HDTV buying advuce 2013

Here's our guide to choosing from the latest and greatest 39- to 42in HDTVs on offer in 2013. To read our reviews of the best HD TVs, check out our feature: Group test: what's the best HD TV you can buy in 2013?

If you keep up with the TV news, you'll have seen that OLED and 4K sets are on their way, with several big names – Sony, Samsung and LG – also experimenting with curved screens.

However, these technologies are still some years away from becoming affordable for those on an average salary, and few people have a living room that won't be dominated by a 65in set. See all digital home reviews.

We've kept things rather more down to earth in our round-up of 39- to 42in TVs. Each offers a full-HD resolution and various ‘smart' features.

Most are also available in larger sizes, but beware that there's no guarantee image and sound quality will match that of the sets we reviewed. If possible, always arrange a test viewing before spending your cash. On this page we offer general buying advice for HD TVs. Click through to all TV reviews for individual set reviews, or check out the group test referred to above.

HDTV Buying Advice 2013: 3D playback

Five of the six TVs in our recent group test are 3D-ready. Whether you want to watch programmes in 3D is academic; stereoscopy has become a standard feature on virtually all big-brand TVs of this size.

Two types of 3D tech are seen in consumer electronics: active shutter and passive polarisation. Both offer 3D playback from supporting Blu-rays and satellite and terrestrial broadcasts, but active shutter offers better picture quality and is able to present full-HD images. However, the ‘shuttering' glasses required to enjoy the effect are expensive, prone to flicker and, in the case of LCD TVs, nearly always display crosstalk (double images).

Passive 3D (also known as Cinema 3D and Easy 3D) is a cheaper alternative, with the necessary glasses often handed out free to spectators of the latest 3D blockbusters. It delivers only half the horizontal resolution of the standard image, making diagonal and curvy object edges appear jagged.

Note that not all 3D-ready TVs are supplied with 3D glasses; those that are often come with only one pair. Be sure to factor in the price of additional specs – up to £80 each – unless you intend your 3D experience to be a solitary one.

HDTV Buying Advice 2013: Internet connectivity

With BBC iPlayer and YouTube now almost ubiquitous on Smart TVs, people increasingly expect to be able to get online via the telly in their living room. Having experienced catch-up content on a TV, you'll never want to return to streaming programmes on a laptop's tiny screen.

Many of today's TVs offer movie-rental services, but you should check what content is on offer if this will form an important part of your buying decision. Premium movie operators, such as Acetrax and Sony Movies Unlimited, tend to have a wider choice of new movies than LoveFilm, while Netflix doesn't offer many new films.

Wi-Fi connectivity isn't always a given, especially on cheaper models, so be sure to check if you run a wireless home network or intend to site the TV in a place that is difficult to reach with an ethernet cable. Some screens now offer Wi-Fi Direct or WiDi technology – handy if you want a simple hook-up for a phone or tablet – that doesn't impose itself on your main network resources.

Modern TV sets are able to play a range of video and audio files, but the results can vary dramatically between brands – a potential dealbreaker if you have a hard drive filled with MKV files. In general, media playback via USB offers the widest compatibility.

HDTV Buying Advice 2013: How we test

All the HDTVs in our recent group test were challenged with a barrage of industry-grade test images, comprising an assortment of patterns and charts. Particular emphasis was placed on motion resolution, black levels and greyscale.

All 1080p screens deliver perfect full-HD resolution with static images, but show their true colours when motion is introduced. Screens with limited motion resolution produce characteristic ‘now the image is sharp/now the image is blurred' discrepancies, often within the same frame. This trait is particularly irritating when watching fast-moving sports. Our tests considered how much clarity was lost when high-resolution test patterns travelled at 6.5ppf, and the impact of fast-refresh technologies.

We also assessed the TV sets with real-world content, via their onboard tuners and Blu-ray movies. 3D performance was principally assessed with Tangled, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Monsters vs Aliens. Helping to divine 2D performance were Monsters and Drive.

File-playback tests comprised a motley collection of audio and video clips, played both from USB and a DLNA-capable NAS.

HDTV Buying Advice 2013: Conclusion

You won't be disappointed with any of the TVs in our recent group test, but two in particular deserve a place on your short list.

The first is the exceptional Sony KDL-40W905A. Just when we thought there was nothing more manufacturers could do to improve on a 1080p image, Sony adds a Triluminos filter. When you see the KDL-40W905A beside a ‘normal' HDTV your jaw will drop.

Colours are simply fantastic, so if image quality is your number-one priority, we have no hesitation in recommending the Sony, even at its steep price of £1,299.

For those with a thinner wallet, the Samsung UE40F6800 should appeal. It isn't the best-looking smart TV we've seen, but it's a great choice. As well as excellent image quality, it has a brilliant set of features including both Freeview HD- and Freesat HD tuners, lots of inputs and outputs, Wi-Fi, a class-leading internet portal and unbeatable local file support for playing videos.

However, viewing angles are narrow, so choose this set only if you sit directly in front of your TV. Those sitting to the sides will see much reduced contrast and colour saturation.