Large screen high-definition flat panels make the top ten list in Ã¢â‚¬Å“must purchaseÃ¢â‚¬Â surveys this year-and for good reason. They bring a Jetsons-like future to the present, with the best models delivering bright, clear, sharp high-definition pictures with deep colors and rich life like sound, while they take up less space in the home. This guide will help you clear through confusing technical jargon and find a flat-panel TV that suits your viewing habits and lifestyle.Weighing the Pros and Cons
Many people become confused by what type of flat-panel TVÃ¢â‚¬â€plasma or LCDÃ¢â‚¬â€they should purchase. The technology you pick will depend on a number of factors, including screen size, viewing conditions, price and, ultimately, your perception of which one looks the best.In terms of size, LCD flat-panels start as small as 10 inches and go up to 65 inches. Sets above 52 inches, however, can get expensive. Unlike smaller LCD TVs which typically have old-style 4:3 aspect ratios, all plasmas are widescreen. Plasmas start at 37 inches and go up to 103 inches.
LCD Pros and Cons
LCDs are available in smaller sizes, allowing them to go where a 37-inch plasma will not fit. They also provide incredibly bright images when viewed on center. If you plan on watching your TV in a room with a lot of light, LCD has the edge over plasma, both with its bright picture and its special surface coatings that reduce room reflections.
LCDs generally have slower video response times than plasmas, which is noticeable primarily on sports and fast action scenes. They also have a narrower viewing angle, meaning that as you move off center, the image contrast and brightness drop off. Most LCD panels (as well as plasmas) are factory preset to stand out in the very bright lighting at most stores. When you get them home and out of the box, however, they are way too intense. You should change the menu setting from factory preset (usually Vivid) to Movie, Cinema or Standard (depending on your set) and lower the contrast (also called Picture Control) to the halfway point for the best picture.
If your television is going to be in room with normal lighting, plasma will provide superb image quality, dark blacks and bright whites over the widest viewing angle. However, if you need a screen below 37 inches, LCD is really the only choice available. Enclosed patios, really bright rooms with skylights or untreated windows, and sunny kitchens are all excellent spots for LCD displays of all sizes.
Plasma Pros and Cons
Plasmas have wide viewing angles, meaning you can sit off-center and still see a very good picture. They have high contrast ratios, excellent color, deep blacks, fast response times for viewing scenes with a lot of motion such as sports, and generally lower prices than LCDs above 42 inches. TodayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s plasmas have a long life expectancy. Many of the top tier brands are now rated at 60,000 hours, which is equal to over 16 years of use when operating the set 10 hours a day, every day.
Plasma disadvantages are few. In the early days, the most common criticism was that they suffered from Ã¢â‚¬Å“burn-in,Ã¢â‚¬Â meaning that when a static image such as a video game logo is on the screen for too long, its shadow may linger even after itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gone. Burn-in really is the uneven wear of the phosphors within the plasma panel. The risk of burn in has been greatly reduced by the set makers and can be minimized with a simple precaution. Like with LCD, upon unpacking and connecting the set, change the Ã¢â‚¬Å“picture mode settingÃ¢â‚¬Â from factory preset (usually Vivid) to Movie, Cinema or Standard (depending on the TV) and lower the contrast (also called the Ã¢â‚¬Å“picture controlÃ¢â‚¬Â) to about one half level for the best picture.
Choosing The Proper Size Panel
In the age of High Definition TV size matters most. What many shoppers and salesmen donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realize, buying a screen that is too small or sitting too far away from the display will rob you from seeing all the high definition the set has to offer, thereby wasting your money. HDTV provides a more immersive viewing experience than old style 4:3 standard definition TV, as well more picture detail than you have ever seen on a home display. In order to fully resolve all the detail within HDTV, you must sit in the optimum viewing range. Sit further and your eyes will not be able discern all the detail within the image. There are three levels of resolution for flat TVs. The first level is not HDTV; it is called Enhanced Definition at 480 vertical lines. The two classes of HDTV grade displays are 720p/768p with the display showing either 720 lines (or 768 lines) of resolution from top to bottom and 1080 (i or p), the highest quality HDTV display, with 1080 lines of resolution. For ED sets you can sit as far as 3.4 times the screen diagonal to see all detail. This means up to 142.8 inches (just under 12 feet) from an ED (480p) 42Ã¢â‚¬Â set. Using the same size screen a 720p/768p you need to be at a viewing distance of at 2.3 times the screen size or closer, which is equal to 96.6 inches or eight feet. With a 1080 (i or p) 42inch set you should at no more than 1.55 times the screen size or 65.1 inches (just under 5Ã‚Â½ ft.) to distinguish ever pixel within the image.
(See the HD GuruÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seating chart for the optimum viewing distances with different screen sizes)
Understanding the Features
Monitor or Integrated HDTV
There are a number of high-definition LCD and plasma displays that are sold without tuners. These are called Ã¢â‚¬Å“HD monitors,Ã¢â‚¬Â and, like a computer monitor, they are useless without a signal source. Most monitors come with speakers, but some do not. With an HD monitor, you must connect it to a high-definition source to receive a true high-definition picture. You have three good high def optionsÃ¢â‚¬â€ over-the-air tuner box, cable box and satellite. Do not confuse Ã¢â‚¬Å“digital cableÃ¢â‚¬Â for high definition. Make sure your cable provider is supplying you with a high-definition signal. An integrated HDTV has a built-in digital tuner and can receive over-the-air HD broadcasts.
CableCARD – for cable subscribers a provider leased CableCARD slides into the back of the integrated HDTV. The TV with a CableCARD slot is called DCR for Digital Cable Ready. The CableCARD allows wall hanging of the HDTV without the need of an external cable box. The TV will receive all the SD and HD channels that you subscribe to including the premium ones (HBO, Showtime etc.) and tunes them in using the TVs supplied remote control. A bonus, the lease of the CableCARD is around $1.25-3.95 a month (depending on the cable provider), much less than the cost of leasing a high definition cablebox (around $7-13 month). In tests a CableCARD produced a sharper image than the leased cable boxes the HD Guru has sampled.
TV Guide On Screen (TVGOS) – CableCARD can not pass interactive cable programming, specifically impulse pay-per-view (you will have to call you cable provider to get WrestlemaniaÃ¢â€žÂ¢), video on demand or your providerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interactive program guide. TVGOS provides a full eight-day guide to all the shows and movies including specific program information. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s free, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no subscription and the latest version works flawlessly. It is available on most major cable systems. It also allows automatic recording to a VCR or disc recorder, like a TiVo.
Signal Processing – One of the toughest jobs a HDTV has to do is to convert standard definition and high definition programming to the setÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s native resolution, which is fixed at single matrix (such as 1366 x 768p). All standard definition (480i) and most high definition broadcasts (1080i) are interlaced (alternating lines of resolution are broadcast sequentially) but virtually all HDTV panels are progressive (all lines broadcast at the same time).
Sets that donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t properly deinterlace 1080i signals will drop up to one-half of the picture resolution off the screen, providing you far less detail than you paid for. A number of manufacturer recognize how important good signal processing (including proper deinterlacing) to provide the clearest image with all program material. All JVC, Hitachi and Pioneer sets properly deinterlace 1080i content. Some other vendors also include good scalers and you can find out which ones by reading the HD GuruÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s test of 61 HDTVs with an in depth technical explanation at http://www.hometheatermag.com/hookmeup/1106hook/
(The HD Guru will be posting test results of another 15 HDTVs very soon)
IEEE 1394/ FireWire – Is the only two-way interface that allows one to record HDTV signals. There are DVHS HD tape recorders from JVC and RCA hard disc drive (HDD) recorder available to archive HDTV broadcast or cable signals, (all leased HD cableboxes must have an active IEEE1394 port according to FCC regulations). Next year HD DVD and Blu-ray recorders are expected to arrive. You will need IEEE 1394 to record a HDTV signal to a disc in high definition.
Myths and Cautions
LCD – The big myth, the liquid will leak out of LCD panels. This is not true; all LCD panels are sealed and never need to be refilled. You should always handle the panel by its frame, never lie the panel face down and never press on the screen. The front glass is very thin (much thinner than the front glass found on Plasma TVs) and cracks quite easily.
Plasma – The big myth, the Plasma gas will leak and need to be recharged. Like LCD, plasma panels are factory sealed and wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t leak or ever need to have the internal gases refilled.
Another myth, Plasma TVs consume more electricity than LCD. Fact, in recent HD GURU tests, plasma TVs used fewer watts of electricity than comparably sized LCD flat panel televisions.
Parts of this article appear with permission from Best Magazine.
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