Mar 292006
Authors: Martha McKay The Record Hackensack N.J.

HACKENSACK, N.J. – It used to be a question of brand: Sony? Zenith? Panasonic?

And size: 20-inch? 27? And if you were really flush and wanted to impress your neighbors, a 32-inch color set.

But walk into any electronics store these days and prepare to be overwhelmed.

We’re talking flat-screen, wide-screen, flat-panel, rear-projection, high-definition, micro-display, 40-inch LCD, 65-inch plasma and the list goes on.

The choices are dizzying and soon will become even more so.

Earlier this year, Congress set a deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, for broadcasters to turn off over-the-air analog TV signals. Instead of the magnetic waves used for decades, TV stations will switch to an all-digital broadcast.

Most of us with cable or satellite subscriptions aren’t likely to be affected by this change, but millions of Americans who get their TV signal over the air using an antenna with an older-model TV will need to buy an analog-to-digital converter box – or buy a new digital TV – in order to watch television.

Some details of the switchover have yet to be determined. Congress set aside a $1.5 billion subsidy to help people with older-model TVs purchase the converter boxes (two $40 vouchers will be available to pay for the boxes). But it’s not clear exactly how much the boxes will cost and whether they will work perfectly with older sets.

By this time next year, every new TV set sold must contain a built-in digital tuner, eliminating the need to buy a converter box.

Some TV retailers estimate you’ll be hard-pressed to find an old-fashioned analog-tube TV on the shelf by then. They’re already scarce.

6th Avenue Electronics in Paramus sells a handful. Harvey Electronics had one left a week ago, and amid all the flat panels, the bulky tube looked like a dinosaur.

One thing is certain: Anyone in the market for a new TV these days needs time and good information to figure out what to buy.

“You have a lot more choices today,” said Gordon Friend, manager of Harvey Electronics’ Paramus store.

The government mandate to change to all-digital broadcasting, plus advances that have created new and better displays, have driven manufacturers to introduce many new types of television sets with new technologies. The most recent entries include technologies such as LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) and DLP (Digital Light Processing).

So buying a TV can be almost as complicated – and as expensive – as buying a new car. At the higher end, TVs and audio systems can cost upwards of $20,000, more than some new cars. And a high-end room-sized home theater can run well into six figures.

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