Go into any electronics store and you'll be met with a glowing array of flat panels, all trying to tempt you into purchase. Sadly, this is about the worst way possible to assess a TV.
That thought struck me recently while at a TV launch -- Samsung's specifically, although it could have been any given TV launch -- because it's precisely what big TV makers do when they're trying to woo journalists and retail buyers as well.
So why is it a problem to look at TVs in this way? There are a couple of inherent problems. First of all, most of the TVs on display are unpacked by the underpaid sales staff and simply switched onto whatever viewing reel they've been told to run. As such, there's little or no effort made to calibrate them. Decent picture balancing in the right environment can make a very big difference to your appreciation of how good or bad a given panel is, but I've seen far too many examples of poorly calibrated screens to think that this is ever really done.
Not that it would make that much difference, however, because the other thing missing in most store environments is an even halfway decent stab at replicating the environment you're actually going to watch your TV in. Do you watch TV at home standing directly in front of the panel, surrounded by fifty other panels, listening to blaring music under harsh fluorescent lighting? The chances are pretty high that you don't, so again you're not getting a decent appreciation for the quality, or lack thereof of one panel over another.
Finally there's the illusion of size. Australians as a whole are gravitating towards larger panel TVs, and that's fine as long as you have a living room that's big enough to allow a decent viewing distance from the panel. Looking over fifty panels, some of which can stretch up to 90 inches or more in size has the effect of making the smaller panels -- some of which could be entirely suitable to your home setup -- appear that much smaller, and the larger panels more desirable. They're not always going to be the best match for your situation.