A TV for Every Need and Budget

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Meet the Class of 2012. We’ve organized some 160 television models by manufacturer. Within each brand, we’ve separated the sets according to display technology and whether they have the smarts to connect to a home network and the Internet. Of course, if you prefer a TV that knows nothing beyond an antenna or cable connection, such sets are covered here, too.

Sony

A brand synonymous with TV picture quality, Sony’s 2012 offerings include an entry level 32-inch LCD TV, the KDL-32BX330 32" LCD HDTV. It’s a 720p TV, so you won’t get the Full HD experience. Then again, ABC, Fox and ESPN broadcast at 720p. As for other sources, Full HD is best appreciated on larger screens, so you could manage nicely with 720p on this 32-incher. Internet-ignorant, you can still plug a computer or media receiver into this set, and it’s equipped with a USB media player for showing JPEG slideshows or playing MP3 music.

Sony’s main focus this year is on its multiple series of Bravia Internet TVs. As with all Internet-savvy TVs, you need a home network with a router and broadband modem installed. An 802.11n-type Wi-Fi router is recommended. Wi-Fi makes for less clutter and greater flexibility placing equipment, but it isn’t crucial. With all Internet-capable TVs, you can always plug an Ethernet cable into the set’s RJ-45 jack.

From the Bravia home screen, you’ll find apps for Netflix, Pandora, HuluPlus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, Slacker Internet Radio, Crackle and more. You’ll also be able to access social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Sony claims to be the first out with Yahoo! Broadcast Interactivity. The program’s auto content recognition feature empowers viewers with one-click access to TV apps with Internet content related to shows they’re watching. Sony lets you discover even more content through the Sony Portal and one-touch access to the Sony Entertainment Network. The latter puts you into the company’s Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited streaming services, which contain an on-demand catalog of more than 80,000 movies and TV show episodes plus a music catalog of more than 15 million songs.

If you want a Sony TV with the smarts to access this treasure chest of content, you can start with the Sony KDL-EX640 series of Bravia Internet LED TVs in 40-, 46- and 55-inch screen sizes. These sets assist a family’s baby steps onto the Internet by including the UWA-BR100 Wi-Fi adapter that plugs into one of the TV’s two USB ports. The EX640s feature LED edge lighting, 16 watts of stereo audio power and Motionflow XR 240 processing. The sets also integrate Sony’s Clear Resolution Enhancer, which puts forth a vivid, clear picture. The EX640 series can be used to make and receive video calls over the Internet with the addition of Sony’s CMU-BR100 Skype Camera/Microphone.

Stepping up in features, the HX750 and HX850 models are deemed Sony’s flagship series. Both carry forward Sony’s distinctive Monolithic design incorporating Gorilla Glass by Corning, allowing for thinner, lighter and stronger screen material. Both offer active 3D picture capability, which means that you’ll be seeing Full HD in 2D or 3D. (The TDG-BR250B 3D Active Glasses are sold separately.) The HX models come with Skype software embedded. After connecting the optional CMU-BR100 camera, users can experience free widescreen Skype-to-Skype video calls with friends and family from the comfort of their home theaters. Users can also make voice calls while watching TV.

The HX models are Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) certified, so you can exploit the TVs’ built-in Wi-Fi to connect and share content from mobile devices and computers on your home network. You’ll also be able to use Sony’s Media Remote and Remote Keyboard apps for a lean-back experience. Viewers can “throw” a browsed Web site from a smartphone’s touch screen to the Bravia HDTV for big screen viewing. The app enables control of the Web cursor with one thumb, tapping for selecting links and pinching in and out to shrink or enlarge the viewable areas. The apps function as a full remote control with keyboard, allowing easy online content search and playback. In comparison, the dedicated infrared remote that comes with each Sony TVs is dependent on the TV’s onscreen keyboard for alphanumeric input. You can download the free Sony Media Remote for iPhone and iPad from the iTunes App Store or the Media Remote for Android from Google Play (formerly Android Market.)

The Sony KDL-HX750 series of Bravia LED Internet TVs in 46- and 55-inch screen sizes is equipped with Motionflow XR 480Hz, Dynamic Edge LED lighting and 20 watts of audio output. Also, the Wi-Fi transceiver is built-in, so you don’t have to give up one of the two USB ports. Each HX750 comes with a free Sony BDP-S590 Blu-ray Disc player, which is 3D capable. As with Sony’s other Internet TVs, the models can be controlled from your mobile screen.

The Sony KDL-HX850 series of Bravia Internet TVs in 46- and 55-inch screen sizes is a Sony flagship series that takes enhancements to the highest level with a Corning Gorilla Glass screen, the X-Reality Pro Engine, Motionflow XR 960 and 30W of audio power.

Samsung

Offering the largest selection of LED-LCD TVs, LCD TVs and plasma TVs of any manufacturer in this roundup, Samsung’s 2012 lineup is divided between connected TVs—models identified as Samsung Smart TVs—and others that are simply called HDTVs. Starting with the latter category, Samsung’s entry-level TV sets include the LNE550 class of LCD HDTVs in 40- and 46-inch sizes. Each Full HD TV set contains two HDMI inputs, a set of component video inputs, a composite video input and one pair each of stereo inputs and outputs. Using their 10W x 2 speakers, the built-in SRS TheaterSound HD software provides a simulated surround sound experience. You can enjoy photo and music files stored on a USB device by connecting it to the TV and using the Media Play feature, which Samsung also refers to as ConnectShare.

The UNEH4000 series of LED HDTVs in 26- and 32-inch sizes offer 720p resolution, which is passable for these smaller screen sizes. Though the sets are smaller and deliver less resolution than the above series, they use energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) illumination rather than conventional cold cathode fluorescent lighting (CCFL). In addition to photos and music, the USB port supports ConnectShare Movie, meaning you can watch video directly from a USB memory device without necessarily plugging in a computer or disc player.

The UNEH5000 Class of LED HDTVs in 32-, 37-, 40- and 46-inch screen sizes deliver Full HD and a Clear Motion Rate of 120Hz. These sets also include Samsung’s Eco light sensor for automatically adjusting the brightness of the screen to compete with the room lighting. In addition, the sets offer a slim profile design, meaning the bezel nearly disappears, For example, the 46-inch UNEH5000 is nearly 2 inches narrower than the same screen-size in the class above.

The UNEH6000 Class of LED HDTVs in 40-, 46-, 55- and 60-inch screen sizes are Full HD Sets with a Clear Motion Rate of 240Hz. The latter lets you experience razor-sharp picture quality even when you’re watching fast-moving images like racing cars or high-kicking fighters. These models include two HDMI inputs.

The UNEH5300 Class of LED HDTVs in 32-, 40- and 46-inch screen sizes are Full HD sets that begin Samsung’s 2012 line of networking-capable models. They have built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and Ethernet jacks. They also contain three HDMI inputs rather than two in the above models. The real distinction, though, is that these are Samsung’s entry-level Smart TVs complete with Web browsing, apps built for the TV and more. For instance, the Smart Content capability lets you share photos, memories and memos with other family members from the TV to the cloud (also known as remote storage) or to smart mobile devices.

Samsung’s Smart Hub user interface, which shows up on most of the company’s Smart TVs, is compatible with more than 1,400 different apps globally. Samsung claims that it has the leading TV apps platform with the broadest and deepest range of video content.

Another thing to know about Samsung’s Smart TVs is that they are compatible with the Samsung Remote app for mobile devices. The app enables Wi-Fi remote control of Samsung Smart TVs sold since 2011 using your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch or an Android-based smartphone or tablet. (The latter includes Samsung’s own phones and tablets.) The app’s smart mode lets you browse content choices available for streaming on your Smart TV right on your handheld screen. You can use its onscreen keyboard to input text or numbers where appropriate. And the touch screen makes a comfortable user interface for games playable on your Smart TV.

Along with its foray into new mobile technology, Samsung continues to be a major player in the established category of plasma TV technology. Samsung’s plasma line starts with the company’s PN51E490 51" Class Slim PDP HDTV, which offers 720p resolution on a 51-inch screen with 3D picture performance. With its 600Hz Subfield Motion technology, plasma has an inherent advantage over LCD technology since it can flash a single image up to 600 times a second, making for the smoothest, most fluid movement—important where fast action dominates the picture. Samsung Active 3D technology offers an immersive viewing experience. In lieu of a native 3D source (like a 3D movie on a 3D Blu-ray Disc player), Samsung’s Smart 3D TVs can stream special 3D content from the Internet. The TVs also enable 2D to 3D conversion. Two pairs of active 3D glasses are included. The TV is Wi-Fi ready with the optional Samsung Wireless USB 2.0 LAN Adapter. Otherwise, you can plug an Ethernet cable into the RJ-45 jack. That will afford you the ability to view movies stored on the Internet, listen to music and enjoy other content played back from wired or wireless mobile phones, PCs and tablets.

Stepping up to 1080p plasma, Samsung offers the PNE530 Class Slim PDP Full HDTVs in 51- and 60-inch screen sizes. Like the PN51E490 above, the TV contains two HDMI inputs, 20W speaker output and a USB port that is ConnectShare Movie-compatible for plugging a USB device directly into the TV. Unlike the other plasma, the PNE530s are not 3D-capable or equipped for network connectivity.

The PNE550 Class of PDP HDTVs, on the other hand, are Full HD plasma sets with 3D capability and built-in Wi-Fi. These Smart TVs are available in 51-, 60- and 64-inch screen sizes. Each comes with two pairs of 3D active glasses, have three HDMI inputs and two USB ports. Using Samsung’s Smart Hub, you can access video from Vudu, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Netflix and other providers. You can also use Facebook, Twitter and Google Talk. And, with the addition of a compatible camera, the TVs support Skype.

Beyond streaming the usual suspects for Web site-specific entertainment, Samsung Smart TVs in 2012, incorporate several Signature Services meant to appeal to particular family members.  Services include:

  • A family album that lets users organize photos and run slide shows on the big screen. They can also share memos and reminders anywhere they are via smartphone, tablet, PC or TV. Suddenly, that refrigerator magnet for posting notes seems antiquated.
  • A fitness app that enables users to link their Samsung Smart TV to a Samsung smartphone running a mobile Fitness app. They can also connect to a Wi-Fi-enabled scale to manage (and dare share) their weight goals. They can also use the TV’s built-in camera (on select models) to create a virtual mirror to monitor their exercise routines. (You’d have to place the Wi-Fi scale in front of the TV’s camera if you’re that much of an exhibitionist.)
  • A host of child-friendly games with parental control and monitoring.

The same Smart TV features apply to Samsung’s PNE6500 Class PDP HDTVs in 51- and 60-inch screen sizes. The Full HD plasma sets with built-in Wi-Fi take Internet connectivity even further by including a full Web browser, and it’s a 3D TV as well. Plus, like all Samsung Smart TVs with 3D capability, Samsung provides native 3D content you can stream from the Internet as well as on-the-fly conversion of any 2D content into 3D. With so many 3D possibilities, you won’t be dependent on 3D Blu-ray movies or the Summer Olympics in 3D alone. The TV is also Skype-compatible. You do have to add a camera. Since Skype doesn’t work in 3D, mom won’t be popping her head through the screen when she calls—not yet anyway. Two pairs of active 3D glasses are bundled with the TV.

The PNE7000 Class PDP HDTVs in 51-, 60- and 64-inch screen sizes are Full HD plasma displays that feature 3D capability, built-in Wi-Fi and a full Web browser. Distinguishing the PNE7000 Class is a dual core processor for faster loading and multitasking capabilities. The TV is Skype-ready for a compatible camera. Two pairs of active 3D glasses are included.

With the PNE8000 Class PDP HDTVs in 51-, 60- and 64-inch screen sizes, Samsung incorporates the most advanced capabilities of its other plasmas (dual core processors, 3D viewing and Wi-Fi) into this top-tier class in which the TVs’ smarts are enhanced with Smart Interactions. That means you can control the TV with gestures or voice commands. How’s that possible? The TVs have a built-in Webcam that can pick up your gestures and voice commands and a more sophisticated remote called the Smart Touch Remote Control. Even without touching the remote, you can simply wave your hands, for example, to scroll through channels or access apps. The remote has a microphone, and you can speak commands directly to it. The Web cam also contains face recognition technology so that you don’t have to enter an ID and password on the remote control. Yes, it’s a TV that watches you watch TV so it can respond according to your hand signs. The PNE8000s has three USB inputs and it comes with two pairs of active 3D glasses.

Even with plasmas aplenty, Samsung offers an even greater selection of LED-LCD TVs. The UNES6100 Class of Slim LED HDTVs in 40-, 46-, 50-, 55- and 60-inch screen sizes are Full HD sets with built-in Wi-Fi. These panels are not only smart; they’re also slim. Would you believe 1.2-inches svelte without the stand? Yet, you’ll find three HDMI and three USB inputs, among others. With a Clear Motion refresh rate of 240Hz, speedy objects aren’t likely to smear across the screen. The sets can be controlled by a wireless keyboard, and they’re Skype-ready. (Just add a keyboard, camera or both.)

The UNES6500 Class of Slim LED HDTVs in 32-, 40-, 46-, 50-, 55-, 60- and 65-inch screen sizes are Full HD Smart TVs with built-in Wi-Fi. With a Clear Motion Rate of 480Hz, these sets are even less likely to sweat speeding bullets than the UNES6100s. The UNES6580 Class of Slim LED HDTVs in 40-, 46-, 50- and 55-inch screen sizes are Full HD Smart TVs that include 3D capability and a free Web cam for Skype use. Four pairs of 3D Active Glasses are included.

The UNES8000 Class of slim LED HDTVs in 46-, 55-, 60-, 65- and 70-inch screen sizes is perhaps Samsung’s ultimate statement in 3D Full HD LED-illuminated Smart TV sets. Complete with Web browser, dual core processing and an eye-opening Clear Motion refresh rate of 960Hz, these TVs also feature Micro Dimming Ultimate, software that delivers enhanced contrast. The sets have a built-in camera for Skype video calls, gesture control and face recognition. The supplied Smart Touch Remote control contains a microphone for voice navigation. That way you can change the channel or launch an app without the hassle of pressing a button. Four pairs of active 3D glasses are included.

Panasonic

Panasonic is at the forefront of connected TVs, 3D technology and state-of-the-art plasma screens, but they offer an affordable and feature-packed line of lower end HDTVs as well. The Viera TC-L32X5 32” Class X5 LED HDTV offers a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels and 20 watts of stereo audio power. Despite its lack of Internet connectivity, the TV is clever at detecting the amount of light in the room and adjusting the screen’s competitive brightness accordingly. Panasonic calls the technology CATS (for Contrast Automatic Tracking System). The feature is carried through in other models. The TC-L32X5 uses its stereo speakers to simulate surround sound. And there’s an SDHC-compatible card slot and USB port for playing photos and videos. There’s also a game mode for optimizing screen response time. A 24-inch version is expected to be available later in the summer.

As soon as you step up to Panasonic’s Smart Viera class of TVs and attach them by Ethernet cable or wirelessly to your Wi-Fi router and broadband connection, a world of possibilities opens up. First, you can start streaming movies and TV shows from such Internet services as Netflix, Cinema Now, Amazon, Hulu Plus and Vudu. Then, you can take advantage of the set’s DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatibility for playing photos, music and videos from a computer or network attached storage device anywhere on your home network. Third, if you have an iOS (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch) device, you can download the free Viera remote app and use your mobile touch screen to control the TV. (If you own an Android-based phone or tablet, you can download Viera remote from Google Play.) The Panasonic app is compatible with all of the company’s Wi-Fi connected flat-panel TVs released in 2011 and 2012.  

Moving onto Full HD (1920 x 1080p) HDTVs with LED illumination, Panasonic offers a range of models. Starting with the least expensive, which are the non-3D models ready for Wi-Fi via an optional adapter, the Smart Viera Class E50 Series in 42-, 47- and 55-inch versions, offer smooth 24p playback (3:2) for viewing movies on Blu-ray Disc, an SDXC card slot, two USB 2.0 ports and four HDMI inputs. With these models, you do have to plug in an Ethernet cable unless you opt for the Panasonic DY-WL5 Wireless LAN Adapter.

Panasonic’s LED LCD lineup, which includes the L32X5 and E50 Series above, benefits from the company’s In Plane Switching (IPS) technology. IPS displays a wide viewing angle with little picture degradation to people gazing from the side seats.  The IPS LED panel is carried through the Smart Viera E5 Series of Full HD LED TVs in 32-, 37-, 42- and 47-inch screen sizes. The Internet button on the TV’s remote lets you directly access a variety of Video on Demand (VOD) services.

The Smart Viera ET5 series of LED HDTVs puts 3D capability in the picture, and the 3D type deployed here signals Panasonic’s entry into the polarized 3D camp. Until now, Panasonic stood exclusively behind active 3D, which works with battery-powered LCD shutter glasses. Each ET5 comes with four pairs of polarized 3D glasses. Batteries aren’t included because none are needed. With polarized 3D glasses—the technology seen in movie theaters—you’ll never have to charge or replace batteries. The Full HD TVs are available in 42-, 47- and 55-inch screen sizes and have built-in Wi-Fi and 24p Cinematic Playback. The ET5 models incorporate the IPS LED panel; 360 backlight scanning for higher moving picture resolution during fast action scenes; Viera Connect with built-in Wi-Fi and browser; on-the-fly 2D to 3D picture conversion; a Social Networking TV function; one PC, two USB and four HDMI inputs; and DLNA-compatibility.

The Smart Viera E5 Series of Full HD LED TVs, meanwhile, not only delete the in-between “T” from the nomenclature but give up the 3D and built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. The sets are available with smaller screens, namely 32- or 37-inch sizes. The E5 models include online movies, DLNA compatibility, four HDMI inputs, two USB 2.0 ports and a D-sub, 15-pin PC input. You can also play your media from an SD card or USB device. The E5s are Wi-Fi ready, but if you want to make them Wi-Fi capable, you should get the DY-WL5 Wireless LAN Adapter.

Moving up in size and adding active 3D capability, the Smart Viera 47” Class DT50 Series Full HD 3D LED HDTV features a 240Hz refresh rate and Panasonic’s Super High Speed 1920 Backlight Scanning for higher moving picture resolution during fact action scenes and a smooth, crisp mage. It also incorporates an IPS LED panel. The DT50 series includes Viera Connect with built-in Wi-Fi and Web browser and a new narrow metal frame. At 42-inches wide, the 47-inch DT50 is 1.6-inches narrower than the 47-inch ET5, for instance. The DT50 can perform 2D to 3D conversion. There’s a social networking TV function, too. Compatible 3D glasses, such as Panasonic’s TY-ER3D4MU 3D RF Active Shutter Glasses, are not included. The DT50 Series is equipped with 3D Real Sound with 8-Train Speakers, a media player, DLNA compatibility, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports.

The top-of-the-line LED-LCD HDTV from Panasonic is the TC-L47WT50 Viera, a 47-inch 3D TV. A 55-inch version, the TC-L55WT50, will be available later this summer. The Full HD WT50 series features the IPS LED LCD Panel; Super High Speed 1920 Backlight Scanning for higher moving picture resolution during fast action scenes, and a smooth, crisp image; Viera Connect with built-in Wi-Fi and Web browser; a new Clear Panel Pro and super-narrow metal frame with crescent stand; 2D to 3D conversion; a Social Networking TV function empowering viewers to access social network sites while simultaneously watching TV; a multitasking feature to switch between apps; 3D Real Sound with  8-Train Speakers and a woofer speaker, providing an immersive sound experience without necessarily adding external speakers; a media player enabling you to view digital images and high-def video recorded on an SD memory card; DLNA compatibility; four HDMI and three USB inputs. An advanced remote, the Viera Touch Pad Controller, is included but 3D glasses such as Panasonic’s TY-ER3D4MU 3D RF Active Shutter Glasses, are not.

Turning to plasma and Panasonic’s robust lineup of six different series, the 2012 Viera models all exploit plasma technology’s ability to display ultimate black levels thanks to self-illuminated phosphors at the pixel level. The alternative flat-panel technology—once called LCD TVs but now marketed as LED TVs—incorporate LCDs that must shut to block the broader transmission of LED edge-lighting or backlighting. The Viera plasmas consist of the VT50, GT50, ST50, UT50, XT50 and U50 series. The more advanced models (VT/GT/ST/UT) employ Panasonic’s NeoPlasma Black 2500, a technology that affords full local dimming at the sub-pixel level, meaning 6,220,800 cells. Two of the series, the VT and GT, also provide 24,576 steps of gradation, a technology previously available only in professional monitors.

Starting with the company’s dimmer wit, meaning a set that is no less bright in picture but oblivious to the existence of the Internet, the Viera 50" Class U50 Series Full HD Plasma HDTV bears the distinction of one-size fits all. You can have this class in any size so long as they’re 50-inches, actually 49.9 inches measured diagonally. It’s also the lone non-3D TV in this year’s HDTV plasma line-up. Still, the model features Full HD (1080p resolution), fast switching phosphors, a 600Hz sub-field drive, a game mode, two HDMI inputs and a USB port. Almost reluctantly, Panasonic embeds media player software so you can insert an SD card or USB device and the TV will know enough to play your digital photos, videos or songs. So, call it an above-average TV.

Moving up in IQ, you can’t address the rest of the plasmas here as just Viera—they’re Smart Viera TVs. The Smart Viera UT50 series of Full HD Plasma TVs in 50- and 55-inch screen sizes offers the best possible 2D or 3D resolution whether you’re watching movies from Blu-ray Disc or converting 2D streaming from the Internet to 3D. The UT50 is also the first class as you’re stepping up in plasmas to embrace the most inclusive level of Smart Viera intelligence, which Panasonic terms Viera Connect. This is an Internet service for TVs based on the use of cloud servers and a wide range of apps. Viera Connect Apps include social networking like Facebook and Twitter, video sites like YouTube, Netflix and Vimeo, music sites like Shoutcast and Pandora, game sites like Brain Trainer and Asphalt 5, as well as news, health and lifestyle sites. The sets come with two HDMI inputs, two USB ports and an Ethernet jack but you’ll need the optional Panasonic DY-WL5 Wireless LAN Adapter for connecting to your Wi-Fi network.

The pictures on the Smart Viera ST50 Series of Full HD Plasma TVs in 50-, 55-, 60- and 65-inch screen sizes appear to float thanks to their transparent Crystal Frames. But cosmetics isn’t the only thing these 3D TV sets have going. Wi-Fi connectivity is built-in as is a full browser that supports HTML5 pages so you can use your TV much like a PC. Also, the TVs each contain three HDMI inputs and the buttons on the remote are backlit and you can Skype while watching TV. (The Panasonic TY-CC20W Communication Camera isn’t included.) The ST50 Series is equipped with 3D Real Sound heard through 8-Train speakers and woofer.

Panasonic’s penultimate plasma series is the Smart Viera GT50 Class offered in 50-, 55- and 60-inch screen sizes. These are THX 3D-certifiied displays with the Crystal Frame, 3D Real Sound with 8-Train speakers and woofer. Plus, the GT50 Series features Viera Remote App support. By providing 24,576 levels of light emission, the GT50 display is able to show the most nuanced detail in shadowy areas of the picture. The 1080p Pure Direct processor transmits and outputs high-quality YUV 4:4:4 30-bit color video signals directly to the TV. The technology reproduces colors that are highly faithful to the original. The TVs are equipped with Wi-Fi, four HDMI inputs and three USB 2.0 ports. Active shutter glasses necessary for 3D viewing are not included.

Panasonic’s pinnacle of plasma panache can be best appreciated in the Smart Viera VT50 Series. The flagship sets will be available in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes later this summer. The Full HD TVs incorporate Panasonic’s Infinite Black Ultra Panel in which deep black hues are achieved thanks to new and advanced pre-discharge technology. Plasma purists are salivating at the prospect of seeing Panasonic reach the same vaunted levels of blackness achieved by the legendary Kuro panels that were discontinued by Pioneer several years ago. Like the GT50 Series, the VT50s incorporate 1080p Pure Direct signal processing. The display features Fast Switching Phosphors, 24,576 steps of gradation technology and 2D to 3D conversion. An Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) advanced calibration mode with included software enables professional installers to adjust every aspect of the picture to the ultimate standards.

All the intelligence found in Panasonic’s other Smart TVs are embodied in the VT50 Class. It features Viera Connect with a computer-like Web browser and built in Wi-Fi capability. A social networking TV function enables users to access social network sites while simultaneously watching TV. A multitasking feature lets viewers switch between apps without necessarily closing one first. Each VT50 comes with two remotes: one with backlit buttons; the other a touch pad controller designed especially for thumb maneuvering and Web browsing.  Keep in mind that if you plan to use the TV for video calling or 3D viewing, neither the Skype camera nor active 3D glasses are included.

Toshiba

Unlike its competitors, Toshiba isn’t bestowing the word “smart” on most members of its 2012 class. In fact, if you couldn’t care less whether your TV knows Facebook from Flickr, you’ve come to the right brand. Toshiba is instead emphasizing optimized picture performance, enhanced sound, a new 50-inch screen size and better value. But just in case you want a TV with a more polished portfolio, Toshiba offers a handful of highly-decorated TVs.

All of Toshiba’s TVs incorporate Audyssey technology to deliver more natural sound and deeper bass. Toshiba’s LED TVs include Audyssey Dynamic Volume to eliminate sudden volume changes that viewers get from commercials or when changing channels. Toshiba TVs offer multiple picture modes including Standard, Movie, PC, Native Mode and Expert Mode. Toshiba's 2012 line also adds a new Dynamic Mode that maximizes picture contrast, color and sharpness. The result, according to Toshiba is “a highly compelling and vivid visual experience.” All the TVs include a gaming mode so you can enjoy hair-trigger action without delay. Toshiba’s DynaLight technology automatically adjusts the backlight intensity based on the image content.

Almost all 2012 Toshiba LED TVs now feature the new Aero Family Design. Distinguished by a silver wing design along the bottom of the display and a thin bezel, the TVs exude a modern look that blends with virtually any interior design aesthetic.

Toshiba offers an abundance of smaller screen sizes. Among its more diminutive TVs are three belonging to the L4200 series: the 19-inch 19L4200 LED HDTV, 24-inch 24L4200 LED HDTV and 32-inch 32L4200 LED HDTV. All are 720p TVs except the middle model. Defying convention, the 24-incher incorporates a resolution of 1920 x 1080p (Full HD), while the larger 32-inch model takes the res back down to 720p. Go figure. One thing in which there’s no argument about these smaller-size sets: you can probably put one anywhere in your home. You could even put one on a desk and use it as a computer monitor. (Actually, that’s a good reason to go with the 24-incher.) Of course, using one of these TVs as a computer monitor by itself will raise the TV’s acumen exponentially. All three sizes contain a PC input, two HDMI inputs and a USB Media port. The latter lets you attach a USB device for playing your music and slideshows. The L4200 series features Toshiba’s new Aero Family Design and ultra-thin bezel.

Moving up in size, the L5200 Class of 1080p LED HDTVs offers screens with 40-, 46- or 50-inch diagonals. Featuring the latest Aero Family Design with an ultra-thin bezel, the series includes ClearFrame 120Hz technology for clear fast action video. The L5200 Series comes equipped with the new Dynamic Picture Mode that creates vibrant images as well as the Audyssey premium sound enhancement suite for increased bass and improved sound clarity. The TVs contain three HDMI ports, an HD PC input and a USB Media port.

The 24V4210U 24" LED HDTV / DVD Combo is the only TV in this roundup with a built-in DVD player. Sporting a full-HD 24-inch display, the TV saves space by embedding a DVD player with the latest picture and sound technologies. The TV is equipped with the new Dynamic Picture Mode and Audyssey sound enhancement suite. It comes with two HDMI ports and a USB Media port. The PC input allows the TV to double as a high-quality monitor.

The least expensive category of flat-panel TV is a CCFL-type LCD TV. With that in mind, Toshiba is offering the 40E220U 40" Class 1080p LCD TV. The Full HD TV features Dynamic Picture Mode and the Audyssey sound enhancement suite. It can be used for all types of home entertainment, including gaming. Connectivity includes two HDMI ports and a USB Media port. When 40-inches doesn’t do it for you, but you still want affordability in a really big display, consider Toshiba’s 65-inch CCFL-backlit 65HT2U 65" Class 1080p LCD TV. Toshiba’s CineSpeed Panel is enhanced by a ClearFrame 120Hz refresh rate and DynaLight backlighting control. The TV features what Toshiba calls Invisible Speaker System Design. See if you can find the 10W + 10W speakers. The remote lets you mute or half-mute the sound without squeezing the volume buttons. The jack panel contains three HDMI inputs, a set of component video inputs (which Toshiba has always called ColorStream) and a USB port for playing music or photos from an attached device.

Foregoing LED-edge lighting in favor of LED backlighting, which makes the panel a tad thicker, Toshiba is describing its 50-inch L2200 Series Full HD TV as using “Direct LED” technology.  The 1080p TV includes the new Dynamic Picture Mode and Audyssey premium sound enhancement suite as well as two HDMI ports, an HD PC Input and a USB Media port. The L2200 features the new Aero Family Design.

Toshiba isn’t ignoring 3D. But it has switched camps. For its 2012 models the company has dropped active 3D technology in favor of passive 3D. So, if you purchase Toshiba’s L6200U Class 1080p 3D LED HDTV in 42-, 47- and 55-inch screen sizes, you’ll find that each comes with four pairs of polarized glasses that don’t need batteries. In case you can’t get enough movies and games in native 3D, the TV incorporates Toshiba’s TriVector 2D to 3D conversion. No matter what you’re watching, the TV’s Dual-Core CQ Engine helps create enhanced picture quality and more robust smart TV performance. Yes, Toshiba has finally uttered the “S” word. It also helps explain why the TV is equipped with an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi connectivity and why it comes with a full-size wireless keyboard for easy Web navigation. Toshiba's Smart TV suite includes an open browser, search media guide and access to YouTube, Netflix, Vudu and many other sites. The TV is compatible with the free Toshiba TV Remote app from Google Play that runs on Android smartphones and Toshiba Thrive Tablets, among others. Toshiba’s acronym for tablet control is TRAC (Tablet Remote App Capability). The TVs are DLNA-compliant and compatible with the Control4 home control system.

Toshiba’s highest achieving smart 3D TV is the L7200 Cinema Series 3D LED HDTV in 47- and 55-inch screen sizes. Incorporating the 3D and smart features of the L6200 Class above, the L7200 Series takes the refresh rate up to 240Hz from 120Hz and adds zoned local dimming for deeper contrast.  In addition, the L7200 Series includes two-way ported speakers enhanced by the Audyssey Premium Suite, which creates deeper bass and blocks distortion at louder volumes, while equalizing the softest and loudest sounds to the dynamic range of the audio system. The TVs also feature Toshiba's first-ever Aero bezel-less design, bringing the picture right to the edge of the glass for a mind-blowing experience. The TV squats on an elegant black glass table stand. Like the L6200s, the L7200s are equipped with four HDMI inputs, two USB ports and an HD PC input.

Sharp

With some of the most enormous LCD-LED TVs in the industry, Sharp may depress the demand for house painters and rug hangers who depend on exposed wall access. If you have the space and fervor for a 60-, 70- or even 80-inch TV, Sharp has you covered.

The LC-LE640U Aquos LED TV Series is available in 52-, 60- and 70-inch screen sizes. The series features full 1080p resolution built around Sharp’s X-Gen LCD panel with 120Hz Fine Motion Enhanced refresh rate and 4ms response time. The TVs are equipped with 20W audio systems, four HDMI inputs, an Ethernet jack and two USB ports for photo viewing and music playing. The sets include Sharp’s SmartCentral user interface for access to Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Vudu HD Movies, Vudu Apps, Facebook and Twitter.

The LC-LE745U Series of Aquos 3D LED LCD TVs in 60- and 70-inch screen sizes raise the Aquos ante with active 3D capability. Sharp emphasizes that active 3D is brighter and better than passive 3D, with active technology doubling the resolution of passive 3D pictures. The Full HD TVs incorporate LED edge lighting, a 120Hz refresh rate and built-in Wi-Fi. The Full SmartCentral interface enables access to Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, YuTube, Face, Twitter and Internet browsing. It’s equipped with four HDMI inputs, a PC input, an RS-232C jack, two USB ports and more. 3D glasses are optional.

The Sharp LE847U Quatron Edge LED TV Series in 60- and 70-inch screen sizes belong to Sharp’s premium Aquos Quattron Smart 3D LED TV line. The sets carry forward Sharp’s pioneering technology of adding a yellow subpixel to the traditional red-green-blue pixel structure. With Aquos Quattron LED TVs, Sharp expanded the electronic color pallet for reproducing everything from deeper Caribbean blues to the purest jewelry golds. The TVs feature a brushed aluminum bezel and a 240Hz edge-lit LED panel. The built-in Wi-Fi exploits Sharp’s intuitive SmartCentral user interface for letting viewers access and download the most popular apps or browse the Internet. The TVs employ active 3D technology, but the Sharp AN-3DG20-B Rechargeable 3D Glasses are not included. What’s interesting about the glasses is that there’s a control on the frame for converting 2D into 3D, so you don’t have to reach for the remote to see the picture pop.

For the ultimate viewing experience, consider the Sharp LC-80LE844U 80” Aquos Quattron Smart 3D LED TV. Did you know that an 80-inch TV provides more than twice the screen area of a 55-inch TV? A TV this size puts the emphasis on theater when you’re talking home theater. The Full HD 1080p LC-80LE844U features a vivid 3D image, employing Sharp’s Quattron technology with full array LED backlighting and a newly developed 240Hz Aquos X-Gen LCD panel to virtually eliminate blur during fast-moving video. Engineered for large screen televisions to better enhance the definition of diagonal lines, Sharp’s Quad Pixel Plus 2 technology reduces unwanted ridging and blurring effects by increasing precision control. The LCD response time is 4ms. Included Vyper Drive technology will appeal to gamers who’ll witness almost no lag time. The LC-80LE844U is Wi-Fi-capable, which comes in handy when using the new SmartCentral user interface. The TV is equipped with four HDMI inputs, two USB ports and a handful of other connectivity options.  The optional Sharp AN-3DG20-B Rechargeable 3D Glasses offer the unique 3D-2D mode conversion button.

LG

Whether you’re shopping for an LED-illuminated LCD TV, plasma TV or conventional LCD set, LG Electronics has your back. And LG is expected to offer touch-screen plasma TVs and the first large OLED TVs for home use later this year. LG’s 2012 Class is mostly made up of smart TV graduates that have earned a degree in 3D, too. As a company, LG has led the charge into passive 3D, a technology in which the glasses are polarized rather than charged. LG terms the technique Film Patterned Retarder (FPR) technology. LG promotes the glasses as battery-free, lightweight and inexpensive, making them ideal for watching 3D content in large groups and comfortably for longer periods of time. Also, LG’s optional AG-F220 Cinema 3D Glasses clip onto prescription glasses so that near-sighted viewers who want to see the 3D picture clearly need not wear one frame over another. While LG’s 2012 LED-LCD TVs employ FPR technology, its plasmas work with active (battery-powered LCD shutter) glasses synchronized by an RF (Bluetooth) emitter on the TV. In terms of model choices, LG’s LCD-LEDs surpass their plasma mates.

Wi-Fi is built into the majority of LG’s Smart TVs. That’s a good thing since LG claims to have launched more than 1,200 Smart TV apps, and the number continues to grow. Despite the deluge, LG makes individual apps easy to access thanks to the upgraded Home Dashboard, which allows for quick browsing. And the shortcuts displayed on the Home Dashboard can be customized, enabling users to handpick their favorite content and apps for direct access without plodding through menus.

Besides empowering viewers to retrieve movies and TV programs on demand, they can access social networking services, make donations to charities and browse museum art collections, among other activities. LG’s 3D Zone offers a growing collection of 3D movies and TV shows streamed from the Internet. Meanwhile, existing 2D movies can be converted to 3D via LG’s enhanced 3D conversion engine. All of these TVs feature an intelligent sensor that adjusts the picture brightness automatically based on the room lighting.

Some models come with LG’s newly redesigned Magic Remote. The remote simplifies navigation with additional functions including Voice Recognition, Wheel, Magic Gesture and Pointing. The Voice Recognition mode (available on TVs with dual core processing) let users enter search terms by speaking. You may also simply be able to wave the remote for gesture control. Sensors on the TV follow along. The remote’s wheel enables users to swiftly scroll up and down various menus and apps, allowing for quicker selections. The latest Cinema 3D Smart TVs offer a new connectivity feature that deploys Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology. This enables easy and quick connection between the TV and a WiDi-capable notebook computer without the need for cables or Internet access. Through Smart Share Plus, users can access content stored on external devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones. Smart Share Plus also offers the Screen Share function which streams TV content to external viewing devices using a Wi-Fi connection. LG’s smart TVs also work with the LG TV Remote app for use on iOS devices or LG TV Remote app for Android phones and tablets.

LG offers some of the most sophisticated TVs on the planet, but let’s get the company’s lesser lights out of the way first. For an excellent value, the PA4500 Class of Plasma HDTVs in 42- and 50-inch screen sizes will keep viewers attuned. Equipped with a TruSlim Frame measuring all of 0.59-inches wide, 720p (1024 x 768) resolution, Super Black Panel and Triple XD Engine, these plasmas fill a very comfortable price-performance slot. Moving up to Full HD resolution but staying within the bounds of non-connected TVs is the PA6500 Series of Plasma 1080p TVs in 50- and 60-inch screen sizes. Wrapped in TruSlim Frames, the pictures seen on these plasmas are stunning. Both plasma families come on stands that swivel 20-degrees left and 20-degrees right. Remove the stand, and the TV can be wall-mounted.

LG employs the same screen technologies in its Internet and non-Internet TVs. Its LS3400 series of LED TVs are equally adept as the above plasmas at standing apart from the Internet. Available in 32- and 42-inch sizes, the so-called family is also separated by pixel count. The 32-incher delivers 720p (1366 x 768) resolution, while the 42-incher sports Full HD (1920 x 1080p) resolution. What they do have in common is LED edge lighting, two HDMI inputs and a USB port.

The LG 55" EzSign TV doesn’t connect to the Internet either, but it does exhibit a unique talent to turn itself into a standalone digital sign. True, a digital signage may have no place in your home theater unless you’re charging neighbors for popcorn, but in a commercial setting, the TV works both ways: displaying today’s specials or showing the big game. That’s because the monitor/TV is equipped with both ad playback software and an ATSC/Clear QAM tuner. You create ads on a PC using the included EzSign software, save the files to a USB drive, and then just plug the USB drive into the TV. The 55-inch LED-backlit LCD TV offers Full HD resolution.

The rest of the LG lineup consists of TVs that can connect to your home network and the Internet. Let’s look at the smarty-pants plasmas first. Many video enthusiasts swear by the superior picture quality of plasma technology. With a refresh rate of up to 600MHz, the widest viewing angles and the ability to produce the deepest, pixel-specific blacks, plasma screens continue to astound viewers.

The PM4700 3D Smart Plasma TV in 42- and 50-inch screen sizes each display a high-def resolution of 720p (1024 x 768 pixels). The TVs can connect to your Wi-Fi network using the supplied USB adapter. The sets are also WiDi and DLNA compatible. The Shutter Glasses (SG) eyewear for viewing 3D is not included. The TV has the gumption to add its own effects to your photo slide shows. Just choose one of the following modes: Original/Mono/Vintage/Oil Painting/ Vignetting/Sketching. It’s like Instagram on your TV.

The PM6700 Plasma 3D Smart TV in 50- and 60-inch screen sizes are Full HD TVs that include the Home Dashboard interface. The TVs are 3D-capable, too, with the difference from the LED-LCD models being that the PM6700 series works with SG eyewear (not included). Wi-Fi and WiDi technologies are built in. A standard remote is included, but the sets are Magic Remote-ready if you care to make the extra purchase. The TVs are Skype-ready, too, but you’ll need to buy a compatible camera.

The PM9700 Plasma 3D Smart TV in 50- and 60-inch screen sizes are Full HD displays that are THX-certified (2D/3D). The sets come with the Magic Remote and are WiDi-capable. A cool feature that enhances the active 3D displays (SG eyewear not included) is 3D sound zooming at you from the TV’s 20-watt stereo speakers. The TVs each contain two side HDMI inputs, two rear HDMI inputs and dual USB ports.

If you’re willing to hire an LED-LCD smart TV without a degree in 3D, the LS5700 series is for you. Their Full HD pictures may be staunchly 2D, but these sets aren’t any less smart than their 3D cousins. The LS5700 series is available in 42-, 47- and 55-inch screen sizes. What contributes to these TVs’ intelligence is their built-in Wi-Fi and WiDi-capabilities, the Home Dashboard interface and included Magic Remote.

Stepping up to an LED-LCD TV that is both smart and 3D-worthy, the LM6200 Cinema 3D Smart LED TV in 42-, 47-, 55- and 65-inch screen sizes exudes charisma. These Full HD sets offer a TruMotion 120Hz refresh rate, 20 watts of audio output, built-in Wi-Fi, the Home Dashboard interface, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports. Thanks to a picture-in-picture (PIP) capability, a Web page or Skype video call, can share the screen with a ball game, for example. The USB ports are all on the side for easy attachment of your devices. Six pairs of glasses and the Magic Remote are included.

The LM6700 Cinema 3D Smart LED TV in 47- and 55-inch screen sizes offers all the capabilities and bundled accessories as the LM6200 including PIP, but the 47-inch model, in direct comparison, is slightly thinner and lighter than the 47LM6200. The most important difference is that while the LM6200 series employs LED edge lighting, the LM6700 class contains LED Plus edge lighting with local dimming to deliver better contrast.

As smart and sassy as the LM6700 series is, the LM7600 Cinema 3D Smart LED TV series goes even further with a 240Hz refresh rate and a screen depth of only 1.3-inches, assuming no stand. Also, the LM7600 shaves a full inch off the TV’s width, so that the sides of the picture are nearly bezel-free. Like the LM6700 series, LM7600 models employ LED Plus technology with local dimming. All of LG’s advanced features mentioned above are included such as 3D picture controls, the six pairs of 3D glasses, the Magic Remote, the Home Dashboard, Wi-Fi and WiDi technology. The LM7600 series is available in 47- and 55-inch screen sizes.

The LM8600 Cinema 3D Smart LED TV in 47- and 55-inch screen sizes contains a dual core CPU for faster app and Internet-related performance. Another difference from the LED sets above is that the included Magic Remote works with a fourth mode—voice recognition. Like the LM7600, the LM8600 incorporates TruMotion 240Hz, four HDMI inputs and three USB ports. Six pairs of 3D glasses are included.

The 55LM9600 55” Cinema 3D Smart LED TV is a premium TV that incorporates the dual core CPU and voice-implemented Magic Remote. The display features a TruMotion refresh rate of 480Hz and Nano Full LED backlighting. The latter allows for individually controlling precise zones throughout the display. Nano Full LED backlighting results in the most comprehensive local dimming to deliver unsurpassed contrast, color richness and more uniform brightness, according to LG. Such precision isn’t possible with LED edge lighting. Flanking this 55-incher in terms of screen size are 47- and 84-inch versions, models not expected until September.

LG is also entering the Google TV market. An earlier generation of Google TV products was unveiled in 2010 by Sony on several TVs and a Blu-ray Disc player and by Logitech on a now discontinued media receiver. LG’s  G2 Class Cinema 3D LED Google TV models in 47- and 55-inch screen sizes integrate second generation software to combine the familiarity of Google’s Android Operating System with the convenience of LG’s Smart TV technologies. LG’s Google TVs take advantage of the Magic Remote Qwerty, a version of the Magic Remote that contains a real keyboard. The user interface and main screen have been designed for browsing and selecting content. Multi-tasking is also possible. So, for instance, you can search, participate in social networking and run TV functions simultaneously. Equipped with LG's own Cinema 3D (FPR) technology, Google TV provides a home entertainment experience that LG touts as immersive, comfortable and convenient. As with LG’s other 3D models, a click of the remote can turn any 2D program into 3D content. Six pairs of battery-free glasses are included.

Expected to ship in July is the LG PenTouch PM6900 plasma TV in 50- and 60-inch screen sizes. What makes them different from other plasmas is that they’re also touch screens. You’ll be able to draw or write directly on the screen. And if you’re ready for the next great technology, the company in October is expected to ship the LG 55-inch EM9600, an OLED smart 3D TV only 4mm thick. The bezel width is only 1mm. Unlike an LCD TV dependent on CCFL or LED source lighting, an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display creates its own light.