Sony recently posted a YouTube video on its website “here” entitled “How to Choose the Right HDTV. Hosted by Sony spokesperson Veronica Belmont, the video strews an amalgam of facts, partial facts and fiction that has the potential to mislead folks into buying the “wrong” HDTV. The video should be called called “How to Choose a Sony HDTV“.We have the video posted after the break.

Here’s the breakdown:

Proper Viewing Distance (partially correct)– Veronica states you should measure the couch-to-TV distance and divide by two. So if you are 100″ from your TV you should buy a 50″ set. What Sony and Veronica don’t take into account is screen resolution. We have our viewing distance chart “here” that provides the optimum viewing distance for any screen size from 17″-120″ for both 720p and 1080p displays. Our chart is based on the furthest distance where someone with normal vision can perceive all of the picture detail. For 1080p sets it’s 1.57 times the screen size, for a 720p display its 2.35 times. The average living room viewer-to-screen distance is 9 feet, called the “Lechner Distance”.  Using Sony’s formula, which we consider inaccurate, it recommends a 54″ TV regardless of screen resolution. In reality, the optimum 1080p screen size is about 68″ for the 9 ft. distance while for a 720p set, a 46″ screen is better.

If you go by Veronica’s recommendation of a 32″ TV for the bedroom, Sony’s own 2X screen size formula would imply you were 64″ or just over 5ft from the TV. We suspect this is far closer than where most people would put a bedroom television. Most people position their TV at or beyond the foot of the bed, not to the side. This would be 8 feet or more, or at least a 42″ TV by Sony’s calculation. 50+ inches by ours. Of course you can choose a smaller than optimum HDTV, but only after you have the facts to make a properly informed decision.

Flat Panel Set Types (incomplete):Veronica says “there are two types of HDTVs: LED LCD and plasma.” This overly simplifies the picture. There are four types of HDTVs. They are LED LCD (the LED s are used as the light source and are are placed at the edge of the screen or behind the screen depending on the design), LCD (with cold cathode fluorescent lamp as the light source, called “CCFL backlight”) rear projection and plasma. Sony makes both LED LCD and CCFL backlit LCD. There are three major plasma manufacturers—Panasonic, Samsung and LG—that also make LED backlit LCDs and CCFL backlit LCDs. Mitsubishi makes a line of rear projection HDTVs  and LED lit LCDs a.

Viewing Condition Choices (some fact, some fiction): Veronica states “Plasmas are known for producing deeper black levels.” That is true. However, she adds, “if you can guarantee perfect viewing conditions, for instance a dark room, then plasma’s right for you” and then “most people can’t get darkness in the living room during the day”—the implication being if you can’t get “pitch black” darkness during the day you should buy an LCD set. We find this bit of advice highly manipulative and factually specious. All HDTVs, regardless of technology, will suffer washed out blacks if exposed to bright light. While ultimate brightness is higher for LED and LCD HDTVs, plasmas don’t need a “dark room” to produce outstanding images. For the best pictures possible, any TV technology benefits from room “lighting control.” Most people, unless they are exhibitionists, have window shades and/or blinds.

Glare Resistance (specious oversimplification): “LCDs are better at resisting glare,” Veronica announces. In fact, glare resistance depends more upon the type of screen coating employed (either “anti-glare” or “anti-reflective”) than on the display technology. Most current HDTVs, whether plasma, LED (LCD) or CCFL LCD, employ the “anti-reflective” type coating, which appears smooth and mirror like.

“Anti-glare” finishes have a dull appearance, like a matte surface photograph. “Anti-glare” screens do limit the amount of reflected glare from ambient light sources, but at the expense of image contrast, which makes  picture content appear less “punchy.”

For this reason, many HDTVs including LED and LCD (CCFL) employ the shiny “anti-reflective” filters. While this generally makes the LCD images better and more “punchy,” most of the ambient light rejection advantage over plasmas is lost—and that wasn’t stated in the video. Perhaps that would have been an appropriate omission in a television commercial but not in a video that purports to be an authoritative guide.

“Anti-glare” coated LCD models can be found most often in the 32″ and below screen sizes, which are only available in LED and CCFL LCD since 42” diagonal is the smallest available plasma screen size.

Set Depth, Energy Efficiency and “Green” Friendly (True but “glaringly” incomplete): Veronica continues, “Most LCDs are generally slimmer and more energy efficient than their plasma counterparts.” This is true. However, big screen LCD and LEDs (over 50″) generally cost far more than their plasma counterparts, requiring a decade or longer to possibly realize any long term dollar savings in energy costs—a fact that Sony, as an LED/LCD maker, omits.

Veronica states “Some of the newer HDTVs run the backlights across the edge, making them remarkably thin and energy efficient.” That is an accurate statement, although it’s only true for the higher priced LED lit LCDs. The CCFL LCD models are not side lit, nor are they as thin. Plasma sets today run as shallow as 1.4″ up to about 3.5″ for low end models—hardly what we would call “thick.”

About LED and LCD sets Veronica says “They have incredibly sharp contrast.” That is true but she doesn’t add that this is true only at or near the straight-on viewing axis. Contrast on all LED and LCDs diminishes as one moves off-center. As you move to the side, the black level rises and peak brightness diminishes, significantly dropping the contrast ratio. This phenomenon is limited to LCDs (both CCFL and LED). Sony chooses to omit this major plasma advantage. Again, that would be appropriate in a commercial, but not in a guide that purports to be authoritative.

Veronica’s statement “And (LEDs) display beautiful, rich color,” is correct in that they can, but LED lighting does not guarantee any richer or better color than any other lighting technology (plasma or CCFL). It depends on many other design factors.

Calling them LCD TVs and aided by a graphic, Veronica says “And they contain no mercury, so they are less harmful to the environment.” Yes, mercury is indeed toxic, but the statement is incomplete as this only applies to LED LCD.

The most widely sold LCD HDTVs (and currently 40% of Sony’s TV line) have CCFL lamps. All CCFL lamps contain mercury and multiple lamps are required within each TV. So yes, it is possible for an LED based LCD to be mercury free, but it is impossible for any CCFL based LCD to be mercury free. Plasma TVs contain no mercury. Rear and front projectors usually use a single UHP lamp that does contain mercury.

Her statement “If you really like watching movies, you want to be sure your TV is full HD 1080p” is marketing bunk. As stated above, whether you can see all the resolution available with a 1080p set requires the proper viewing distance for a given screen size—a huge variable that is not mentioned.

“If you are a sports or gaming enthusiast you want to make sure you have high frame rate technology, 120Hz or higher for smooth motion” is a somewhat misleading statement. While 120Hz (or more) within LED and LCD TVs reduces motion blur, it is still present. Our tests reveal motion resolution drops image resolution from 1080 lines (per picture height) to 300 with a 60 Hz LED or LCD while a 120Hz TV produces around 600 out of 1080 lines.

Furthermore, 120 Hz processing introduces other artifacts in the picture, making film look more like video, a condition many viewers do not like. These circuits, called Motion Estimation/Motion Compensation (ME/MC) cause response delays that gamers may  not desire. Most TVs have a “Game Mode” that bypasses the circuit; however it also defeats the motion blur reduction characteristics of 120Hz and higher refresh. For gamers that prefer action games, like first person shooters, the tradeoff between blurry motion and image lag due to processing would be like choosing between being punched in the face or kicked in the groin. Plasmas work on a different technology and do not have motion blur, though the processing that causes image lag could still be a factor depending on the TV (many models have a game mode too, which reduces image lag but doesn’t create motion blur). The video concludes “there are many great HDTVs to choose from and you should do online research.” We concur. We recommend to our readers reviews from unbiased, accurate review websites (naturally including this one), and others like CNET and Consumer Reports.

Have a question for the HD Guru?

©Copyright 2010 HD Guru® All Rights Reserved. HD Guru is a registered trademark.