. You want your new monitor to include enough connectors to connect all your new components. That means, ideally, multiple component-video connectors. You can work around any connection problems with a good A/V receiver that up-converts video signals to a single component-video output, so you only have to make one connection to your TV.

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