You’ve decided to buy an entertainment system, but how do you know that what you’re looking at and listening to is any good? Here’s the heads-up on how to audition like a pro.

When you visit the store to choose your new HDTV, you’ll be faced with a gigantic wall of sets in a wide range of sizes, and at a wide range of price-points. Figuring out which one is right for you can be tricky.

Some stores have all TVs showing the same signal, so you can get some idea of picture quality by comparing like with like. But you can’t blame the sales team for wanting to make the TVs look their best: they’ll typically show movies that were shot on digital cameras, or even animated movies with large areas of block colour which are easy for the TV’s circuitry to handle.

You can ask to try out your own content on your preferred TV, and a good saleman will provide a DVD or Blu-ray player for you.

Choosing the right content will make all the difference in the audition process. Typically, you want to check the TV’s ability to show colour, fine detail, fast movement and contrast. Let’s examine each.


Animated kids movies are great for checking saturated colours.

Colour

Bring along a nature documentary for realistic colours, and a kid’s animated movie for bright, oversaturated tones. Look especially at reds and greens: some TVs don’t handle these colours as well as others.

Contrast

You might not be a horror film fan, but scary movies love the dark and are a great source to see how a TV handles extremes of light and shade. Can you see the killer lurking in the shadows or does a poor contrast ratio wash out this subtle detail?

Fast movement

The best source here is a sports broadcast, especially football or soccer. Can you follow the ball as it’s belted down the field? Action movies are also a good place to look for blurring.

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Documentaries such as BBC’s “Life” are great for checking the fine detail.

Fine detail

Again, nature documentaries on Blu-ray are an excellent way to check the TV’s ability to render fine detail. Wide panoramas and close-ups on animals such as birds will show up any oddities in the way the display handles repeated patterns.

HD and SD

You should try out both HD and standard definition content. SD is any DVD, just bring your favourite movie. Does it look hopelessly grainy? Or is the TV doing a good job of handling this comparatively low-res content? Make sure the player you’re using isn’t set to upscale SD content.

Bring a Blu-ray movie too, or ask to see one running. Since BD uses 1080p, it’s the highest resolution content you’ll be able to see in-store.