Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to choose an HDTV (TNT’s Step by Step guide to selecting a High Definition Television)

This is a very simple process intended to narrow your choices to a few HDTV’s. It looks long, but you should be able to skip sections, so it shouldn’t be that bad.

1) Determine where the HDTV will be placed. (Bedroom, Living Room, Kitchen, etc.)

2) Go to the room and figure out where the HDTV will go and where you will sit. This might be a good time for furniture re-arrangement. You may want to consider putting your HDTV in a place that does not get direct sun light, but is still within reasonable reach of an electric socket and cable or satellite hook-up. It’s just not pretty to see a bunch of cables running along the wall.

3) Measure the space available for the HDTV. If you have a cabinet, measure the width, height and depth, if you are placing it in a kitchen, make sure you have enough counter space, etc. Write these numbers down.

4) Measure the distance from your primary viewing area (where most of the viewing will be done, sitting or standing) to the HDTV. Write this number down and go to a store with a large selection of HDTVs. Print this guide out, bring a tape measure and the primary viewer(s).

5) At the store, measure from the floor displays, the distance that you wrote down in step #4, and see what size is most comfortable for THE PRIMARY VIEWER(S)! I know there are charts and “rules” that people have come up with, but EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! There are people who sit at back of a movie theatre and there are people who sit all the way in the front. It is a matter of personal preference! Don’t let some salesperson or some stupid chart tell you otherwise! Choose a screen size (in inches measured diagonally) you prefer. This is your preferred screen size. If one person likes a large size and another prefers a small size, write down the larger size. The reason for this is that there are some HDTV’s with a zoom feature that lets you watch at 50% or less, so a 42” HDTV can show a 21” picture. There are no 19” HDTV’s that can show a 42” that I am aware of. ;) Also note that if you are watching standard definition programs PROPERLY on a widescreen HDTV, you WILL have black bars on the sides. Also the screen size will be noticeably smaller. So if you are used to a 27” Standard TV, you would need a 33” screen in order to display a 27” standard picture. For a standard 32”, 39” would be widescreen the equivalent. Simply multiply the standard TV size by 1.22 to get the widescreen equivalent. Now they don’t make 33” and 39” wide screen sets, so you will have to go to the next closest size, say a 32” or a 40”.

6) Now that you know what size HDTV you want, make sure that it fits within the dimensions you wrote down earlier. If it does not fit, the laws of physics require you to choose a television with a smaller cabinet. Notice I did not say smaller screen. You should check the dimensions of different HDTV’s. There are some thin bezel HDTV’s that might fit where a regular size TV may not.

7) If your preferred screen size (from Step #5) is less than 40” then your only choice is an LCD TV (There are exceptions like the 11” OLED from Sony, but this guide is meant to be simple) so you can skip to step 13. Otherwise, keep reading.

8) If you are reading this, your preferred screen size is 40” or larger. You have a choice of LCD, Plasma, LCoS and DLP. Now the latter two are typically rear projection units (not thin), and WERE cost effective options for screen sizes 60” and up. However, with the declining manufacturing costs of LCD’s and Plasmas, the difficulties of viewing rear projections sets at an angle and in brightly lit rooms, and the larger amount of space they occupy, these sets are quickly becoming an unattractive option and are hard to find in stores. You EFFECTIVELY have a choice of LCD or Plasma. First question. Will your HDTV be used with a computer or a media center PC? If so, go to step 9. Is the room you chose in step #1 bright? If so, please go to step 10. Will you be watching a lot of TV programs with constant tickers, like CNBC or ESPN News? If yes, please go to step 11. Will the HDTV be used to play a lot of video games with static images, such as games with status bars which are continuously displayed? If so, please go to step 11. Will this HDTV unit be left on for extended periods of time, such as in a Bar? If so go to step 11. Is being green important to you? Then go to step 12. If you’ve made it this far, you’re looking at a plasma. A plasma has very nice picture quality great for watching movies and sports with fast action. It has nice dark blacks and typically costs less than a comparable size LCD. Skip to step 15.

9) An LCD is great for PC use because it will not burn in like a plasma. If you intend to hook up a PC to your TV, make sure it has an input that is compatible with your PC such as an RGB or DVI input.

10) An LCD is more visible in a bright room than a plasma HDTV because it is brighter. It also reduces glare because the screen is typically a matte finish. Please note that there are some LCDs with glossy screens which may have just as much glare as a plasma. Please choose an LCD with a matte finish if your room is bright. Skip to step 13.

11) An LCD is much less susceptible to burn in when compared to plasma TVs. Therefore an LCD is recommended if a lot of static images will be displayed for a long time, such as when a lot of video games will be played, or tickers on TV will be watched for extended periods. Please skip to step 13.

12) An LCD consumes significantly less energy than a plasma TV of similar size. If reducing your carbon footprint is high on your agenda, you may want to consider getting an LCD. You might also consider getting a smaller TV, as smaller sets consume less energy.

13) Now you know that you want an LCD HDTV. Remember, if you compromised with your significant other and chose a larger TV, choose a TV which has the ½ X zoom feature. If you intend to watch a lot of TV off axis, I recommend moving the TV set, but if you can’t, a plasma may be a better choice. However, many LCD’s now have great viewing angles, so you should be able to find one which works well for you. If you like to watch a lot of sports, or a lot of movies with fast action, go to step 14. Also, if you want the “Best of the Best of the Best, Sir!” go to step 14. Otherwise, skip to step 15.

14) If you watch programs with a lot of fast movement, you will probably want to consider one of the 120Hz LCD HDTVs. TV’s capable of 120Hz effectively double the frame rate of what you are watching. This can reduce the “blurring” some people notice on LCD TV’s. Now here comes a theme I will keep repeating. If you do not notice the ”blurring”, or do not see the difference between a regular 60Hz HDTV and a 120Hz HDTV or actually prefer the 60Hz HDTV, get the 60Hz because it is cheaper! Some people do not like the 120Hz feature because they feel it gives the image a “Soap Opera” look. If you like the 120Hz feature, make sure you check out the different brands, as different manufacturers implement the 120Hz technology differently, and you may prefer the picture quality of one better than another. So, if and only if you notice a difference and like it, a 120Hz LCD is your preferred television.

15) Now that you have selected the type of TV you want, you must now select the resolution. If you chose an LCD which is less than 37”, you basically have one choice which is 720p, so you can skip to Step 17.

16) Instead of having one standard resolution like in the good old days, you now have choice of 720p, 1080i and 1080p (although 1080i is a dying breed) and others which shall go nameless for simplicity’s sake. The 720 or 1080 refers to the number of lines of resolution. The higher the number, the more detailed the picture. The “p” stands for progressive and “i” stands for interlaced. An interlaced image is created by “painting” the odd numbered lines first and then the even lines. This process is repeated over and over. In a progressive image, ALL the lines, odd and even are “painted” progressively, or in sequence in the same time an interlaced image does just the odd lines. The end result is that with a progressive scan TV, you get a more stable picture with less flickering. Now, there’s a lot of opinion out there by a lot of people about what resolution is necessary at what screen size and at what viewing distance. Hogwash. It all depends on your preferred viewing distance (step 4), your eye sight, and your perceptive abilities. Some one with 20/20 vision will see a lot more detail than someone with 20/200. Also, some people either don’t notice or are not bothered by flickering. IT’S ALL UP TO YOU! You’re still at the store, right? Go to the CLOSEST distance you will be watching the TV from. This is the distance where you are most likely to notice any differences. Then compare 720p sets with 1080i and 1080p sets within the size you have chosen. One important thing to note, is that you must be comparing apples to apples; which is not always easy. If you are comparing two sets, you should make sure that the same source is going to the televisions you are comparing using the same type of input (HDMI/Component). If you are comparing two sources on the same TV (720p/1080p), you ideally want the same type of input as well. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Electronics stores typically use whatever connection happens to be available at the time to hook up their televisions. Now you will have to make a very hard decision. You need to decide if you can see the difference. If you can, I recommend getting a 1080p set. Now some people will argue that there are no 1080p broadcasts out there. That may be true, but Blu-ray and Game consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360) output 1080p. And you never know what will happen in the future. So, if you can tell the difference, go for 1080p. If you can’t, save yourself a few bucks.

17) Now you should know, the size of the TV you want, the type of HDTV (LCD/Plasma), the resolution (720p/1080i/1080p), and whether you want a 120Hz panel. Now, here are some things I feel a HDTV MUST have, so you can knock off any that don’t. You should make sure your set has at least 1 HDMI input, preferably more. HDMI only requires one cable and makes hooking up your TV a breeze. I see it becoming standard in the future. You should also have at least one component video input. An ATSC tuner is necessary if you want to be able to get over-the-air broadcasts. Most large new sets should have an ATSC tuner, but if you’re going to be using a set top box, you don’t really need it. That’s it!

18) Up until now, we have only concerned ourselves with our wants, and not with what our budgets can accommodate. By now you probably have your eyes set on a pretty nice TV. So, if your ideal TV is a bit beyond your budget, what can you do? Shop around and look for sales. You may be able to find some nice deals on the internet from a trusted seller. Remember that returning items on the internet is often more difficult. Next, you must compromise. I suggest compromising in this order. First, look for sets without the 120Hz feature if you were hoping to get it. Next, go to a 1080i or 720p. Then, you can downsize by one or two sizes. You can often pay much less by getting a screen that is one size smaller. Lastly, you can wait. HDTV prices are always falling, and you can save up for the television as well. Good Luck!

What inspired me to write this was seeing a woman asking for advice from a sales associate at a local warehouse club. While the associate was surprisingly knowledgeable, he was just throwing facts at her. She started to get that “Although I thought I wanted to purchase a TV today, I’m so confused, I think I’m going to go home to think about it” look I have seen before. By coincidence, I saw her again at the checkout, and started talking to her. In the short time I talked to her while on line, I was able to give her some advice, but not enough for her to make an informed decision. I later thought how nice it would have been to have been able to just give her my blog address and walk her through the process. Although I know that she probably won’t be reading this blog, I hope that I can help others like her purchase the right HDTV for themselves.

I hope you found this guide useful. If you did, please tell your friends.

35 comments:

Li-Shuan Chen said...

You really are partial to LCDs huh? haha. Thanks for the advice. I'm currently looking to get a good HDTV for under $1000.

TNT said...

Not really. I'm actually seriously considering a plasma for my next set. The decision tree is set up with questions which lead you to an LCD so it may appear that I am favoring LCDs, but that is not the case.

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