HDTV - A Buyers Story
Everybody wants one. OK, maybe just the guys want one. We cannot help but want to get a big flat screen TV after watching so many commercials and hearing about them. Remember just a few years ago when picking out a TV was pretty much just an exercise about the size of screen you could afford and would fit in your TV cabinet? Unfortunately those days are gone, and when you walk in to your local Best Buy, you see hundreds of flat panel's and a handful of the old CRT types to choose from. But with so many options, choices, brands, and moving parts to the whole experience, what do you do when it is time to actually buy one? Maybe the below will help with your purchasing adventure.
I'm not really an audiophile/videophile. I just like good quality equipment with a host of features and functions. That being said, I'll tell you what I've learned, but claim no expertise in the field by any means.
While recently watching my aging 27" Sony tube TV, I said to my wife - "I'm thinking about getting a flat screen TV" and without missing a beat, she answered with "We do not need a new TV, but we do need a new couch...". If you are married, you know where the story goes from there. In the end, I got my new $1,200 HDTV along with a new couch, new chair, new ottoman, new TV cabinet, new end table, and new paint for the room (I found out that you cannot have all of this new stuff in a room with old paint - go figure). Oh, and we are also looking at a new hutch for the dining room and of course we need a new couch for the living room. Be prepared to have your new HDTV cost about 5 times or more than the unit itself.
- Plasma v. LCD v. DLP - Plasma sets still produce a better overall picture, but not by a large margin. Plasma's are quite a bit heavier than LCD's and there is a strong chance of screen burn-in with them, along with a shorter life expectancy since they will get progressively dimmer over the years. LCD's do not have these problems with burn-in or dimming, but you do need to worry about contrast ratios and viewing angle. DLP sets are your best option for a large size for the money, but they tend to have a more pronounced viewing angle issue, are quite a bit thicker (18" compared to 4"), and they will need aligning and tweaking of the lenses to get maintain the best picture. Overall any of these types of TV's will give you a great HD experience for the most part.
- 720p, 1080i, 1080p - This is basically the resolution of the TV. The latest and greatest is 1080p. Blu-Ray and HD TV uses 1080p (the "p" is for progressive giving you a slightly better picture than "i" which is for interlaced) and HD TV signals are 1080i. Standard TV runs are 480 and DVD's at 720. The reality to it all is that having a 1080p resolution TV only makes sense if the size is above 46". Anything smaller, you donâ€™t really need 1080p at all since the signals will be converted down/up to fit the TV's resolution and your eye at a normal viewing distance will not see the loss of detail. Most new LCD and DLP sets on the market are now 1080p with more plasma sets being 1080p.
- Contrast ratio - the higher the better for the most part. This aspect mainly applies for LCD screens. You need back lighting with the LCD technology so the higher the contrast ratio, the deeper the blacks will be on your image. A higher ration does not always mean a better overall image though. The Vizio I was looking at was 1,600:1 and the Samsung I ordered is 10,000:1 so the Samsung will produce better contrast, but not 8 times better overall picture quality. The best sets on the market will do dynamic contrast with number of 40:000:1 or higher.
- HD DVD versus Blu-ray DVD - These are competing high def formats for DVD's much akin to the VCR and Beta max days. Read below in the future section for details.
Now that you have a HDTV, what are you going to do for HD content? Your current DVD's should look good and the standard definition television should look OK, but not great depending on the signal strength. For the TV to shine, you need HD content. For this you can use a set of rabbit ears to get over the air HD signals of local stations (it works amazingly well if you can get a good signal), have a service like digital cable or satellite and get the HD channels, get a gaming machine that produces HD, or pick up a Blu-ray DVD player. Direct TV seems to have some good deals and HD channels. I have not played games in years, but am considering a Sony Playstation 3 since it is also a good upgradable Blu-ray DVD player and a gaming machine for less money than picking up a standard Blu-ray player.
Do you want to get the HDTV without having to get the furniture? We there may be a way. When I first plugged in our TV, I had the unit do the typical channel scan and it found some HD channels, even though we have basic analogue cable TV. Why would this keep me from buying furniture you say? Well, after the comments from my wife that the TV is too big, I turned on the HD Food Network channel and almost instantly, she was hooked. It was pretty amazing seeing all of the detail and could even see every grain of salt and pepper in the recipe while even catching the crystal clear reflection of the camera man in the mixing bowl. So if you can, bring home the TV and turn on your spouseâ€™s favorite channel in HD and see how it goes.
I don't watch that much TV (depending on who you ask that is) so I didn't want to spend a lot of dough and wanted to stay close to a $1,000 budget for a 42" or larger HDTV.
Samsung 1080p LCD 46" HDTV (model # LNT4661F) - this is the unit I picked up on Amazon. Why this unit? After a ton of research on different models and learning about 720p versus 1080p, contrast ratios, screen size, and the host of other features, this unit came out to be the best bang for the buck. Consumer Reports rated it #2 amongst similar sized LCD offerings, it had a good contrast ratio, and the price was right compared to a lot of the other models on the market. I didn't want a plasma due to burn in issues. I was going to get a 47" Vizio model that I found on sale at some point, but that deal ended by the time I was ready to purchase (and it had lower specs and a lower Consumer Reports rating). The Vizio and Olevia models have found a niche today since you can get a larger screen for your money. Do you buy a higher end smaller Sony or get a much larger Vizio for the money? They do not directly compare in picture quality per se, but when you get a big Vizio in your house and plug in your Direct TV and watch an HD program, and you will be surprised by the great picture quality (I've got a 37" Vizio in my office for videoconferencing and we plugged in a set of rabbit ears and can tune in over the air HD signals and it looks great).
If you read this far along, you really must be interested so I'll tell you what the future holds for HDTV. First off, the battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD is over and Blu-ray won. Be sure and don't buy a HD DVD player/movies, even if you see a good sale. Being an early adopter of a Blu-ray player might be a bit risky since most cannot be upgraded and there is a new standard coming out so it might be best to wait a bit before picking one up.
As far as the HD TV's go, the new technology that will be taking over will be OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode). This will provide the best overall experience with a very thin screen (probably less than an inch thick), perfect contrast ratio's (1,000,000:1) so you end up with true blacks, no screen burn-in which plague the plasma's, no restricted viewing angle which affects the LCD's, all in a much lighter and lower power consuming device. LCD panel's need to be grown in a lab and have a fairly high failure rate which makes them expensive. OLED technology, on the other hand, can be sprayed on to the substrate, similar to using an inkjet printer, so the expectation is a much cheaper production cost and a much lower failure rate. The challenge today is that the organic part of the technology does have a shelf life so the early units will get dim after a period of years like a plasma screen do. This is changing rapidly though so I expect that in the next couple of years or less, this will be a non-issue.
OLED screens are just starting to hit the market with Sony only having a 11" model on the street and a 27" prototype currently, but this technology is moving faster for cell phones and even laptop screens. In several years, don't be surprised to see people getting a 70" or larger OLED screen for the current price of a 46" LCD TV.
Go get yourself a new HDTV!