Televisions have an odd ability: they get larger and smaller at the same time. Globally, the average screen-size has grown five inches (12.5cm) in four years, while the box itself has shrunk from a hulk in the corner to a skinny, wall-mounted panel. Size, though, is not necessarily a measurement of quality.
Visit any department store now and the largest screens will be between 55 and 65 inches (140-165cm). But scale is relative—in this case, to the size of your room. A friend who recently bought a 50-inch monster is now regretting it. Why? Because he and his telly are in a claustrophobic stand-off. "It stares at me," he says. The problem is one of design, as well as dimensions. High-tech TVs look, well, high-tech: sharp-edged and shiny, they've turned his traditional living room into a jagged combination of country cottage and Area 51.
The problems aren't simply aesthetic. Many consumer guides suggest watching from a distance three times the width of your screen—so the owner of a 60-inch (152cm) TV should sit 15 feet (4.5 metres) away, or risk having to chase the picture around the screen. In my flat—a standard British Victorian conversion—it's possible. But I'd be sitting in the kitchen.
If you do have the space, is a bigger screen worth it? It depends on your viewing habits. The latest generation of giant televisions all have 3D, and as we know from cinema, the bigger the screen the more immersive the experience. You'll also get "smart TV", which means an internet connection and built-in apps for services such as Netflix, Facebook and Twitter. If you want to follow your Twitter feed and watch TV at the same time, bigger is better.
But be prepared to pay for it: between £1,500 and £5,000 (around $2,400 to $8,000). Plasma screens are cheaper in the short-term than LED screens, but use twice as much power and don't last as long, and while it used to be true that plasmas delivered better pictures—deeper and more detailed blacks, smoother motion—it isn't true anymore. So the picture on an LED screen will be cleaner as well as greener.
The sleekest model is the Samsung ES8000 (£2,500/$2,670). It pairs a 55-inch LED screen with an anorexically thin frame, so looks subtler than its rivals. But it's clever to the point of being annoying. To use its "motion control"—waving your hand about to change channels—I had to kneel square in front of the screen before the camera picked me up. When your TV treats you like a penitent, you know something's amiss. More straightforward—in all but name—is the LG 55LM860V (US, 55LM8600; £2,200/$2,900). While the Samsung's 3D glasses are battery-operated, bulky and expensive, the LGs are light, comfortable, and you get seven pairs free—an attractive thought if you have a roomful of children to entertain.
Yet a TV's most important job is still a simple one: deliver a good picture. On the Samsung and the LG, the colours were a little shrill, and there was a hint of judder when Andy Roddick ran fast for a forehand. The Sony KDL55HX853BU (US: KDL55HX850) was easier on the eye. Its colours in 2D are rich and natural, its 3D just as good. The best thing is the price. At £1,799 ($2,120), you get more for less.
LG.com Samsung.com Sony.co.uk