Years ago, when you wanted to buy a flat panel HDTV, there was really just one basic choice to make: LCD or plasma. Both technologies had their share of fans, their advantages and challenges. Sometimes, it just came down to what was most affordable, with the larger TVs in both technologies carrying enormous price tags. Oh, how times (and the technologies) have changed.
Of course, LCD and plasma are still alive and well -- and the fans are still there, too. However, LED TV (a variation of LCD TV, using an LED backlight) has been gaining momentum for the past few years, and is becoming one of the more popular choices for HDTV shoppers today.
Born out of LCD, LED TV is a relatively new TV technology. While both LCD and LED TV use LCD panels to create the image, LCD TVs use fluorescent tubes to light up that image while LED TVs use LED lights positioned along the sides or back of the TV to make that bright picture possible. And yes, that picture is bright. LED TVs generally boast better brightness and contrast over LCD TV, which means brighter whites (and other colors) and deeper blacks.
Besides the on-screen image, there is a noticeable difference in the outer appearance of LED TVs. LED TV is a lot thinner than its LCD predecessor. However, it's important to note that despite having a slimmer appearance, a brighter image and better picture quality, LED TVs are actually more energy-efficient so you can feel good about your carbon footprint while kicking back to watch your favorite shows.
LED TV Types
Now that you know that you want an LED TV, it's probably a good idea to know what kind of LED TV. Here comes the monkey wrench: There are two types of LED TVs to choose from.
Edge-lit LED TVs have a row of LEDs that wrap around one or more edges of the panel. These lights shine into a multi-layered diffusor panel, providing a uniform light source behind the LCD panel. This type of LED allows for a very slim bezel and the greatest energy efficiency.
Full-matrix LED TVs use a full array of LEDs across the back of the display. In order to make the backlight more uniform, they also use a diffuser panel. Some also offer "local dimming," which allows different areas of the screen to be shut off or diffused. The end result is a better perceived contrast and better overall black levels. These days, even some edge-lit TVs use a form of local dimming technology to improve the overall image quality.
Just know that not all LED TVs offer local dimming. The ones that do may go by another name, as dictated by the manufacturer. VIZIO calls it "Smart Dimming" and Samsung calls it "Precision Dimming." To see what each manufacturer may call it, as well as what other features are being offered on this year's LED TVs, let's take a peek at what manufacturers are offering in the category in our LED TV Buyers Guide for 2012.
The LM9600 is the company's lone NANO LED series. Available in 47-, 55- and 60-inch sizes, these top of the line 1080p HDTVs have a full backlit array. They are also part of LG's Cinema 3D line, which uses Film Patterned Retarder (FPR) technology to boast a 3D viewing experience without the flicker and additional expense of active shutter glasses. These passive 3D TVs use inexpensive 3D glasses (similar to what you find in theaters) to create a bright 3D image, though it does that at the expense of half the resolution. Of course, you can watch these sets in regular 2D mode as well, with full 1080p resolution and with no glasses required.
Other features in the LM9600 series include TruMotion 480Hz technology, built-in WiFi and four HDMI inputs. This is also one of the many 2012 LG HDTVs to include the company's Smart TV platform, which provides on-screen access to thousands of movies, apps, videos and more, as well as a full web browser.
Not to get confusing, but there is an 84-inch LM9600 model coming soon -- and that one features LED Plus technology (edge-lighting, with local dimming). But it will also be packing a whopping 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels) which means it has four times the detail of a 1080p set. This is particularly helpful for 3D viewing as it maintains 1080p+ resolution even in 3D mode.
The LM8600, LM7600 and LM6700 models also have LED Plus. Available in 47- and 55-inch sizes, each of these Cinema 3D TVs has a 1080p image and Smart TV features.
Setting the LM8600 apart is LG's Dual Core chipset, which is good for multitasking and handy for interacting with the company's new 4-mode Magic Remote. Other features include built-in WiFi and Mobile HD Link, for connecting portable devices to the TV. Oh, and each of these models comes packing six pairs of 3D glasses, so you can start up the tradition of family 3D movie nights without any additional purchase required.
All of the models in the LM7600 and LM6700 Series come with the six pairs of 3D glasses and a 3-mode Magic Remote. Other common features include built-in WiFi, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports.
LM6700 and LM7600 Series:
The LM6200 Series is being marketed as a value version of LG's LED TV line. Basically though, it has everything mentioned above in sizes ranging from 32 to 65 inches Of course, there's one exception -- the Magic Remote. Sure, it works with it, but it's more of an option. In other words, if you want one, you're going to have to pay extra.
The G2 Series, which was previously known as the LMG620, is LG's only line to include Google TV for 2012. Available in 47- and 55-inch sizes, these 1080p models come packing a remote with a QWERTY keyboard, so users can easily tap into on-demand content, TV shows, movies, sports, news, social networking, and everything else that the web has to offer.
Each of these TVs also fall under the Cinema 3D umbrella, and come with six pairs of 3D glasses. Other features include 120Hz TruMotion technology, built-in WiFi, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports.
G2 Series, Featuring Google TV:
The LM5800 doesn't have Smart TV features. It's for people who want a good bargain on a good 3D TV. The four sizes in this series each have a full 1080p HD image, 120Hz TruMotion technology, DLNA support, three HDMI ports, and one USB port. As of the time of publication, these sets are not yet available.
On the flipside, the LS5700 Series features all of the Smart TV features, without the 3D effects. All four sizes include a 1080p resolution, TruMotion 120Hz technology and virtually everything the web has to offer. To tap into that web content, these TVs do have built-in WiFi, as well as four HDMI inputs and three USB ports for other AV components.
LG also has a few no-frills models available this year. Available in 22-, 26- and 32-inch sizes, the LS3500 Series has a 720p image, a 60Hz refresh rate, and two HDMI inputs. The LS4600 Series bumps the sizes up to 47 and 55 inches, with a 1080p resolution, a 120Hz refresh rate, and three HDMI inputs on each.
At the top of the heap is the WT50 Series. Promising a full 1080p image in 2D and 3D, this model uses new Bluetooth 3D glasses and has Panasonic's new advanced LED IPS (In Plane Switching) panels, which promise to improve black levels and off-axis viewing as while reducing on-mode power consumption by about 25 percent when compared to last year's similar models. It also has 2D-to-3D conversion, 3D real sound with eight train speakers, and Panasonic's own VIERA Connect web platform, which now has its own web browser. Other features include built-in WiFi, the new VIERA Touch Pad Controller, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports.
Like the above models, the DT50 Series has the full 1080p HD in 2D and 3D, as well as the IPS panel, the built-in WiFi, and the VIERA Connect features. The only real difference between this model and what you're seeing above is that the DT50 doesn't come packing the Touch Pad Controller.
This year will mark Panasonic's first entry into the polarized 3D arena, with the ET5 Series. Available in three sizes, these models have the IPS LED panel, 360 backlight scanning for a smooth image, built-in WiFi and VIERA Connect with the web browser. Also, if you're looking to check out Panasonic's version of passive 3D, each of the ET5s comes packing four pairs of 3D glasses.
The E50 Series is very similar to the models above, but without the 3D features. All three models have that IPS LED LCD panel, a 1080p picture, the 360 backlight scanning, DLNA support and VIERA Connect. It also has four HDMI inputs and two USB ports. You may want to save one of the USBs to add WiFi into the setup, since this line offers that as an optional feature.
All four HDTVs on the E5 Series have a 1080p image and the IPS LED panel, as well as the option to add in WiFi via an add-on dongle. It also has four HDMI inputs, two USB ports and a PC input. The big difference between this line and what you see above is that the E5 series doesn't have 3D support or VIERA Connect. Instead, you can stream DLNA components and an Online Movies feature, which directs you to a variety of VOD services at the touch of a button.
Last in Panasonic's 2012 line is the X5 Series, which puts the IPS LED panel into two 720p models. Other features include three HDMI inputs, one USB port, and an SD card slot.
At the top of the 2012 line is the ES8000 Series. These models feature everything you could want, including a full 1080p HD image and a dual-core processor. What puts this one at the top of the heap is Samsung's Micro Dimming Ultimate technology, which analyzes the picture in hundreds of segments to produce the best LED backlight and video signal in real time.
The ES8000 also has active 3D technology, and throws in four pairs of glasses with each purchase. Samsung believes that the active 3D viewing experience, with its full resolution picture in 3D mode, is so superior to passive 3D as to justify the additional expense of active 3D glasses, but they've also dropped the price of their own active 3D glasses to under $20/pair. This makes family 3D movie nights more reasonable even when you choose to invite over a few friends.
Other features on the ES8000 line include built-in WiFi, access to Samsung Apps and Signature Services, a web browser, and the Smart Touch Remote. There are also plenty of "smart interaction" features, such as gesture control and voice navigation, for TV operation beyond the typical remote. Also new for 2012 is face recognition, which allows users to log into their own personalized version of Samsung Apps using a video camera that's built right into the TV.
All four models in the UNES7500 Series have the same features as what's listed above -- all the way down to the Smart Touch Remote and the four pairs of 3D glasses. The big difference here is that these sets use Micro Dimming Pro technology, which promises excellent black levels and contrast, although not quite up to the level of the ES8500 series' Micro Dimming Ultimate technology. So in the good/better/best department, these would be considered "better."
Under the ES7100 Series, there are four models. Like the two lines listed above, these sets have a 1080p image in both 2D and 3D and come with the four pairs of 3D glasses. There are a few differences, however. The ES7100 has what's called "standard" micro dimming. Also, none of these models have the Smart Touch Remote, the built-in camera, or any of the smart interaction features (voice and gesture control).
The ES6600 Series has three models, each with a 1080p image and active 3D technology. This series drops the number of included 3D glasses down to two pairs. It also has Samsung's Smart TV platform and Signature Services, which you can access through the set's built-in WiFi. Other features include three HDMI inputs and three USB ports.
With a whopping seven models, the ES6500 Series is the largest line in Samsung's 2012 LED lot. All of the models have a 1080p image, active 3D technology and LED edge backlight. This model also comes packing two pairs of 3D glasses in the box, as well as access to Samsung's Smart TV and Signature Services. Other features include built-in WiFi, a web browser, three HDMI inputs and three USB ports.
The ES6100 Series is where Samsung drops the 3D effects for 2012. There's no 3D, but each of the five models in this series has a 1080p image, built-in WiFi, and access to Smart TV features and Signature Services.
The six models in the EH6000 Series don't have the web-enabled bells and whistles listed above. However, each one does have a full 1080p HD image and the ConnectShare Movie feature for playback of a USB memory drive or other external hard drive through one of the set's three USB ports. Each of these TVs also has three HDMI inputs for adding in a Blu-ray player, a streaming set-top box or another AV component.
The four models in the EH5300 Series all have a 1080p image, but drop the refresh rate down to 60Hz. The tradeoff is that all of these sets add back in Smart TV features and Signature Services, all via WiFi or a hardwired Ethernet connection. Each of these sets also has three HDMI inputs and two USB ports.
The five models in the EH5000 Series are exactly the same as what's in the EH5300 Series, except without the Smart TV features. What you do get, however, is a 1080p HDTV with a 60Hz refresh rate, two HDMI inputs and one USB port.
Last, but certainly not least, Samsung has two EH4000 models. Designed for smaller spaces, both of these models have a 720p image, the ConnectShare Movie feature, two HDMI inputs and two USB ports.
That big boy is part of the AQUOS Quattron 8 Series 3D LED TVs. All three models have a 1080p image, Quattron Quad Pixel Plus II technology, active 3D, a 240Hz refresh rate, four HDMI inputs and built-in WiFi. That connectivity is helpful when it comes to accessing Sharp's SmartCentral, a web-based platform that provides on-screen access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Facebook, CinemaNow, YouTube, and more. It's important to note that the 80-incher features full array LED and the 60- and 70-inch models are edge-lit LED.
Quattron 8 Series:
The two AQUOS 7 Series 3D LED TVs are active 3D, edge-lit LED TVs with a full 1080p HD image and a 120Hz refresh rate. Both also have built-in WiFi, Sharp's SmartCentral platform, and four HDMI inputs.
AQUOS 7 Series:
The aforementioned "tiny" set -- you know, the 42-incher -- is part of the AQUOS 6/5 Series. None of these TV models have 3D features. However, all three have a 1080p image, edge-lit backlighting, a 120Hz refresh rate, built-in WiFi, and access to the SmartCentral hub.
The difference between the 6 Series and the 5 Series is that the 5s are the only models that don't have access to AQUOS Advantage Live, which provides live, on-screen customer support.
AQUOS 5 Series and 6 Series:
At the top is the BRAVIA HX850 Series, which features 46- and 55-inch sizes. Each one has a full 1080p HD image, active 3D technology, and dynamic edge LED backlight with local dimming. Other features include the X-Reality PRO engine with 3D Super Resolution, Motionflow XR 960 technology, a frameless Monolithic design, and built-in WiFi.
Right under that is the BRAVIA HX750 Series. Like the above models, these sets have the 1080p image, active 3D, and built-in WiFi. However, they also have dynamic edge LED backlight with frame dimming, the X-Reality engine, and Motionflow XR 480 technology.
Sony had such success with the XBR-HX929 Series last year, they decided to carry the line over for 2012. All three HX929 models feature 1080p in 2D and 3D, Sony's Intelligent Peak LED backlight, and the Monolithic Design. It also has MotionFlow XR 960, which has backlight control that is synchronized with the liquid crystal movement from frame to frame, for better, sharper images. Other features include the X-Reality PRO Engine video processor, built-in Wi-Fi, Skype support, a rear IR-input and a two-way RS232c connection.
The last of Sony's 2012 LED line is the BRAVIA EX640 Series. The three models in this line do not support 3D. However, each one has a full 1080p HD picture with Edge LED backlight, Motionflow XR 240 technology, and the Clear Resolution Enhancer feature. Oh, and unlike the above models, the EX640 sets don't have built-in WiFi. However, that's simple to remedy, since each one comes with a WiFi adapter in the box.
The L7200 Cinema Series LED Smart 3D TV kicks off this year's offering, with two sizes. Both have passive 3D technology, a 1080p 2D image, and ClearScan 240Hz technology. Other new features include two-way ported speakers with the Audyssey Premium Suite, a bezel-less design, four HDMI inputs, two USB ports, and an HD PC input. This model also comes packing a wireless keyboard so you can navigate all of those options a lot easier.
All three models in the L6200 Series also have the passive 3D technology, the 1080p 2D image, Smart TV features, built-in WiFi, the Audyssey sound, and that bezel-less design. Whew! However, the two major differences is that this 3D-capable model drops the ClearScan to 120Hz and doesn't come with the keyboard.
As far as the non-3D models are concerned, Toshiba revamped its entire LED lineup for 2012. The end result is a new Aero Family Design, with Audyssey EQ and Audyssey ABX sound, and the addition of 50-inch class size models. Also, all of the new LEDs will include multiple picture mode options, including the new Dynamic Mode, which is designed to maximize picture contrast, color and sharpness.
The three screen sizes in the L5200 Series all have a full 1080p image, edge LED backlighting, ClearFrame 120Hz technology, three HDMI inputs, one USB port, and a PC input.
The L4200 Series drops screen sizes to 19, 24 and 32 inches. Designed to go in some of the smaller areas of the home, all three of these feature two HDMI inputs, one USB port, and an HD PC input. The 24-incher is the only one in this lot to deliver a full 1080p HD image, with the other two cranking out a 720p picture.
The last in Toshiba's 2012 line is the V4210 1080p Full HD LED/DVD Combo TV. Perfect for the bedroom, kitchen, playroom or other small area, this model packs a 24-inch 1080p HDTV and DVD player into one unit. Other features include two HDMI inputs, a USB port and an HD PC input.
Also, because this is a CinemaWide, users can enjoy an enhanced version of VIZIO Internet Apps (V.I.A.). V.I.A. is the company's web-enabled platform, with content from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Facebook, Twitter, VUDU, Pandora, and more. With CinemaWide, V.I.A. users can enjoy a better view, as well as the option for apps side-by-side next to a full 16:9 HD image.
The 50- and 58-inch sets have VIZIO's Edge Lit Razor LED backlight LCD with Smart Dimming technology, with the 71-incher coming with VIZIO's Full Array TruLED backlighting with Smart Dimming. Other CinemaWide features across the board include built-in WiFi, a Bluetooth remote with a QWERTY keypad, and four pairs of 3D glasses in the box.
CinemaWide XVT CM Series:
If you're willing to give up the 21:9 dream, there are plenty of premium features to be had in the R Series. The 47- and 55-inch models have 240 SPS technology and TrueLED. The 65-inch model has Razor LED and a 120Hz refresh rate. All three models have a 1080p 2D image, smart dimming, built-in WiFi, and access to V.I.A. Plus services. Each one is also a passive 3D TV, which you can test out immediately, since each of these sets comes packing four pairs of 3D glasses. If you're worried about how you're going to control everything, the 47- and 65-inch models come with the 2-sided remote with a QWERTY keyboard. The 55-inch TV has Bluetooth remote with the QWERTY keyboard and a touchpad.
All three models in the M Series have a 1080p 2D image, Razer LED technology, built-in WiFi and V.I.A. access. Each one also has passive 3D, which you can test out with the included glasses. The 47-incher comes with two pairs, with the two larger models adding in another two pairs. The 47- and 55-inch models have the 240 SPS technology and the 65-incher has a 120Hz refresh rate. Other common features across all of the models include smart dimming, built-in WiFi, and V.I.A. access. If you're partial to the type of controller, you have some decisions to make. The 47-incher comes with the 2-sided remote with the QWERTY keyboard, while the 55-incher has Bluetooth and the 2-sided remote with the QWERTY keyboard. Just to throw a wrench into things, the 65-inch model has an IR remote, with a QWERTY keyboard.
The E Series offers three different sizes with passive 3D and two pairs of 3D glasses in the box. The 32-incher has a 60Hz refresh rate, with the other two clocking in at 120Hz. They don't have smart dimming, but all three also have built-in WiFi and V.I.A. access, as well as the 2-sided QWERTY keyboard.