The guys at HD Guru have shed some light, literally, on a bit of trickery retailers use to make lower performance HDTVs look more enticing. Have you ever noticed how bright the lighting is in many electronics departments?
You may have not considered it before, but if the lighting in the store is not in-line with the ambient light in your home, you may not get the picture quality you expected when all is said and done. In some stores, light levels can be as much as 50 times higher than what you would find in a typical home—this masks HDTVs with poor black level performance, making the picture appear clearer than it really is under normal conditions. In the end, many consumers make a decision on brightness levels alone. Conversely, if the store is trying to push higher-end sets, light levels will be toned down to bring out the best black levels and contrast ratios. Best Buy's Magnolia Home theatre division is a good example of this.
But why would a retailer try and convince you that the cheaper set is as good or better than a more expensive model? The answer often lies in profit margins—figures that are often low for many HDTVs. The idea is to try and convert the money you saved on the HDTV into higher profit extras like overpriced HDMI cables and unnecessary store services.
In the end, you don't have control over the ambient light in a big box store, so being aware of the light situation and making more informed decisions using specs and research into the product (as opposed to a visual decision alone) can help you get a better TV for your money. HD Guru also suggests that cupping your hands over the display to block out light might help you get a general idea of the black levels. It's not an exact science of course, but it's better than nothing. Hit up HDGuru for all of the details. [HD Guru]