So you followed our guide to getting a sweet HDTV for dirt cheap for Christmas, and now a lovely glossy box of plastic and glass is sitting in your living room. Congratulations! Now what?
Did You Buy Everything You Needed?
We covered this a bit in our buying guide , but your TV isn't the only thing you should've walked out of the store with. At bare minimum, you need cables—up to four sets of HDMI, depending on how much stuff you're going to be plugging in. If you planned ahead, you could pass on the $100 Monster set Best Buy tossed your away, and already had them waiting at your house from Monoprice.com.
Also, a decent surge protector is a must, since you're going to be having a ton of crap plugged into one outlet—we like Belkin's Conceals a lot. And we'd recommend a universal remote, since you're probably going to have a lot of crap plugged into it and no one wants 17 remotes to deal with. Logitech's Harmony remotes are a good choice.
Sort of optional, but not really if you're semi-serious about getting the most out of going HD, is a surround sound setup. The easiest way to do this is to just buy a home theater in a box (HTiB). We like Onkyo stuff and Sony's got a bunch of different options too. An alternative to a full surround sound dealio is a soundbar—Brian has a huge hard-on for Yamaha's, and for good reason. We used one at the Giz Gallery with our 103-inch Panasonic plasma, and it was awesome.
Where's It Going
We really, really hope you planned this out beforehand—especially if you're wall mounting—but you need somewhere to plop your TV. A stand, a full-fledged entertainment center, or something.
You actually kind of have to figure this out one backwards. First question: How far away are you planning on sitting? That's how you figure out how big of a TV you're gonna need, unless you just want a 70-inch TV for the hell of it—but then you're probably going to fit your living room around it, not the other way around. Here's a chart from HD Guru that'll help you figure out the right viewing distance to size ratio.
After you know how big your TV is gonna be and how far away you're gonna sit, you can figure out whether you're gonna mount, plop it on a stand or install it in a huge entertainment center. It goes without saying (but we're going to say just in case) that knowing the size (don't forget the bezel!) and weight (plasmas are heavy) of your TV before you buy wall mounts or a stand is a must. Just please don't mount it over a fireplace, that's so tacky. If you are a poor planner, and you're scrambling to buy a stand the day of, the ones at Best Buy typically suck—check Home Depot or Lowes. There are also some less conventional options.
HDTVs Are Useless Without HD Stuff
You've got your HDTV mounted and have a fistful of cables to plug stuff into it. Awesome. Now you need some HD content on there. Again, planning ahead goes a long way here—primarily with the cable or satellite company. Your old cable or satellite box doesn't do HD, and you're going to need a new one. Since every asshole who just got a new HDTV is going to be calling up the cable guy to get ESPN in HD, if you've already set up an appointment (if needed) or a time to pick up your new box, you'll be one step ahead. If not, especially if your cable company actually has to send a dude out there to do the exchange, expect to wait a week, if not more, to get your HD HBO on.
You need a Blu-ray player—it's the only real way to get gorgeous 1080p goodness up on your set. Luckily, they're cheap as balls now, and you don't have to pay more than $250 to get a player unless you want to (like to get a PS3, which is a solid pick). Obviously, our favorite Blu-ray showcase movie right now is The Dark Knight, since it's one of those flicks that definitively stabs into your engorged eyeball how visually ormfgasmic a full HD movie experience can be (even if it doesn't quite match IMAX).
Blu-ray isn't the only option, obvs. There are lots of different ways to flood your HDTV with downloaded HD video from the intertubes—rented, bought or free. In terms of sheer video quality, Vudu, conveniently on sale right now, is is completely unrivaled with its stunning HDX downloads, and it has a pretty solid catalog too.
If you've got a ton of iTunes movies for some reason, Apple TV will get 'em on your TV easy, and the open-source software Boxee will unlock its full Super Saiyan media center power. Another powerful choice is the Xbox 360. It's a Windows Media Center extender, which makes it easy to stream movies from your PC, and it's got the Netflix HD streaming service built right in, which is free with a Netflix subscription. (Plus, it's the best gaming system of this generation. Yeah I said it, wannafightaboutit?)
You also can't go wrong with a TiVo HD, which is a must if your cable or satellite box doesn't already come with a DVR (and even then, is highly recommended).
Make It Look Good
Last thing: You need to calibrate your TV, 'cause out of the box, even the best HDTVs will look like shit—or at least as half as good as they should—and even the worst ones can be made infinitely (almost) better. Don't pay Best Buy to do it for you though. We've got you covered with a full guide to doing it without losing your mind.
Finally, get your favorite beer (Gizmodo Features Editor Wilson Rothman recommends Coors Light), kick back and enjoy your awesome new TV, completely maxed out.