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Smaller-screen TVs can still deliver big-time picture quality

Smaller-screen TVs can still deliver big-time picture quality

While it’s true that many companies put their emphasis—and marketing dollars—on larger-sized TVs that can wow you with their big-screen images, you don’t have to give up satisfying picture quality if you opt for a smaller-sized model.

Based on an evaluation of the nearly 140 sets in our just-released latest HDTV Ratings, even the majority of the sets smaller than 40 inches—38 in all—can deliver either very good or excellent picture quality.

For example, five of the nine LCD TVs in the 37- to 39-inch screen size had very good high-definition picture quality, and one—a Magnavox—was excellent. We’re seeing fewer 37-inch models, and the majority of the sets we tested were from secondary brands. Three of the sets had a high-definition picture score that while good, is below what we now expect (and get) from most TVs.

In the 32-inch screen size, which offered a more even mix of major and secondary brands, almost half had very good HD picture quality, and five sets—models from Samsung, Sony and Vizio—were judged excellent. The four TVs with only good HD picture quality were all from secondary brands. A few of the TVs in this screen size had step-up features, including LED backlights (though these are now quite common in all screen sizes), faster 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rates to help reduce motion blur, and Internet access to content such as streaming movies and TVs shows. One model, a top-rated Samsung, also had 3D capability.

Of the seven models we tested in the smallest size category—TVs with screens 29 inches or smaller—only one (a 26-inch Samsung) had excellent picture quality. But the rest were judged very good, with one exception: a 24-inch Westinghouse, which was only good. One model, a 29-inch Insignia (Best Buy’s house brand) priced at just $180, earned a CR Best Buy designation.

All the TVs in our Ratings smaller than 42 inches are LCD TVs, since plasma TVs start at the 42-inch screen size. Perhaps not surprisingly, narrow viewing angles remain an issue with many sets. Of the tested TV with screens from 32 to 39 inches, only a handful had wider viewings angles, and more than half had very narrow viewing angles. (The remaining sets had “moderate” viewing angles.) This means that with the majority of these sets, the picture won’t be as good for those sitting at an angle from the TV as it will for those sitting directly in front of it.

Also, while many TVs can deliver enjoyable picture quality, it may be harder finding one that delivers satisfying sound. Of the sets we tested with screens 39 inches or smaller, most had “good” sound quality, which means that while it’s fine for typical TV programming, it most likely won’t be able to reproduce the full range of movie soundtracks and music. None of the tested sets in this size had excellent sound, and only one—a 32-inch Insignia—had sound judged very good. But a sizable number had sound judged only fair, and two had poor sound that’s barely a step up from an old transistor radio. Of course, poor sound can be remedied with use of an external sound system, such as a soundbar.

If you’re in the market for a smaller-sized set, let us know what models you’re considering, and whether viewing angle or sound will be a consideration.

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