Attention Wal-Mart HDTV Shoppers
Wal-Mart, America’s largest retailer is one of the highest volume HDTV selling chains. With 3628 stores in the US, Wal-Mart has nearly as many outlets as Best Buy, Target and Sears combined. With many stores in rural areas, they may be the only place folks may see and buy a set within 50 miles or more from home.
HD Guru spent hours in two of our local Wal-Marts to learn the models, see how they perform and help our readers choose the best sets they offer.
Wal-Mart limits its TV choices to low to lower mid end of company product lines, with some models being exclusives or derivatives of a given manufacturer’s main line seen at other regional or national outlets. In 32-inch and above screen sizes, brands include Vizio, Sanyo, Samsung, LG , Sony and Emerson. Screen size classes on display include 22, 26, 32, 37,40 to 43-inch, 46 to 47, 50 and 55-inches. If you want a larger set, Wal-Mart is not the store for you.
There was only one 3D capable (a Vizio passive 3D with no demo available) and two Internet connectible TVs. There were just three LED LCDs and three plasmas. All others were LCDs using CCFL backlights (more later).
Wal-Mart uses two rows of TVs with about 32 models on display in the 32 to 55-inch range. For what I can only imagine as a desire of the Wal-Mart merchandiser for cosmetic symmetry (and no aid to shoppers evaluations), the top row of TVs is wall mounted tilted downward while the bottom row is tilted upward. An upward tilt is not an angle anyone would want to use at home, and causes the bare bulb store ceiling fixtures to be seen as reflections overlaying the image. Adding to making performance evaluations difficult, Wal-Mart continues to use antiquated long lengths of component video cables to carry its store demo content. The result, an HD image without fine detail, making it impossible to see any discernable difference of the higher resolution 1080p displays over the 720p models. As I have seen at every Wal-Mart I have visited in my market area, a handful of sets lacked either the red or blue component video connection, making those sets incapable of displaying those respective colors. This situation has gone on for years, and I am beginning to believe the NY area merchandising manager may simply be color blind.
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Things You Should Consider
Most of the TVs had shelf tags which provide price, resolution, screen size, technology (LCD-LED LCD or plasma) and the number of HDMI inputs.
These go hand in hand and you can use our viewing distance chart to check the optimum viewing distance. If your distance is beyond the maximum for 720p, save some money and opt for a 720p over a 1080p unit. The most common screen size today is 32-inch and at typical viewing distances of nine feet, its way beyond where you will notice the sharpness 1080p affords.
Number of HDMI Inputs
HDMI is a single cable which provides the best video and audio signal quality. Ã‚Â A Component video connection mentioned above requires three wires for video and another two for stereo audio. Most folks have a cable or satellite box and will need to connect it via HDMI (tip: make sure your set top box is high definition, if there is no HDMI jack, it’s not HD and you are not going to see any programs in high defintion). You’ll need the TV’s second HDMI input if you want to connect a Blu-ray disc player (we are assuming you are not going to add a surround sound system that may have its own multiple HDMI inputs). If you plan to add a streaming device like an Apple TV or Roku (link) you will need a third HDMI input on the TV (or have to resort to an external HDMI switch) which is quite inconvenient.
LED vs. LCD vs. Plasma
If you plan to buy a TV smaller than 42-inches your choice is only LED (LCD) or LCD. Both may use the same LCD panel. The LED set will simply be using light emitting diodes to illuminate the image instead of CCFL lamps (fluorescent tubes like the ones in the store ceiling fixtures). The single advantage of LED sets sold by Wal-Mart is lower power consumption, however be aware the difference is slight. For example, Wal-Mart offers Samsung 32-inch models in both versions. The $298 LCD with CCFLs, according to government required Energy Guide label costs $15 a year to operate, while the $398 LED model uses $10 a year worth of electricity. It will take 20 years to break-even. Go with the LCD CCFL model!
For 42 through 50 inches Wal-Mart offers plasma TVs by Sanyo (now owned by Panasonic) and a Samsung. Plasmas have deeper black levels and higher contrast levels than their LED or LCD counterparts. They also have more uniform whites and blacks as well as far wider and consistent image at any viewing angle.
Shiny versus Dull Screens and Image Brightness
The Wal-Mart viewing environment is far, far brighter than any normal home. Unless you plan on viewing your new TV outdoors or during the daytime opposite a curtain-less window (which will make the brightest TV washout), all sets sold at Wal-Mart provide pictures with more than adequate brightness for virtually any home. All LCDs sold (except some of the larger Samsungs) use dull anti-glare coatings, while the plasmas and top Samsung screens are shiny, called anti-reflective. Neither was a match for the store’s bare ceiling lamps. If you place any lamp opposite a flat screen TV, the reflection will be more diffuse with the dull anti-glare screen but still very noticeable. A solution: move the lamp or turn it off when viewing.
Normal 60Hz LCD TVs can only resolve motion up to about 330 lines (out of 720 or 1080 per picture height). If you like action movies or sports, and motion blur bothers you, consider either a 120 Hz or higher LCD or LED or any plasma.
The biggest picture variable at Wal-Mart is how much a given TV’s image changes as one moves to the right, left, Ã‚Â above or below screen center. On some sets, the changes are quite dramatic, with color saturation and contrast rapidly falling as you leave the center “sweet spot”. Plasmas have the best viewing angle and all exceed any LED LCD or LCD.
We picked the sets with the best viewing angle and price/feature set for each size category and list them below. If you have no other TV retailer in your area, and wouldn’t consider a purchase from an on-line TV seller that offers full return privileges and return freight (like Amazon), you may consider a Wal-Mart TV. However, you are limited to sets that max out in price around $1200 and with a screen size no larger than 55-inches. You’ll miss out on a number of higher end features and the higher performance found in manufacturers’ higher end products such as “Full HD 3D” TVs or local dimming LEDs. Wal-Mart only sells in-store two 55-inch models capable of Internet streaming, though set makers offer this feature in the 32-inch size class and larger. For more product information we included product links.
26-Inch LCD Sanyo DP26670; 720p;60Hz; 2 HDMI; built-in DVD player $268
32-Inch LCD SamsungÃ‚Â LN32D403 720p;60Hz; 2 HDMI $299
42-Inch Plasma Sanyo 42740 720p; 2HDMI; $428
42-Inch LCD LG 42LK450 1080p;60Hz; $498
43-inch Plasma Samsung PN43D450 720p; $478
46-Inch LCD Samsung LN46D550 1080p;60Hz;4 HDMI; $748
46-Inch LCD Sony KDL46BX420 1080p;60Hz;2 HDMI; $728
47-Inch LCD LG 47LK520 1080p;120 Hz;3 HDMI;$788
50-Inch Plasma Sanyo DP50741; 720p;3 HDMI; $598
55-Inch LCDÃ‚Â LG 55LK520 1080p; 120Hz; 3 HDMI; $1098
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