Big TVs for the big game

FRESNO, Calif.

The Consumer Reports TV labs are lined with dozens of LCD and plasma sets. Each television faces more than 10 tests. One sizes up picture quality at an angle in order to find out how far to the side you can sit and still get a good view. In general, plasmas don't have a viewing angle issue, but it's a mixed bag when it comes to LCDs.

Testers also evaluate black levels in different lights on plasmas and LCDs. Even in bright light, LCDs hold their black levels. But on some plasmas, the image washes out.

Consumer Reports also evaluates sound quality. As TVs got slimmer, sound quality suffered. But the latest tests show that audio is improving.

And what about 3D? With more and more sets offering 3D as a feature, Consumer Reports created special test patterns to assess the quality of the 3D picture. Some of the top-rated sets are 3D, and still provide excellent 2D picture quality. But you will pay more for a 3D set.

When purchasing a TV, Consumer Reports says people often buy a set that's too small for their room. For instance, if you sit 8 to 10 feet away from your TV, consider a 50- to 60-inch screen.

The 60-inch Panasonic Viera TC-P60S30 is a plasma that rated excellent for picture quality and has good black levels and audio. It costs $1,400. And the remote is very easy to use.

If that's a little too much TV for your budget, the same set comes in a 50-inch size. The Panasonic Viera TC-P50S30 also rated very good, and it costs $800.

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