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5 ways you get ripped off when buying a new TV

Daniel Howley

Buying a new TV is a pretty exciting prospect, especially when your current set is technically old enough to drive. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of ways you can get ripped off when you’re on the hunt for a new big-screen.

From inflated refresh rates to overpriced cables and demo models that only look good in the store, these are the biggest ways retailers and manufacturers will try to separate you from your money when buying a TV.

4K when it’s not worth it

4K-resolution TVs used to be unattainably expensive for the average consumer. And while prices have dropped significantly over the years — you can find some for less than $400 — there are still some instances where buying a 4K set just isn’t worth it.

If you’re shopping for a TV with a screen size that’s 50 inches or smaller, you’re better off opting for a 1080p-resolution television. That’s because if you’re watching TV on a 50-inch display at the normal distance of between 8 feet and 10 feet, you won’t be able to see the difference between a screen with a 4K resolution and a 1080p resolution.

I’m not saying you absolutely shouldn’t buy a 50-inch 4K TV if it’s cheaper or the same price as a 1080p television. But if it’s more expensive than the 1080p model, go with the 1080p set.

Overpriced cables

A few weeks back my parents went to their local big-box electronics store to pick up a new TV. While there, one of the sales associates sold them on a new HDMI cable. That’s not normally a bad thing; except that the $80 cable was so overpriced it was almost unconscionable.

That, unfortunately, isn’t so uncommon. HDMI cables are regularly marked up well beyond reason, because, well, people who don’t know any better will pay for them. $100 for an HDMI cable is insane. Heck, $50 for a cable is insane. Chances are you’ll get some line from the sales person telling you that their “special” cable protects against interference or something like that. The truth, though, is that HDMI cables are digital, so they either work or don’t. There’s no middle ground where interference makes for a fuzzy picture or anything along those lines.

If you need a new HDMI cable, your best bet is to just go online and find one for $20 or less. Anything more is unnecessary.

Sky-high refresh rates

A television’s refresh rate is how fast it can display an image on the screen every second. Most TVs have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means they’ll basically flash 60 images per second to create a moving image. Some high-end televisions will have refresh rates of 120Hz or 240Hz, but that’s as high as they go.

The reason you’d want a higher refresh rate is that when more images are flashed on the screen your content will look clearer. But some manufacturers like to fudge their refresh rate numbers by talking about their TV’s “effective” refresh rate, which is essentially the use of various technologies that make the refresh rate seem faster than it really is.

Other manufacturers use their own proprietary scales to describe their ability to ensure images look nice and sharp. The problem is that these scales don’t translate across brands, so Samsung might have a different rating system than LG, meaning you can’t compare the two.

If you’re trying to find a television with a good refresh rate, look for one with 120Hz. You’ll know that’s the actual refresh rate, because it will have the “Hz” symbol next to it.

Smart TVs that aren’t so smart

A good number of the newer televisions you’ll see on the market today are considered smart TVs. In other words, they feature some kind of built-in software that lets you access apps like Netflix, Hulu and others. The problem is that smart TVs can’t hold a candle to the performance and speed of a standalone TV streaming device like a Roku or Apple TV.

Not only that, but the longer your keep your TV, the more outdated the smart software will become. If you opt for a standalone-streaming device, though, you have the option of simply replacing it when it’s too slow to meet your needs.

If you can opt for a TV that has the same basic features as another model without the smart TV software and at a cheaper price, then I recommend going for that and grabbing a standalone player. If you can’t, then it might be best to simply get the standalone device when you buy the television to avoid any headaches.

Behind the curve

When television manufacturers first introduced curved TVs to the public, a lot of people were largely impressed with how cool they looked. They were like some far-out invention from the distant future that were supposed to make it feel like you were sitting in front of a movie-theater screen.

It turns out, though, that’s just not true. Curved TVs actually make for a worse viewing experience than a flat TV. See, movie-theater screens are curved because it takes time for the light from the projector at the back of the theater to reach the screen. If the screen were flat, the projector’s light would hit the center of the screen before the edges, which would distort the image. Curving the screen ensures that the projector’s light hits the center and edges at the same time, creating a smooth image.

A flat-screen TV, though, and this might be surprising, isn’t the same as a movie-theater screen. The light is projected directly onto the back of the screen, so you don’t to deal with any light delays. What’s more, curved screens shrink your viewing angle, so if you sit too far to one side, you won’t be able to see the image as well as with a flat-screen display.

Your best bet is to skip the curved screen and just go with the kind of flat panel TV we’re all used to.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.