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Originally published Monday, January 30, 2012 at 3:00 PM

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Making a bigger TV part of your Super Bowl game plan

Tips on shopping for a new TV and how to incorporate it into your living space. Plus, a glossary of TV terms.

Sacramento Bee

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Big screens rule for the Big Game.

As the New York Giants and the New England Patriots prep for Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI, consumers nationwide will gravitate to larger television purchases this week. Adding to that pre-Bowl push: a steady drop in prices.

With an audience of about 110 million viewers during game time, Super Bowl Sunday has become a TV-party holiday.

"Regardless of teams, what we do find each year, people are more interested in getting their TV up and running before the Super Bowl party begins,"said Leon Soohoo, owner of Paradyme Sound and Vision in Sacramento and Roseville, Calif.

Shoppers bought 4.5 million new TV sets in the week before the 2011 Super Bowl, up from 3.6 million in 2010. According to trend trackers NPD Group, sales of televisions with 40-inch-or-larger screens increased by 12 percent that week compared with average weekly sales.

Sales of LCD TVs with screens 50 inches or larger shot up 53 percent. Sales of all plasma screens went up 45 percent (with half those sales for larger models).

Meanwhile, prices on many TVs are 25 percent to 40 percent lower than in 2010 for the same size screen and with better quality. According to Consumer Reports, 40- and 42-inch LCD TVs now average below $500; 60-inch LCD TVs have dipped well below $1,500.

That's another incentive to go big in time for the Big Game.

"Prices have come down while technology keeps going up and up," Soohoo said. "Picture quality now is unbelievable. No matter what, (new sets) are probably better than what you're watching now. It's been a nonstop progression."

Technology has made TVs thinner and lighter, allowing for more flexibility in placement. They can go on a wall or in a cabinet or completely out of sight.

"People want big sizes; 50-, 55-, 60-inch or bigger," Soohoo said. "The TV may look great in the store, but then they get it home and say — ohmigod! They don't know where to put it or didn't realize it was that big.

"I think of it like framing a picture," he added. "It's a piece of furniture. It's an addition to your home. Does the TV look attractive when it's off?"

House Beautiful recently asked designers how they incorporated TVs into their own living spaces. They found as many solutions as furniture styles, using all sorts of tables or shelves to set their sets as well as hanging space on walls.

Their advice: Make viewing comfortable and don't feel you have to hide the set when not in use.

Many consumers hang flat-panel TVs like art, often over a fireplace.

"Personally, I don't recommend hanging the TV over the fireplace; it's not at eye level," Soohoo said. "It's not natural to look upward for a long period of time. I find it very uncomfortable.

"People usually don't watch TV standing up; they sit down," he added. "Place your TV where you can watch it at sitting level."

If you do hang the TV above the fireplace, seating needs to be farther away to cut down on neck strain.

With so many options, comparison shopping is important. View several sets side by side.

"Before you buy, you really need to look at the TV carefully," Soohoo said. "Walk around and view it from different angles.

"There are so many choices and all the variations are constantly changing," he noted. "It gets confusing, but it's also thrilling. You know more advances are on the way."

Make room for your new TV

Thinking of a television purchase? Or dreaming of a complete home theater? Either way, take these steps into consideration. This advice comes from Leon Soohoo, owner of Paradyme Sound and Vision in Sacramento and Roseville, Calif.:

1. Plan your space. Family rooms often double as media rooms, but those spaces also likely will have other activities going on at the same time the TV is on. That means the TV will need to have a high-quality display in a well-lit room.

Your TV should be in a place where it won't have bright lights or sunlight from windows reflecting directly on the screen; that cuts down on viewability. Will viewers be watching the screen at an angle? That also impacts your TV choice.

Want a wall-mounted screen? Although lighter than sets in years past, today's flat-panel TVs still are heavier than a painting. A 32-inch flat-panel set ranges from 25 to 60 pounds, depending on model. That weight needs sturdy wall studs and a special mounting bracket. And that flat-panel set needs to be connected to a cable or satellite box, DVD player and other components; those wires will have to go somewhere — such as inside the wall.

2. Screen size impacts viewing distance. Today's flat-panel LCD TVs can be viewed much closer than their big-screen rear-projection counterparts without losing picture quality. But you still want your eyes and neck to feel comfortable while watching.

As a general rule, seating should be at a distance at least 1 ½ to 2 times the diagonal width of the screen. For example, seating for a 60-inch TV should be 7 ½ to 10 feet away from the screen.

Optimum placement of the screen should be eye level while seated. A TV above the fireplace looks impressive, but it is best viewed while standing.

3. Consider sound as well as screen. What good is a great picture if the audio is awful? Most flat-panel TVs have tiny speakers and need some sort of boost. That may come from sound bars (attached to the TV), thin surface-mount speakers, in-wall speakers or traditional stand-alone speakers. Remember: A room's acoustics will impact your video experience. If you're inclined to play late-night movies loud, think about soundproofing, too.

4. Get connected. Today's (and tomorrow's) TVs do a lot more than channel broadcasts. They're interactive home-media hubs with instant access to the Internet to download movies and shows. Manufacturers are making models that operate like smartphones with downloadable apps. While wireless television is beginning to become available, most consumers will need to keep their TVs wired — at least for now — to get that access while maintaining high-quality video performance.

5. Don't forget the remote. That all-important clicker can do more than change channels; it can control all the other components of your media system. Consider a smart universal remote that can control the works — not just the TV.

TV SHOPPING GLOSSARY

Some terms to learn before heading to the store or browsing for bargains online:

3DTV: Similar to three-dimensional movies in theaters, 3DTV is expected to be the next wave in home theaters. Like its theater counterparts, 3DTV requires special glasses to see its full effect. The video uses two full-resolution images — one for your left eye, one for your right — that flash back and forth rapidly. Wireless, battery-powered "active shutter" glasses have lenses that darken and lighten in coordination with the screen's flashing images, controlled by an "emitter" usually built into the TV.

Diagonal: How screens are measured. A 32-inch HDTV is 32 inches measured diagonally from one corner of the screen to the opposite corner. Its actual dimensions are 28 inches wide by 15.7 inches high. For the actual dimensions of other sets, click on www.screenmath.com.

Flat panel: Any ultrathin, relatively lightweight TV.

HDTV: High-definition television. Although this term is often used to describe all digital TVs, true HDTV broadcasts are defined as 1,080-line interlaced (1080i) or 720-line progressive (720p). A popular format for Blu-ray discs, 1,080-line progressive (1080p) now is an established standard for HDTV screens.

LCD: Liquid crystal display, one technology used in flat-panel TVs. A liquid crystal solution is sandwiched between two transparent panels to form the display screen. When backlit, a pattern of transparent and dark crystals forms the picture.

LED: Light-emitting diode. Used in some LCD TVs, this technology allows for more energy efficiency and provides better color accuracy than fluorescent-backlit LCD TVs.

Plasma: Another technology used for flat-panel TVs, the plasma is ionized gas. Two transparent glass panels sandwich a thin layer of thousands of pixels, made up of gas-filled cells. An electrical current makes the gas glow, creating a picture. A typical plasma screen may contain 2 million pixels.

Debbie Arrington at darrington@sacbee.com

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