Buying Your First Flat-Panel HDTV

This holiday season, flat panel televisions are sure to be among the hottest gift ideas. This new technology, once out of the average consumer’s reach due to high prices and little competition, is fast becoming available at affordable prices. With growing demand for wide-screen formats and the increasing availability of high definition TV broadcasts via local cable providers, it looks like more consumers are making the switch to flat panel and sending their old, big, space-hogging sets to the junkyard. If you’re looking to buy your first flat panel television for yourself, or if you’re thinking about giving one as a gift, the Philips 17PF8946 17-inch model is a great place to start.

With a prohibitive list price of about $900, the Philips may seem a little steep. High seasonal demand and an increase in production and competition, however, have led to dramatic price decreases in recent times. now offers the Phillips 17″ for under $500 ($491.90, to be exact, which they advertise as a price cut of 45%). With these kinds of discounts starting to spring up at all of the major retailers, it’s hard to ignore the push the companies are making to get these products out there. So assuming you have a budget of around $500 for this device and this size range, is the Philips 17PF8946 worth your investment?

Flat panel television systems have a few major draws. Obviously the size is the most revolutionary aspect of the device. At about 17 pounds, the Philips 17″ stacks up pretty well against an old-fashioned 17″ TV, which would probably come in at around 30 pounds. The difference, of course, is all in the screen; using liquid crystal technology in the display, this flat panel television has done away with the need for bulky electronics and picture tubes. The result is a device that can be condensed into a screen a mere 3.1 inches thick. Compare that with the foot-or-more depth of a standard TV, and you’re obviously saving some space in your living room. At 20.4 inches wide by 11.9 inches high, the Philips 17″ provides a theater-style 16:9 viewing ratio; this is the ratio at which “Wide Screen” home videos and DVDs play. The difference, however, is that, on a standard television, the image must be shrunk to “letterbox” dimensions in order to display the whole shot on the screen. With the Philips wide screen TV, the entire viewing area is utilized, thus granting the viewer a considerably larger and more visible picture than on a typical 17″ TV.

Of course another improvement of flat panel televisions over standard televisions is the image quality. The Philips features a resolution of 1208 x 768 for very clear pictures. Furthermore, the Philips comes standard with multiple input channels for optimizing your viewing experience. Component (the red/white stereo plugs plus the yellow video plug), composite (red, green, and blue video plugs – this provides the highest quality by separating the light and color information at the signal source and reassembling it in the TV), and S-video inputs are all available, as is a VGA connector, which could enable you to use the Philips 17″ as a PC monitor. Furthermore, the Philips provides a 176 degree horizontal and vertical viewing angle; as with other flat screen devices, this is a major draw, since it increases the range of space from which you can comfortably view the picture. And Philips’s built in Auto Picture function automatically detects the signal information from whatever source and adjusts the TV’s settings to optimize picture quality. Compared with other products in this price range, of which there aren’t many, the Philips 17″ looks brighter and sharper than the rest, when tested on a range of media, from digital cable to DVD.

Since most of the digital television out there is received through cable providers that also supply their own receivers and HD signal processors, the Philips isn’t packaged with an HD tuner of its own. HD tuners are advantageous if you live in areas without cable or if you rely on free airwave radio broadcasts for the majority of your viewing. You might not know, but many of the broadcast network’s programming is broadcast in high definition; if you purchase an external high definition tuner, you can view these signals at optimum quality on your home set. This is the only thing that could be considered a drawback to the Philips 17″, though, and even then it’s not much of one, since most flat panel HD television sets don’t come prepackaged with an HD tuner. Overall, the Philips 17PF8946 17″ Flat Panel HDTV-Ready TV stacks up pretty well not only against standard televisions of the same size, it stacks up pretty well against the competition in its own size and price range as well. If you’re seriously considering the upgrade but aren’t quite ready to go in for one of the jumbo oversized sets yet, the Philips 17″ is a great place to start.

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