Today’s televisions are more versatile than ever. Thanks to wireless connectivity, integrated Web browsers, and innovative remote controls, new LCD and plasma TVs make it easy to do things like streaming season one of “Homeland” and updating your Facebook status. You can even post tweets or check out online auctions on your TV.
Consumer Reports is happy to report that those new capabilities don’t come at the expense of performance. Most televisions that Consumer Reports tested have excellent or very good high-definition picture quality and at least decent sound.
Many buyers shop by size, so Consumer Reports made the ratings easier to use by combining LCD and plasma televisions in one list, sorted by size, with a 3-D score for those TVs that have it. If you want an LCD, check the scores for viewing angle and motion blur, concerns that don’t affect plasma televisions.
Here’s news you need to know:
Internet connectivity expands. Just a few years ago only high-priced televisions from the big names had Internet capability. Now even lower-priced sets from brands large and small — such as the $850 Vizio E552VLE, a 55-inch LCD set, and $300 Philips 26PFL4907, a 26-inch LCD — can access thousands of movies and TV shows from services such as Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Vudu.
That’s not all. New smart TVs from LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio let you download free and paid apps, providing access to video games, travel and news programs, health and fitness tools, and more. A growing number of televisions have full browsers that take you almost anywhere on the Web rather than limiting you to a few video services, though the experience isn’t as smooth as it is on a computer.
Convenience features emerge. Many more TV sets have Wi-Fi capability. A number of new Web-enabled TVs have remotes with keyboards for entering text or passwords so you don’t have to painstakingly click your way around a virtual onscreen keyboard. A few sets, including some from Panasonic, have touchpads that make it easy to navigate menus. LG’s Magic Remote, which works like a Nintendo Wii game controller, was one of the first to let you control a TV by pointing and clicking. With some Samsung televisions, you can control the set and navigate menus with voice commands or hand gestures.
Google TV gets a reboot. Google’s platform for online video content is getting a second chance. It still has a few bugs and limited content, but Consumer Reports really likes its ability to search through live TV, Web-based services, and apps to find what you want. Google TV is available on a line of TVs from LG and media players from Sony (NSZ-GS7, $199) and Vizio (Co-Star, $99). Look for more Google TV products soon.
3-D hits mainstream models. More new televisions have the ability to display 3-D as well as regular high-definition programming. That includes lower-priced sets such as the 51-inch Samsung PN51E490 plasma television, which costs just $650. Most passive 3-D TVs come with several pairs of lightweight glasses similar to those you get at movie theaters.