Intro to Television Shopping: Things to Know Before You Buy

You moved out of your parent's home and into a dorm, apartment, or co-op. And suddenly you don't have a television. True, you can watch just about anything on your computer or tablet. But with a real TV, you can kick back, watch programs on a larger, more immersive screen, and comfortably entertain friends.

Here are some tips to help you find the right TV for your new digs.

Size It Up

To pick a TV that fits your room and your budget, start by measuring your space with a tape measure to determine the maximum size you can comfortably fit.  Next, compare that measurement to your budget.  The instinct with TVs is that bigger is better, but bear in mind, if you sit too close to a large screen, flaws that weren't visible before become obvious and annoying.  Fortunately, there are guidelines to help you avoid that problem.  For example, THX recommends sitting no closer than four feet away from a 40-inch screen for the best experience.

Smart or Dumb?

Sure, you can plug your laptop into your television, but a Smart TV--one with Internet built in--will prove much easier to use. Besides, Windows isn't really designed to be controlled from across the room.

Pretty much any Internet-capable television will offer Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and at least one pay-per-view service (usually more), such as VUDU and Amazon. Some even offer Skype, Twitter, or Facebook, giving you an extra way to keep in contact with friends and family when you head off to college.

If you already have a “dumb” TV, the right game console or Blu-ray player can give you similarly smart connectivity.  You can also smarten up your dumb TV by connecting it to a Roku or Apple TV, which each run less than $100.  Then, if your TV dies or its software isn’t ideal, or you just got a promotion and want to upgrade, you can keep all your preferences and profiles intact by transferring the external device to a new TV.

Your Own Content

Some HDTVs can also play your own music and videos, and display your photos. In fact, many will allow you to put together a simple slideshow of photos with music.

Most sets let you plug in a flash drive or other USB storage device and play your files from them. The better ones have additional options. The Sony KDL-40R450A can display pictures from various cloud photo services, and the Samsung FH6030 can play videos from your computer or smartphone over your home network (you may need to install free DLNA server software).

Just remember to keep file formats in mind. While many sets support standard JPG and MP3 files, you'll need to check the online manual to if you’re using something less common.

Nothing can help you relax after a grueling night of homework like a favorite movie or TV show.  Take a look at some popular TVs in this chart.

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