Choosing The HDTV That’s Right For You

November 17th, 2009 · 25 Comments · LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, Plasma, Reference Materials

4151

By Gary Merson

Edited by Michael Fremer

Whether the day after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday”because of the day’s heavy traffic or because it signals the beginning of the selling period when most retailers go from being in the red to being “in the black,” it unofficially marks the start of the holiday gift giving buying season.

Despite the ongoing recession and high unemployment, analysts at both iSuppli and the Consumer Electronics Association predict that 8 million LCD HDTVs will sell during the fourth quarter, up 7.3% from the same period in 2008. Clearly, HDTVs are among the most prized gifts. So whether you’re right or wrong here’s our advice.

Size Matters

Job one is to pick the right screen size for your needs. HD LCDs range from 19” to 65” and plasmas from 42” to 65”.  LCD screens 37” and smaller generally feature 720p resolution, though there are a few sets as small as 32” offering 1080p. There are 42” and 50” 720p plasma sets as well, with all plasma sizes available in 1080p.

Which size is right for you? Consider your budget, room size, seating positions and finally if it’s an issue for you, the size of the cabinet in which you’re placing the set. Our exclusive HD Guru viewing distance chart (link) tells you how close you need to sit to see full resolution with a given 720p or 1080p display. Sit further away and of course you will still get a great picture, but  human vision limitations will prevent you from seeing the set’s full resolution.

LCD or Plasma?

LCD is your only choice if size or budget constraints limit you to a below 42″ size. While you have a choice of plasma or LCD at 42″ or above, HD Guru and most other experts agree that plasma beats LCD (including those labeled “LED” in overall picture quality.

Why? Plasma offers uniform picture quality as you move off-axis, meaning everyone in the room essentially sees the same picture. LCD does not. Off axis, all LCD displays exhibit changes in color, black level and brightness, though some that will be recommended in an upcoming article, offer better off-axis performance than others.

Plasma offers overall better black levels, with blacks always appearing deeper when viewed off-axis compared to LCDs, because plasma has the ability to shut light off at a pixel level. Because LCD is a backlit technology, the best it can do¬and not all LCDs have it is dim large blocks of pixels using a feature called “local dimming”. It’s not nearly as precise or effective as actually turning off individual pixels and adjacent high contrast images often produce a halo artifact.

CCFL Or LED Backlit LCD TV?

 

 

A relatively recent advance in LCD technology uses LEDs (light emitting diodes) to illuminate the picture in place of the more commonly used thin fluorescent tubes called CCFLs. Though some set manufacturers choose to call their LED backlit sets Ãll told they are still LCD TVs  However, LED backlighting has a number of advantages, one of which is lower power consumption compared to both traditional backlit LCDs and plasma. For a given screen size, plasma and CCFL backlit LCDs have about the same energy efficiency.

Another LED advantage is the production of very bright images, which makes them preferable to both CCFL backlit LCDs and plasma if you do a lot of daytime viewing, especially in windowed rooms that lack shades or curtains.

Edge Versus Backlit LED

Manufacturers use LEDs to either edge light or back light their LCD sets. Edge lighting can produce thin profile sets that are just over an inch deep. Back lit sets are deeper but,  offer the aforementioned advantage of local dimming, which can produce extremely dark black levels.

Edge lit LEDs have white and black uniformity issues at the picture perimeter while off-axis brightness of both LED formats tends to fall off somewhat more rapidly than does the same panel lit using traditional CCFLs. However, overall, LED backlit sets produce the best LCD pictures.

60Hz/120Hz/240Hz

Standard LCDs incorporate a 60 Hz refresh rate. This produces motion resolution of around 320 lines (per picture height) out of a possible1080 lines. 120 Hz refresh ups the motion resolution to around 600 lines, while 240 Hz kicks it up to 900 lines or higher.

Some sets incorporate circuits that produce even more frames per second in an attempt to further smooth motion, but the added smoothness comes at a price, which is an increase in picture artifacts (see related story here link).

For the best LCD picture, either traditional or LED backlit, choose one with either a 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rate. However, all 1080p plasma sets produce artifact free, full 1080 line motion resolution. Panasonic’s V and Z series plasmas offer a 96Hz refresh rate that produces images free of the judder found in all 60 Hz  panels (plasma and LCD) without the artifacts associated with 120/240Hz LED/LCDs.

Special Features

If you’re looking for the most accurate image reproduction, consider THX Certified designs that provide near ideal out of the box color temperature and color point accuracy when set to the THX picture option. User calibration controls included with many top of the line HDTVs allow (with proper test equipment and signals) near perfection image fine tuning.

Buying your HDTV

 

This year’s holiday supply of HDTVs is good with prices about 20% lower than last year.

Market conditions changed with Circuit City’s demise, essentially leveling Best Buy’s Black Friday “Door Buster” prices on mid to high end models with those found at Pricegrabber and Amazon. For tips on buying a set at a brick and mortar store, check out our feature “How To Negotiate the Best Deal”. (link).

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25 Comments so far ↓

  • Janice Gilliam

    We just bought a samsung 55 inch (model 6000?).This morning opened Best Buy newspaper flyer and saw 60 inch samsungs with PDP feature.What is pdp and is it better?can’t find explanation anywhere.thanks for your help.As you can see we are new to this TV area.It does not say it is 3D,which we do not want at this time.

    PDP stands for plasma display panel, its a plasma TV. For our latest buying chart go here : http://hdguru.com/how-to-pick-the-right-hdtv-2/6696/

    HD Guru

  • mohd rizal azwan b jaafar

    my tv plasma 43″ have a problem to switch on how can i get a servis in tawau.my no tel 012-5736144

  • kain

    If I have to choose for a HDTV for a very good image with the PS3, Which one is better:
    1.- Plasma.
    2.- Led TV 120 HZ
    ??
    Also, with the option 2 I have a image distorsion?

  • DarkEnergy

    To etype2.

    I’m very confused with your argument about a 65″ tv showing no dimming of quality but a 46″ in the same position will show dimming.
    My question to you is: If you cover the edge of your 65″ set so it would look like a 46″ then magically it would show dimming of quality?

  • Clinton Pittman

    This is awesome! I think David Pogue needs to call you to help explain HDTV, because your article is so much clearer than his. The benefits of specialization, I suppose. ;-)

    Merry Christmas!

  • Eugenio Teran

    Thanks for this article, it was really helpful and has actually reduced my options down to around 3 HDTVs.

    There is one thing I would like to ask, and that is image retention in plasmas, especially when playing videogames. I understand that ghost images in Plasmas are non-existent (or almost), but some pause images can burn the Plasma.

    I know it’s gotten significantly better over time, but the question is: overall, is plasma the way to go for gaming HDTVs? Please consider, I have a Playstation 3 with many games that can run at 1080p resolution.

    Thank you!!

  • PeterF

    Hoping to buy either 46″ or 55″ models of Samsung 8500 line but have unresolved questions. I hope these will last as long as my 10 yr old Sony top end 32″ which is still perfect. If I knew I had 8 to 10 years, it makes the price much easier to swallow.:-)

    How much of the technology in sets of this level will be wasted when viewing HD Cable box quality broadcast TV? Is it a total waste now and in the near future or are some benefits still going to be seen vs. a Blu-Ray or DVD which I know can let a display like this shine? Of course not sure of my viewing habits down the road but now, mostly broadcast TV.

    Hope question makes sense?

    Peter

  • Biff

    @Slippy: NERRRD!!!

  • Dan Dascalescu's display reviews

    Typo: “if you day a lot of daytime viewing”

    There’s no link near “see related story here link”

  • Slippy

    @j-ball
    I have a 4 year old 42″ 720p low quality plasma TV. Last year I had it hooked up to my computer in my living room and played World of Warcraft on it for a solid year. Were talking sessions of 12+ hours at a time. I experienced 0 burn in. It’s a myth! If it didn’t happen on my old, low quality Plasma, I’m 100% sure it’s not going to happen on any current plasma TV.

  • jball

    Plasma burn-in. What is the current state of Plasma burn-in? Is it still a potential problem, even after the first couple hundred hours of use? I’m concerned about (1) the crawls at the bottom of news/sports channels, (2) the network logos that get continuously displayed at times and (3) my kids pausing the DVR and leaving the room.

    I will eventually be replacing my family-room HDTV and would like plasma but am worried about burn-in.

  • Bob Stone

    Screen Size versus Seating Distance:

    I’d recommend a seating distance of between 1.5 and 2.5 times the diagonal measurement of the screen with 2X being the sweet spot for many.

    But first – lets define seating distance! To my mind, this is certainly NOT just a simple measurement of room width. I would define seating distance as being measured from the viewer’s eye to the front of the screen. In most cases, the front of the screen is often a foot away from a wall and the viewer’s eye (even if they are sitting against an opposite wall) is at least 1.5 feet away from that wall.

    Using that definiton of seating distance – I’d recommend someone purchase an HDTV whose diagonal measurement is about twice their seating distance. I’ve done a great deal of experimentation and the guideline of somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 seems about right with 2X being the sweet spot.

    I’ve reviewed the HD Guru’s recommendations and they turned out to be approximately 1.6X for 1080 content and 2.4X for 720p. These charts seem to be based soley on visual acuity. However broadcasters transmit in both 720p and 1080i. So which recommendation do you choose? What is interesting is if you average the two recommendations it does work out to be 2x. However such charts ignore the fact that HDTV signals are not pixel perfect and employ lossy compression. While these charts may have some scientific appeal, they ignore compression, artifacts, and the variety of signals of differing quality/resolution which will be received.

    I’d argue for a more subjective recommendation. For blu-ray viewers – I’d recommend between 1.6X and 2.0X. For more general viewing 2x seems near perfect (1.8 to 2.2). For a very casual viewer anything above 2.3X should fit the bill.

    Of course, all of this is subjective. Questions that should be asked: How tolerant is a viewer of watching low resolution 4:3 material when viewed at a close distance. How sensitve is a viewer to the artifacts of MPEG compression, film noise, etc?

    What is interesting is that whether you look at visual acuity charts or THX cinema recommendations, or SMPTE charts you will often find recommendations that fall between 1.5 and 2.0. However film has no compression and generally has better resolution than HDTV. That is why I’m arguing that sitting a bit farther away may be more suitable for most viewers.

  • Bob Stone

    The most damning quality of an LCD display is their poor viewing angles.

    See the Displaymate article “LCD -Plasma Display Technology Shootout” or the many reviews published at CNET, Sound & Vision, etc which often say that moving one seat cushion away from the one ideal “sweet spot” hurts picture quality on most LCDs.

    LCDs are a poor choice for a household if more than one person watches TV at the same time.

  • Online Full Free

    ther than size, is there any quality or performance differences between the V series Panasonic 54″ and 58″ ? With such praise as I have been reading for the 54″ V10, should I be wary of going larger and purchasing the 58″ ?

  • Phil

    Other than size, is there any quality or performance differences between the V series Panasonic 54″ and 58″ ? With such praise as I have been reading for the 54″ V10, should I be wary of going larger and purchasing the 58″ ?

  • Tzedekh

    Can you tell me what you think of the Samsung PN50B650 plasma, especially compared with the Panasonic TC-P50G10? From what I’ve read, the Panasonic has THX and holds the edge in contrast/black levels, motion resolution (1080 vs. ~900), and reliability, but the Samsung has better color accuracy, more HDMI ports (4 vs. 3), better 24p support (96 Hz vs. the G10’s inexplicably crippled refresh rate, 48 Hz), better color and grayscale controls, and possibly better sound. The Samsung seems also to be plagued by buzzing, a glitch in CinemaSmooth (the 96-Hz setting) that raises the black levels, and an audio sync problem with some Blu-ray players. To my knowledge, you haven’t published a review of the Samsung B650. Have you formed an opinion about Samsung plasmas, particularly the B650 and B850?

  • etype2

    … just want to add to my comment, my 18×15 room above, 6 person sofa centered to the screen about 13.5 feet away. The sofa is 12 feet wide. That leaves about 2.5 feet on each side for extra seating, other furniture. At each end of the sofa the viewing off access is about 35 to 40 degrees. The side chairs, about 60 degrees.

    Most people have viewing rooms this size. Most folks can’t afford dedicated viewing rooms with controlled lighting.

    A lot of talk about LCD viewing angles, but in real world viewing environments it is a non issue.

  • etype2

    LCD VIEWING ANGLES:

    The off axis reduction in image quality is directly related to the screen size of the LCD screen and your room size.

    If you have for instance a 18×15 room and a 65 inch LCD screen as I have, no matter how off axis you walk or view in this configuration, you cannot see a reduction in image quality, because you cannot get far enough away from the set or create an angle extreme enough to see the reduction.

    On the other hand, if you put say, a 46 inch LCD in that same room, then you will see a reduction in image quality because there is less size in the screen.

    I discovered this in my own home with upper level 65 and 46 inch LCD sets.

    If you create some geometry graphs of this senario, you will see what I am talking about.

    One should consider these factors for their own personal situation.

  • tkad

    while I agree (again) with most everything in the article, lcd power consuption levels of ccl lcd’s compare (equally) to plasma? I am unsure of power consuption levels of lower end lcd’s, but if memory serves, samsungs LN52B750 consumes 1/2 to 1/3 of the power that a panasonic G or V series of a comparable size (of plasma), in a somewhat calibrated state.
    does this not hold true across the technologies?

  • A Womack

    I think you need to do a little more homework when trying to explain the advantages of plasma over LCD. I lost all respect for this article when you stated that plasma gives you the better picture once you go above a certain size. This statement alone might’ve held water if you had just left it with the fact that plasma’s typically offer blacker blacks (even that statement is a little outdated given the new LED’s). Where I think you miss the mark is when you state that plasma’s are the only large flat screen technology available today that offers uniform viewing as you move off axis. This is absolutely false. I currently own a Samsung LN-T4671F LCD which has 178 degree viewing angle without in degredation to picture quality – and this is 2007 technology.

    Perhaps you need to reread the post. There are no plasmas TVs available in the US today under 42″. ALL LCDs (including yours and LED models) suffer from a increase in black level and a drop in brightness as one moves of center. Yeah, set makers like to state a spec of 178 degree viewing angles on LCD, and yes you can see an image, however, the black levels will be far higher than off center and image brightness drops so low , no one would want to actually view it this much off center.

    This “specsmanship” reminds me of speakers that claim a frequency repsonse of 20-20KHz but negate to mention its really at +/- 30 db, another meaningless number used for marketing that in no way conveys actual performance.

    HD Guru

  • Justin

    What about in regards to the best kind of tv for gaming? I’ve heard horror stories about burn in on plasma tvs. Any insight on this?

  • Chance Stevens

    I’m a little disappointed by this article because it neglect to mention warranties in any of this. While it’s true that almost of the major brands give you a one year warranty, Insignia gives people two years and some companies only provide 90 days. Typically the shorter the warranty the lower the price but this is something you should DEFINITELY be aware of before buying so if you buy an off-brand you at least know what can be done in the event of something happening to your set and you’re unable to return it where you bought it from.

    There was even an article on HD Guru to that point. Is it not important anymore???

  • Jigolo

    Thanks for posting another great atricle. The only additional factor a buyer might want to consider is screen reflectivity (i.e. matte vs. glossy.)

  • SirNotAppearing

    I’ve been reading your website for a couple of years now, but I keep finding excuses not to pull the trigger on HD. You mention judder found in all 60 Hz panels, but I don’t remember reading about that on the Panny G10. Is this a problem worth worrying about?

    The judder effect is caused by conversion of 24 Hz content (film) to 60 Hz resulting in uneven (jerky) candence generally seen in horizontal pans. To some its a big deal, to others its not. Regardless, it does not occur frequently, so its a step up feature on plasmas (96 Hz) and LCD (120Hz or 240 Hz) which are all even multiples of 24. How much it is worth to a consumer depends on the prospective buyer.

    HD Guru

  • Carlton Bale

    Thanks for posting another great atricle. The only additional factor a buyer might want to consider is screen reflectivity (i.e. matte vs. glossy.)

    In rooms with lots of light, especially if it is directly behind the viewer, a glossy screen can produce noticeable glare. A bright screen with a matte finish is best for these rooms. For rooms with curtains and light control, a glossy screen will give a sharper image.

    A few years ago, virtually all LCDs had a matte finish and all plasmas had glossy. This is no longer the case; many LCDs have glossy screens and plasmas have added anti-reflective coatings.

    When testing and comparing TVs, a buyer should be sure also evaluate/compare the glare for each screen – with the turned off and with it turned on. In retail stores, crouching below the screen and looking at the reflections from the overhead lights is usually the best way to do this.

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