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How To Pick The Right HDTV

October 29th, 2010 · 9 Comments · 3D HDTV, Connected TVs, DLP, Laser HDTV, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels


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(October 29, 2010) 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.

Market research company iSuppli predicts that 11.897 million flat panel plasma and LCD HDTVs will sell during the fourth quarter, up slightly over 6% from the same period in 2009. Broken out by type, iSuppli forecasts plasma sales should increase over 9.3% for Q4 compared to last year while all LCD will be up by 5.61%.  Clearly, HDTVs are among the most prized gifts. So whether you’re giving one to a loved one, your family or yourself, it’s important to pick the right one. 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-inches  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″¬Â 720p plasma sets as well, with all plasma sizes available in 1080p. Rear Projection TVs are not flat, with a depth of around 15″. They are offered in screen sizes from 60″-82″ and provide the biggest image for the least amount of money, with street prices starting at under $1000. All use a single replaceable lamp light source (except one model using lasers). All rear projectors are made by Mitsubishi.

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’ 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″ and 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 models, offer better off-axis performance than others.

Plasma offers overall better black levels, with blacks always appearing deeper especially 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 are 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 “LED TVs¬ 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 consumes somewhat more power than CCFL backlit LCDs. Price wise, large screen plasma (50″ and over) are significantly less expensive than traditional CCFL LCD and LED LCD. The cost differential is higher than the savings in electricity one can expect, even after 10 or more years of use.

The CCFL lamps within LCDs contain mercury, a toxic metal, while LED LCDs and plasmas are mercury free, something to keep in mind when disposing of an old LCD TV. Check out our recycling article here for more information.

Another LED advantage is the capability of very bright images, which makes them preferable to both CCFL backlit LCDs and plasma if you do a lot of daytime viewing, in very bright windowed rooms that lack shades or curtains. For typical room lighting conditions plasma HDTVs produce sufficient image brightness for outstanding picture quality.

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 less than an inch deep. Back lit sets offer the aforementioned advantage of local dimming, which can produce extremely dark black levels.

Edge lit LEDs may 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 with local dimming 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.

Once the refresh rate is increased to 120Hz or higher, a number of image artifacts appear (see related story here link). In addition, test material reveals unwanted artifacts present in all types of 120, 240 Hz LCD HDTV.

For the best LCD picture, either traditional or LED backlit, choose one with either a 120Hz or 240Hz or 480 Hz refresh rate. Note the are LED LCDs that claim 480Hz refresh, really just use a 240 Hz circuit and sequentially fire the LEDs within the backlight.

1080p plasma sets produce artifact free, full 1080 line motion resolution. Panasonic’s VT20/ VT25 series and Samsung’s 8000 model plasmas offer a 96Hz refresh rate that produces images free of the judder (seen as uneven pans) found in all 60 Hz panels (plasma and LCD) without any of the artifacts associated with 120/240Hz LED/LCDs.

Special Features

THX

If you’re looking 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. THX is available on select LG and Panasonic HDTVs. User calibration controls, included with many top of the line HDTVs allow (with proper test equipment and signals) near perfection image fine tuning.

To learn more about THX Certification use this link.

3D

New for 2010 is 3D capability. It is available on select LCD models from Samsung, LED LCDs from Samsung, Sony, LG, Sharp and Toshiba and plasma HDTVs from LG, Samsung and Panasonic. Screen sizes range from 40″-65″ for LED LCD, 40″-55″ for LCD with CCFL backlights and 42″-65″ for plasma. All Mitsubishi rear projectors do 3D with the aid of a $99 interface box.

Buying your HDTV

This year’s holiday supply of HDTVs is excellent, due to slower than anticipated sales  with prices around 25% lower than last year. To boost sales, set makers are kicking in with extra savings on a variety of models in the form price reductions, instant rebates, dealer incentives, or bonus offers including free Blu-ray players with TV purchase and multiple free 3D glasses with 3D capable TVs.

You can find the great only pricing from Pricegrabber and Amazon using our links within their respective ads on the right side column. For tips on buying a set at a brick and mortar store, check out our feature ¬Å“Getting the Best HDTV Price. (link).

(The article above  is an updated version of  “Choosing the HDTV That’s Right For You”  originally published Nov. 2009)

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9 Comments so far ↓

  • linda

    What can you tell me about the 32″ Sceptre TV with 1080 pixels?

    No much. According to Sceptre US customer service, their TVs are made in either Taiwan or China depending on the models and are only sold online. They come with a one year parts and labor warranty, and warranty service requires shipping the TV to its Calf. offices. They will pay the freight both ways during the warranty period.

    After that you must still send to their Calf. offices for out of warranty service and it could cost you as much as $250 to repair (plus shipping) which is above the cost of the 32-Inch model when you add on the shipping.

    Sounds like another “disposable TV” unless you invest in an extended warranty like those offered from Square Trade.

    HD Guru

  • Gaurang Singhal

    hii.. I want to buy a tv within rs. 70,000… plz suggest the best tv available within this range .. any help is appreciated

    Sorry we do not deal in ₹ and do not know anything about models in your market.

    HD Guru

  • Walt

    I would like to know more about how motion resolution is determined or measured and what factors other then refresh rate can effect it,
    Also I suggest that you provide more detail about the difference betweeen edge lit local diming and full array bsacklit local diming.
    Also AFAIK most frame interpolation motion compensastion algoriothims allow you to vary the size of the objects which will be interpolated and more artifacts will occure with intepolation of smaller objects. On my 120HZ LCD I have the frame interpolation level set to 1 so only the larger objects have interpolation applied and I see no artifacts.

    We covered motion resolution in prior articles, try our handy dandy search bar. We use the FPD test disc.

    The local dimming/full backlight thing is a not always easy to pin down as set makers (i.e. Samsung) refuses to provide specifics on how they do it and all the vendors frown upon us disassembling their review samples.

    We also have an article on Motion Estimation Motion Compensation (ME/MC) artifacts using the wedge pattern in the Spears and Munsil test disc with a neat video. Here’s the link http://hdguru.com/120240-hz-lcd-problems-exposed/569/#more-569

    HD Guru

  • Thomas Ali

    I’m looking at the Samsung PN58C6400 in my budget and would love nothing smaller than a 58″, I’m not a gamer, love movies and sports, love the look of the TV, is this Plasma rated as a good plasma to buy, was looking at the 54″ G20 from Panny but too small, thanks for your opinion, thanks, Tom

  • Death2494

    You might want to update your article there HD guru, because they are a number of LED-LCDs out there that also display the full 1,080 lines of motion resolution. Also you failed to mention that Sony’s HX909 actually displays 1200 lines of motion resolution.
    Tv I know of so far..include:
    LE8500
    LX9500
    HX909
    HX800 ( i believe)
    Samsung LED C-8000 and C9000
    All these sets have been released so the information is out there in the reviews. Another thing is if people are going to be heavily using their Pc on their TVs then it’s better for them to use a LED-LCD than a plasma.

  • john moran

    What about Oled technology. I saw the Sony 9″ last year and although it was small I was impressed. I read that one of the Korean manufacturers was developing a larger model. Will these sets be on the market soon, and how will it compare to the LCD and Plasma ?

  • Matt

    The Panasonic G20/G25 series plasmas do NOT include a 96hz refresh feature. My G20 maxes out @ 48Hz.

    Typo corrected should have read VT20/VT25 series. Thanks for the catch.
    HD Guru

  • Dimitri Katsaros

    How do front projectors fit into the decision process? Of course, there are fewer room types that can adequately accommodate such a display type. However, once those requirements are met, at what point does it make sense to get front projection over the other types?

  • Scoop

    Could you write an article some time about why HDTV improvement has slowed down so much? The standard, obviously, has limits, and the closer you get to those limits the harder it is to improve, but I don’t really get the sense that we’re all that close yet — and I certainly don’t get the sense that we’re improving much. Indeed, I get the sense that many folks believe the second generation Kuro remains the best ever HDTV and it’s more than two years old now. (I don’t consider 3-D an improvement so much as an addition to the standard, a new factor to consider.)

    1) Anyway, you did a chart a couple years back that showed how much resolution HDTVs lose when objects move onscreen and only two of them maintained full resolution. Has that gotten better?

    2) What about color? I recall something about both plasma and LCD only being able to reproduce about 60 or 65 percent of the color that human eyes can see (while movies shot on film can get more than 80 percent). Any improvement there?

    3) What about black levels? Has anyone beaten the Kuro 2? What about that absolute black TV that Pioneer demoed at CES in 08? Panasonic bought that technology and the engineers who developed it. Why hasn’t it made its way into Panasonic TVs?

    4) What about size? Why have we stalled at 65 inches being about the max and is there hope of moving up to the 80 inch range? (My own guess on this is that TVs have to be small enough to watch 720 comfortably and you have to be further away from that for pixels to be invisible, so we’re not going up much on size till everything is 1080 with zero motion blur.)

    These are all areas that have potential for serious improvement that would much increase the viewing pleasure that people get from TVs.

    1) Motion resolution is about the same as it was when we published our last tests. Many 1080p plasmas showfull resolution, 60 LCD (or LED LCD) are around 320 lines (per picture height), 120Hz @ 600 lines and 240 Hz is 900 to a full 1080 depending on make and model.
    There are other motion artifacts that occur with all 120 Hz and higher LCDs due to their motion estimation/ motion compensation (ME/MC) circuits. We have seen prototypes of new ME/MC chips and we expect improvements in the form of reduced artifacts with select 2011 TVs.

    2) Color is limited to the current standard known as Rec. 709, although a number of sets can exceed the standard such as the Mitsubishi Laser TV and the Sharp Quatrons ( they use processors to expand the gamut beyond the 709 colors). Not accurate, however a number of viewers like it. Until a new standard appears and is used in the entire chain from capture, to media to display device we are stuck with Rec. 709 color gamut for movies and TV content.

    3) While Panasonic purchased Pioneers plasma intellectual property, they have only selectively included Pioneer technology within their 2010 models. The VT25 has the lowest black level ever measured on a Panasonic and we expect further improvements in plasma TV black levels in 2011. We will have to wait for visual observations at 2011 CES in January and actual measurements later next year to learn how low they can go.

    4) Panasonic offers professional monitors today in the 85″ and 103″ sizes. Sharp has a 108″ pro monitor. LG has announced a 72″ LCD HDTV for release in Korea in 2011. Mitsubishi offers rear projection HDTVs up to 82″ today. No doubt bigger is coming, but there are cost, packaging and transportation issues associated with bigger flat panels. I won’t be surprised to see several brands break the current 65″ flat HDTV limit next year, though we don’t know yet by how many inches.

    HD Guru

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