As the Super Bowl-saturated TV inserts in your newspaper attest, today's television market offers several enticing new types -- notably flat-panel plasma TVs that can be mounted on a wall and thin LCD tabletop displays. Then there are wide-screen projection sets and familiar picture-tube (direct view) TVs in new sizes and shapes.
In all these categories, you can choose between sets that display the familiar standard-definition images you've watched for decades and those that offer improved resolution. These include models that can display high-definition (HD) images, with their unsurpassed detail and realism. (The Super Bowl will be broadcast in a widescreen, high-definition mode. You'll need an HDTV with a wide, 16:9-ratio screen shape to make the most of the broadcast; otherwise, you'll see the same broadcast as always.)
We've expanded our TV coverage, in both range of types and breadth of models, to reflect the new -- and daunting -- diversity in TVs. The latest addition is our first-ever Ratings of plasma TVs, the big-screen TVs that have dropped dramatically in price, albeit to a still-hefty $3,000 and up.
In our tests, the plasma TVs (all with 42-inch screens) offered a very bright picture, even in light-filled rooms. You can view their screens from wider angles than with rear-projection TVs, their main big-screen competitor, or LCD TVs, their smaller thin-panel competitor. But image quality often didn't equal that of a very good direct-view TV, especially with rapidly moving images or dark scenes, and there are concerns about the life expectancy of plasma sets.
The bottom line: You may want to wait before buying a plasma TV; over the next few years, look for prices to drop more, perhaps precipitously.
If you can't wait, the best performers in our tests of plasma sets were two HD-ready models: Hitachi 42HDT50, $6,000.
Sony KE-42TS2, $6,000.
If price is more critical to you than top quality, consider two models from computer manufacturers: Gateway GTW-P42M403, $3,300, an HD-ready model.
Viewsonic CinemaWall VPW-425, $3,000, a model with enhanced definition (ED),
a level that lies between standard definition and HD.
If you're considering other TV types, here's a rundown of some good choices. For further details, and to see our judgments on nearly 100 other TVs now in stores, go to the Ratings of the various types (available only to site subscribers ) on the Consumer Reports TV sets page.
LCD TVs: The best performers were two 30-inch HD-ready models: Sony LCD Wega KLV-30XBR900, $5,000.
Mitsubishi Platinum Series LT-3020, $5,000.
Rear-projection TVs: For very good picture quality at a reasonable price, consider: Toshiba Theaterwide HD57H83, $2,000, a 57-inch HD-ready set.
Direct-view TVs: Six conventional (that is, standard-definition) sets in various sizes were
CR Best Buys: Toshiba FST Black 27A43, a 27-inch model, $280.
Sanyo DS27930, a Wal-Mart-only 27-inch model, $280.
Panasonic E Series CT-27E13, $280.
Toshiba FST Black 32A43, a 32-inch model, $450.
JVC D-Series AV32D104, a 32-inch model, $440.
Toshiba FST Black 36A43, a 36-inch model, $650.
In HD-ready sets, the 32-inch Sanyo DS32830H was a CR Best Buy at $700.
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