So you want to buy a new big-screen HDTV for your home. Where do you start? You have so many options, features, and specifications to choose from that it can be confusing. And since you're likely to keep this set for at least the next five years, you want to make a smart choice that you can live with for a long time.

In this HDTV buying guide, we'll break the process down into some simple steps that will help you pinpoint the best HDTV for your needs and budget.

You must first choose between plasma and LCD technology. You also need to determine what size to buy.

You may also have to think about resolution, but that will depend on the size you're considering. If you're buying a set with a screen that's 35in or smaller, you may find 720p models available, but sets measuring 40in or larger will almost all be 1080p. The difference is that the 1080p sets have more pixels that make up the image; they are thus capable of providing the highest detail possible. If you're viewing a smaller screen from a distance, you'll be too far away to notice the added detail of a 1080p set, so in many cases 720p will be just fine for smaller TVs.

Flat-panel HDTV technologies

You have two technology choices: LCD and plasma. (Note that in spite of what some manufacturers would have you think, 'LED TVs' are not a different technology; they are simply LCD TVs with LED backlights.) The two approaches differ in the way that they create an image on the screen. LCD sets use a bright backlight that shines through a layer of liquid crystals, which move to transmit or block the light. Plasma sets, on the other hand, use an electrical charge to make a gas give off ultraviolet light, which in turn causes phosphors to glow - basically the same process that a typical fluorescent lamp uses.

Another alternative, rear-projection (DLP) TV, exists, but we're not discussing such sets here. Rear-projection models can offer incredible value - especially when you're looking at sizes of 60in or larger - but they're not popular because they're bulkier than flat panels. And flat panels are now available in comparable sizes.

NEXT PAGE: Selecting the right size

  1. We help you uncover what the specs mean
  2. Selecting the right size
  3. More on budgets
  4. Making sense of specifications
  5. 3D support
  6. Video connections
  7. LED backlight
  8. Shopping tips