How To Choose the Right HDTV
Some really terrific large screen HDTVs are available today. Properly adjusted and viewed from the right distance in low ambient room light, the image quality can be amazing. However, unless you optimize home viewing conditions you will not be able to see the extra performance that can justify the cost of the best big screen sets. These top sets, with 65″ to 70″ screens, cost between $3000 and $8000.
Our checklist will help determine if your viewing conditions will allow you to see the picture quality these sets provide. If not, HD Guru recommends sets that are priced lower. You won’t notice a difference on the screen, but you will in your wallet!
Seating Distance/Screen Size/Resolution/Motion Blur
All of these performance parameters are related. Our viewing distance chart (link) shows how close you must be to a given screen size to resolve all 1080 lines of resolution delivered by 1080p sets.
If you sit further away, use the chart to see if that distance matches the 720p viewing distance. Once your viewing location exceeds the 720p resolution distance, other factors such as motion blur and fine detail reproduction becomes unnoticeable. Why pay for performance you sit too far away to see?
Black Level/White Level
Black level refers to how close to zero the brightness of black measures. White level refers to the maximum brightness of white a set can deliver when the controls are optimized.
The difference between the two levels is the set’s “contrast ratio”. The greater the ratio, the better the perceived picture quality. Sets with higher contrast ratios are seen as having more detail and “crisper” images.
Perceiving a set’s maximum contrast ratio necessitates a very dark viewing environment. At .004 ft lamberts, Panasonic’s TC-P55VT30 produced the lowest black level we’ve yet measured.
However, you will not notice the superior blacks produced by this set compared to one that not capable of producing such deep blacks if you view both simultaneously in a room with high ambient light. In low ambient light, LED LCD sets featuring “local dimming” can make portions of the image appear almost dead black.
Sets with superior white level performance tend to not look washed out when viewed in higher ambient light conditions.Ã‚Â LCDs and LEDs can be cranked to brighter levels than plasmas.
In bright, daytime viewing conditions in a room with many untreated windows, sets capable of producing bright white levels but not deep blacks, will look about as good as sets capable of deep blacks that usually cost more.
Plasmas and LCD off-axis image quality differ greatly, with plasma sets capable of covering a far wider area with very low contrast loss and no color degradation.
By comparison, LCDs (including LED based LCDs) have a far narrower viewing angle in both the vertical and horizontal planes, though some sets perform better than others.
Plasma’s wider viewing angle advantage is of consequence only if more than a few people are watching and from various off-axis vantage points. On-axis, both types of displays will appear relatively similar. Off-axis, plasma picture quality will appear virtually unchanged while the LED contrast ratios drop, producing a flatter picture, with darker whites and lighter blacks.
Choosing the Set That Best Matches Your Viewing Position and Room Ambient Lighting
Choosing a set that’s sufficient for your needs, requires some basic decisions about screen size and budget, since one directly affects the other. Most buyers have screen size limitations based on set placement requirements such as available wall space or cabinet size.
We recommend choosing a screen size that allows seeing all 1080 lines in high definition at your preferred or required viewing distance. The typical 9 feet viewing distance found in most homes equates to a 70- inch screen, though this size is more expensive and/or larger than most people desire or their furnishings can accommodate, so use that as a rough guide.
Once you’ve chosen a screen size, here are general guidelines for viewing angle and ambient lighting conditions:
Plasma TVs have more than adequate brightness for typical rooms (link). The extra brightness produced by LCD and LED LCDs will be beneficial in rooms without shades or curtains and used mostly for daytime viewing.
Lower end LCD models fit the bill for very bright rooms. Samsung’s LN series tops out at 46 inches, while Sonys go up to 55 inches. LG and Sharp offer LCDs as large as 60 inches. These all feature 120 Hz refresh rates, which is fine if your viewing distance is beyond the 1080p maximum for your size screen, because you are unlikely to see a motion sharpness improvement with a more expensive 240 Hz refresh rate set.
If you want require a wide viewing angle, go for plasma, though the IPS panels found in many lower end LG and Panasonic LCD and LED LCDs tend to have a better viewing angle than other LCD panels. Other factors come into play here, so results may vary.
Determine the maximum viewing angle in your home and check when you audition sets you are considering to see if the picture holds up at that angle.
Getting the best possible picture requires maximizing viewing conditions, including ideal eye to screen distance for a given screen size and low ambient light. If you are willing to accommodate these criteria in your room, the best sets will deliver the best picture.
The further your viewing distance, viewing angle and ambient room lighting level are from ideal, the more likely the picture improvements produced by the best and most expensive HDTVs will be obscured.
We always recommend the largest set you can fit and/or afford, if you can’t meet the viewing distance screen size guidelines we’ve outlined.
The brighter the room, the less important black level becomes, so consider lower end plasmas for all but the brightest rooms. If you are sitting at the 720p viewing distance or beyond, consider a set with that resolution. 720p plasma sets are available in screen sizes up to 51 inches.
If you want to view in daylight, have large windows and don’t want window treatments, consider LCD sets. All over 32 inch LCD sets sold today are 1080p.
Here are some sets to consider.
Plasma 720p 3D
1080p LCD with Wide Viewing Angle
1080p LCD with Middle or Narrow Viewing Angle
60 Inch and 70 Inch Entry Level LED LCD Narrow Viewing Angle
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