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Bigger Screens for Smaller Rooms

Put a high-def TV in your bedroom or home office for $500.

You needn't restrict the beauty of HD to the mammoth screen in your family room. High definition means you can enjoy a bigger picture in a smaller space. And prices have dropped, so you can nab a great TV for about $500.

Why do relatively large HD screens work well in smaller rooms? With standard TV technology, a bigger screen looks grainy if you sit too close. Under the old rule of thumb, the distance you sat from a set had to be three to six times the screen size, measured diagonally. But an HDTV's picture is so detailed you can sit at a distance of one-and-a-half to three times the screen size with no grainy effect. So a 37-inch to 42-inch screen will work just fine in smaller quarters.

Plasma vs. LCD. Plasma TVs offer excellent contrast, aren't subject to motion blur (important if you watch a lot of fast-action sports) and work well in rooms with low lighting. Plus, they're less expensive than LCD screens. LCDs are brighter and use less energy -- particularly the newer models with LED backlights. (The difference in energy cost, however, has shrunk as plasma efficiency has increased. Check specs online or with your retailer to get energy-use numbers.) LCDs also come in a wider variety of sizes, including some less than 32 inches.

It's hard to find a plasma TV smaller than 42 inches, although some top manufacturers, such as LG and Philips, sell 32-inch models.


Picture perfect (editor's pick). You can't beat the Panasonic TC-P42c2, a 42-inch 720p plasma, for big-screen beauty at a small price (a similar model is sold at Costco). With a price near $500, this flat panel offers excellent picture quality with rich colors, smooth motion and deep shades of black. It can't display full (1080p) HD, but only the most discerning videophiles will detect the difference on a 42-inch display.

The Panasonic includes two HDMI ports for connecting high-def peripherals, such as a Blu-ray player or DVR. The built-in SD memory-card slot is handy for viewing photos or videos shot with your camcorder.

The TV lacks the latest bells and whistles, most notably integrated Wi-Fi for wirelessly streaming Internet content (such as Netflix movies) to your TV. To watch online content, you'll need an external device. But as a TV to use in a bedroom or with an inexpensive home-theater setup, it's hard to beat.

LCD value. The Vizio E370VA is priced at about $500 and features full-HD resolution, as well as sensors that adjust picture brightness automatically to suit room conditions. A generous allotment of four HDMI ports makes it easy to connect a growing number of HD-ready devices.


The TV's most notable shortcoming is its 60-hertz refresh rate -- not the best for watching fast-action sports or movies; 120-Hz would be better. (A slow refresh rate, which causes motion blur, is less of an issue with plasma screens.)

Petite powerhouse. The 32-inch Samsung LN32C450 delivers outstanding picture quality with vibrant, crisp colors. Despite its 60-Hz refresh rate, this elegant set has a fast, 6-millisecond response time (that's how long it takes a screen pixel to go from active to inactive), resulting in smooth action with little blur. The set enhances picture and sound quality for video games, too. Three HDMI ports provide ample connectivity. Price: near $500.