I must have been about 5 when my dad bought our first colour television set. I can clearly remember how the family curiously gathered around our new acquisition that afternoon. My father sat in the middle and proudly exclaimed: "Look how green the grass is!"
Cable TV hadn't arrived in India then — and the single-channel terrestrial service predominantly showed, quite predictably, cricket.
How times have changed.
If you were to walk into an electronics store today, you might as well be stepping into a veritable rabbit hole, nay, a labyrinth of brands, prices, sizes, functions and additions.
The quintessential squawk box of the 20th century, as the late innovator Steve Jobs called the television set, has morphed into a gargantuan technological wonder that, in its latest avatar, is attempting to ride the internet wave.
And therein lies the problem. In their attempt to outdo one another, manufacturers are bombarding consumers with jargons like no one's business. And they're not helping. Not one bit.
Do you, for instance, really need that 3-D option? Or do you really need to know if your screen's refresh rate is 60, 100 or 600 hertz? And sound? Yeah, what about sound? And what about the internet? Yeah, that's an option too.
Before setting off, experts we spoke to suggest you first set out your spatial priorities.
"Make sure you first decide where you're going to place your TV set," says Deepak Kriplani, the deputy head of retail buying at Jacky's Electronics. "The size of your TV should match the size of the space you put it in and the viewing distance."
To calculate the most comfortable viewing experience, Kriplani suggests you take the screen size of the set you want, multiply it by two and divide it by 12. So, for a 40-inch screen, the ideal viewing distance will be 40X2=80/12=6.6 feet. For the living room, we usually suggest a smaller size, say a 32-inch," Kriplani adds.
Ashley John, deputy general manager, TV group, Sony Gulf, says that in the UAE, the 40-inch flatscreen is the most consumed size.
"People who bought 32-inch TVs are replacing them with 40- or 46-inch sets. Also, price erosion is now enabling people to change their TVs at a much faster rate," he says.
Once you've decided what size you want, it's time to decide what type of flatscreen to buy. While the debate a year ago was between plasmas and LCDs, the latter has come out the winner in the popularity stakes, according to Kriplani.
Although they look similar, plasma and LCDs are very different, in that plasma screens are made of a matrix of tiny gas cells that are charged to create a picture. LCDs, or Liquid Crystal Displays, are many liquid crystals which are placed between two glass plates. To create an image, different electrical charges are applied to the crystals.
While both screen types have their strengths — plasmas, for instance, are best in dark environments and LCDs can go amazingly slim — the popularity of LCDs can be attributed to the fact that they offer better resolution, consume less power, are lighter and are presumed to have a longer life span (although plasma punters will disagree). If you're looking at a truly slim LCD, it's probably one with LED (light-emitting diode) backlighting, which allows for very slim panels.
To test-drive the type of screen you want most, Kriplani suggests you bring along your own content. "Bring a content you are already familiar with, so you can clearly tell the difference," he says. "Many TV sets now come with USB drives, so it's easy to plug and play."
John says 90 per cent of prospective buyers do not bother to check a television set's sound quality. "You walk to a shop floor, there are hundreds of TV sets lined up and the salesperson is in a hurry to make a deal, pressuring you to make a decision quickly. A lot of important factors can be overlooked in the process," he says.
"Take your time. Get the salesperson to turn up the volume. Request a comparison with other TV sets," he advises. "Only then should you move on to additional features such as internet capabilities and connectivity options."
And that's when things start to get really murky.
Aman Sangar, the interactive entertainment business category head at Microsoft Middle East, says because of the "sea of options available", consumers are easily intimidated. "There is a technical overload. And sometimes consumers feel they aren't well versed to make a call."
Sangar, whose company makes the hit gaming console Xbox 360, among others, says as long as your screen can deliver 1,080p (usually called Full HD), which is now standard in most flatscreens, you should be good to go.
"Everything else is the icing on the cake. If you take too much time to figure out if it's worth your while, it probably isn't," he says. "Technology is meant to do two things: One, to make our lives simple and productive, and two, to entertain."
That approach, says Sangar, is what was used in the development of the Kinect for Xbox 360, launched in 2010, a motion-sensing input device which enables users to interact with the gaming console using gestures and spoken command.
"The market has gone a bit on the other end of the spectrum, where technical specifications and introduction of feature sets are not really helping the consumer. We want to move away from adding new features and specifications," he says.
"The magic is that it is invisible. People are not worried about what technology they are using. The device learns the consumer, rather than the other way round. That's what technological advancement is."
If natural user interface and seamless integration is the way of the future, could features such as 3-D just be a fad?
"Bear in mind the elements that need to work together for a complete 3-D experience. First, there has to be content, then the device to play the content and then the connectivity between the device and the TV set. This also means your TV needs to support 3-D, and finally, you need 3-D glasses.
"This is primarily the reason why 3-D has been a bit of a slow starter."
While Xbox 360 offers 3-D gaming capability dependent on content, the push is more towards a natural interface, where users interact with devices seamlessly, adds Sangar.
Kind of like the much-touted iTV, which, if rumours are to be believed, Apple's Jobs signed off right before he died. Rumours abound that Apple is all set to roll out another genre-defining device that could redefine the way we interact with our television sets.
"I finally cracked it," Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaacson. "I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all your devices and ... will have the simplest user interface you could imagine."
Jobs's vision, analysts suggests, which could offer users the ability to choose their own by paying for channels individually rather than buying dozens together, could upend the entire cable industry.
Even cable operators are catching up. Dubai-based OSN, which recently launched an online player so subscribers could access content from the web, already has 26 HD channels in its bouquet.
The launch of OSN Play is also testament to the growing trend of consumers watching television programmes on their computers and other portable devices.
Also, according to the market research company Nielsen, the number of people who own television sets is set to drop.
The company projects that 114.7 million homes in the US will have a TV by the end of 2012, down almost 1 per cent from the 115.9 million TV households in 2011.
This threat explains the plethora of options that manufacturers are introducing to outclass one another.
Still, when it comes to future-ready television sets, high-end manufacturers have had it for a long time, says Amir Anwar, who owns the Dubai Audio Centre, which stocks specialist audio-visual devices.
"We had hard-disc-recording capability years ago. Internet TV has been on our sets for two years now," says Anwar, who is the exclusive distributor for German electronics company Loewe, which also manufactures a line of premium televisions. Known for their eye-catching sleek designs, Loewe TVs range from Dh14,100 for a 40-inch set to about Dh29,000 for a 55-inch set.
But while television sets may provide unfettered access to the internet, they are not meant to replace computers, Anwar adds. "All the nice features are there to enhance usability and increase convenience," he says.
And as Sony Gulf's John advises, steer clear of technology that can be gimmicky. "Be focused on the experience rather than the technology behind it," he says.
Best for internet
- Brand: Samsung
- Screen size: 46 inches
- Screen type: LED
- Model: UA46D8000
- Price: Dh9,999
- Comes with: Galaxy Note GTP7000 + 6x Glasses
This Smart TV does it all. Features include full web browser, 2-D to 3-D conversion, built-in WiFi, 3x USB and 4x HDMI inputs.
Best value for money
- Brand: Panasonic
- Screen size: 50 inches
- Screen type: Plasma
- Model: THP50X30M
- Price: Dh2,199
If you're looking to buy a bigger-size TV but at a lower price, this is the best option. With this plasma screen, you're paying less per inch compared to LCD. Features-wise, there's a lot on offer, including USB/SD card, Facebook access, 3 HDMI Inputs, 2 USB Inputs, LAN Port and WiFi.
Best to blow the budget
- Brand: Loewe
- Screen size: 55 inches
- Screen type: LCD
- Model: Individual 55 Compose 3-D
- Price: Dh29,000
It's traditional for Loewe to give you some great customisable options. For instance, this one comes in black, silver or high-gloss white, and you can sit it on a table stand, two types of floor stand, slap on a sound projector, use a funky screen lift stand or a rack. At 1,080p display, there is also a built-in 180GB hard-disc drive to record whatever you want and twin digital satellite tuners. With add-on options for just about any audio/visual component you can think of, this beautifully designed system is so much more than any television set you can think of.
Best for sound
- Brand: Sony
- Screen size: 46 inches
- Screen type: LCD
- Model: KDL46HX925
- Price: Dh9,999
- Comes with: 4x Glasses + 3x 3-D Movies
There isn't any specific TV which can be recommended for sound, but this particular model comes with bunchin stand, which makes the TV tilt at 6 degrees, which improves the sound quality and completes the monolithic design. Features include Full HD 3-D, WiFi and Media Remote.
Best for 3-D
- Brand: LG
- Screen size: 47 inches
- Screen type:
- Model: 47LW6510
- Price: Dh6,199
- Comes with: Blu Ray Player + Family Pack
This model's Cinema 3-D feature comes with lightweight battery-free inexpensive glasses in a range of colours and styles. Our favourite features include the Magic Motion Remote Control, which lets you drag, flick and select your preferences just by moving the remote, and the Smart Share, which lets you access the content stored in your digital devices, including digital cameras, mobile phones, tablets and PCs.
Best for gaming
- Brand: Samsung
- Screen size: 40 inches
- Screen type: LED
- Model: UA40D6600
- Price: Dh4,499
- Comes with: 3-D Blu Ray Player + 6x Glasses
For gamers the best platform will be LED TVs with a higher refresh rate, better connectivity and game mode. This one features Full HD 1,080p resolution, clear motion rate, SRS Theatre Sound, Smart TV, 4x HDMI, 3x USB Input and PC Input.