I don’t remember buying a TV being this hard. They used to be friendly, simple creatures—they’d sit in their wooden cabinets like docile pets, and as long as you bought a Sony, Onida or any other reputed brand, you couldn’t go wrong.

Spoilt for choice: This is the right time to get a good discount.

This is, however, a good time if you’re a buyer in the market for a new television. Televisions of every kind (LCD, LED and plasma) have become cheaper, while newer technologies such as 3D are now receiving better support in terms of content as well as accessories. This being festive season, you’re more likely to get a good discount too. Once, of course, you figure out what you want to buy. To help you pick through the tangle, we’ve explained the benefits and disadvantages of the three major screen types and then picked out the freshest and best from this year’s crop of television goodness.

The big three-way fight

The three major TV technologies differ in many ways but the crucial difference is how they light their panels. End users don’t need to worry about the technical details, but there are some differences that can help with planning. Plasma has better viewing angles, higher contrast and is cost effective for larger screens. They work great for watching a Blu-Ray DVD and other HD content. LCDs use less electricity, and often have higher resolution, for sharper images, but the contrast isn’t as good. They’re fine for watching TV on though. LEDs have all the features, and their price shows it.

The plasma advantage

Plasma TVs achieve their impressive picture quality through the use of phospors that require no backlighting. Plasma is also good if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive large screen (many 50-inch full HD plasmas cost around 70,000**) for use as a home theater or for gaming. Plasma TVs also score for their wide-viewing angles—which means you can see the TV from multiple parts of a room without there being a significant distortion in the image.

But these panels do have one major disadvantage: They’re power-hungry and consume a lot more energy than LED or LCD screens. There are several other smaller issues that surface over time. For one, even though you can get larger screen sizes for cheaper prices, the resolution is sometimes lower than that of similarly sized LCD and LED screens. Many cheaper, large plasmas, such as the Panasonic 50x30 inches for example, aren’t fully HD.

Finally, plasma screens have been known to suffer from image burn, a problem where a steady image such as the logo of a TV channel that you’ve been watching for long, remains imprinted on the screen for a few hours. This is however, a minor and easily resolvable issue on most of this year’s batch of plasmas.

We like: With impressive black reproduction and great contrast, Panasonic currently makes some of the best plasma TVs in the market. The 3D-ready full HD 42ST30d TV (Rs 82,900) is a feature-rich choice that we’d recommend for the amazing picture produced by Panasonic’s neoPDP panel. The cheaper UT30 model may lack some of the bells and whistles, but it is better value for money.

Samsung has an excellent but exceedingly expensive plasma, the feature-packed 64-inch D8000 model (Rs 2.30 lakh). With its ultra-slim bezel, it’s quite a looker and the picture quality comes close to the best in the Panasonic range. If you’re looking for something significantly cheaper, the slick 51-inch D550 (Rs 78,000), which has full HD and a 2D to 3D converter, is also quite a good buy.

Lead with LCDs

LCDs are currently the most popular type of HDTVs in the market, especially for sizes below 42 inches, because they’re cost effective. The technology behind these screens is relatively inexpensive—cathode-fluorescent lights are used to illuminate the liquid crystals in the display—but it does have its shortcomings. LCDs have poor black levels and low contrast ratios and saturation levels, so the image is not as vibrant as a plasma. For the average consumer though, specially people who watch standard-definition TV programming, this shouldn’t really be a problem. Watching HD movies and games is better on a plasma or LED though. LCDs also have a more limited viewing angle than plasmas, but once again, if four to six people are viewing at a time, it shoudn’t be a problem.

We’d recommend getting an LCD if you’re looking to get an affordable mid-sized TV (between 32 and 42 inches) for everyday viewing.

We like: Sony’s Bravia range has proved be a consistent provider of quality, if slightly overpriced, LCD TVs. The 46CX520 (Rs 73,900) joins that category, although it is redeemed by its excellent feature set which includes Internet connectivity and sharp, punchy images from HD sources. Cheaper Sony alternatives include the CX32D (Rs 40,900), which lets you play movies straight off USB drives and has a built-in DVD player.

We were also impressed by Samsung’s D550 series of LCD’s —they’re fully HD and picture quality is enhanced by Samsung’s proprietary “hyper-real" engine, for instance, the Samsung 40d550 (Rs 51,900).

Get clued into LEDs

LED TVs are usually the shiniest, and probably most expensive, television in any shop display. These are the current superstars of the TV market—matching the excellent picture quality of Plasma TVs and surpassing the power efficiency and sleekness of LCDs. Of course, this marriage of functionality and efficiency comes at a hefty premium, and affordability is currently our biggest quibble about LED screens. Prices keep on dropping every year, however, and this may finally be the season when LEDs shed their “overpriced" tag. Still, expect to pay above 40,000 for even a 32-inch screen.

Beneath their very slim panels, LEDs are basically LCD-screens lit differently, using light-emitting diodes to produce images. The use of LED technology allows these TVs to produce very bright, and in the best TVs, very dark images in extremely high detail. The technology is also very power-efficient, sometimes using less than 40% of the energy used by regular LCD screens. In terms of picture quality, there is a notable difference. While they’ve gotten extremely good, LED TVs aren’t quite perfect yet. For one, they cost a lot. Second, the viewing angle is still rather limited when compared to plasma TV. On the whole, if you’ve got the money to spare, we’d go with one of the large-screen LED beauties listed below.

We like: Samsung has produced some good LEDs recently, and they’d be our top pick if you’re buying big in this category. The 55d8000 is a stunning television set with superb 2D and 3D performance. At 2.49 lakh, it does come with a price tag to match. The 40d5500 (Rs 68,900) is a cheaper LED choice, which still delivers excellent image quality (and below average sound), in a slick, slim frame. Plus, you can use this “smart" TV to access what Samsung bills the “world’s first app store".

Close on the heels of Samsung in this category are LG and Sony, and they’ve got a couple of winners in their stables too. The KDL40NX720 (Rs 93,000) is a Sony Bravia TV that performs as well as it looks. It has full HD and 3D capabilities, Internet connectivity and comes with a Gorilla Glass-fronted panel to avoid reflection.

The similarly priced LG 42LW6500 (Rs 99,000) has most of the same specifications with one other advantage—the 3D glasses come bundled with the pack.

The 3D or no 3D debate continues...

Shakespeare’s classical dilemma has been updated for consumers in the post-‘Avatar’ era, and the answer has become a lot more complicated over the last few months. There are a number of reasons why 3D TVs have become a more attractive proposition for buyers. For one, the technology has become cheaper—all the major TV brands (Sony, LG, Panasonic and Samsung) have 42-inch 3D TVs around the 1 lakh price range. Second, there are more accessories available and again they’re less expensive, with a number of brands giving free 3D glasses with their TV sets. This could still be an annoyance for some buyers though, or for larger families—extra 3D glasses often cost up to 5,000 a pair.

Crucially, more and more 3D content is being made available. We’d still say that 3D is a couple of years away from being a feature that you can actively and regularly use, but if you want to future-proof yourself, pick one of the 3D-equipped TVs in our list of recommended buys.

**Prices can vary

Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com