It is springtime, also known in the HDTV industry as model change time. With it comes the annual question, should you purchase a closeout of the previous years model at a great price or pony up for the “just released” new model?

In previous years the answer was simple, image improvements would trump closeout prices. The year, that advice goes completely out the window. Why? The 2008 marks a major marketing shift by many of the manufacturers of high definition TV displays. From the dawn of HDTV, set makers all boasted about picture improvements. This year, the emphasis by many of the HDTV manufacturers is cosmetic design, form factor and connectivity!

Here is a Part 1 of my breakdown of the HDTV makers with more to come as more 2008 product line details are released.

Samsung LCD

The US market leader in digital TV from January to November 2007, according to NPD, announced in its CES 2008 press release that it improved picture quality in HDTV in 2007. The official Samsung press release reads as follows: “In 2007, Samsung released a number of revolutionary features to improve picture performance, including the application of LED backlight to its critically acclaimed LCD TVs, and the employment of FllterBright technology to its stunning plasma TV line. This year, Samsung introduces a new line of HDTVs that enhances the use of the TV from a simple video playing device to a command center of a digital entertainment system that pulls content from the Internet, mobile devices and more.” They add select models will have a distinct look among a “sea for black offerings”

There are four series LCD announced to date, the 4, 5 6 and 7. The top rated LED backlight LCD sets are not expected to arrive to sometime around fall 2008 and are not expected to be announced till this July.

The Samsung LCD 4 series is 720p (specifically 1365 x 768 pixels) and is available this month (March) in the 19”, 22”, 32”, 37” and 40 sizes. The big improvement this year? A side mounted HDMI connector and “specially designed “hot keys” on the remote control to allow easy access to connected devices.”

The Samsung Series 5 is a line of “Full HD” (1920×1080”) LCD TVS, The big improvement over 2007? A side mounted USB 2.0 port and HDMI interface (for a total of three HDMI interfaces). Sizes are 32, 37, 40, 46 and 50 inches.

The Samsung Series 6 “Full HD” models add a new design element called TOC for a touch of color. The edge of its black frame goes to translucent red to clear at the edge. I like to refer it as a bleeding edge design. While it does not appeal to me, perhaps some perspective purchasers will like it. The series has 120 Hz refresh to reduce motion blur and Samsung states the panel has a 4ms response time. According to a Samsung spokesperson this was the same response as its 2007 models, when they were not rated. Like last year’s 61 series all sets have Samsung’s best panel they call SPVA.

Besides the new bezel design Samsung has added for 2008 InfoLink an “RSS feature (that) gathers up-to-the-minute content from USA Today (via an rear Ethernet jack) and displays it on your screen.” The set will superimpose news weather or stock market information over the content you are viewing. Note to Samsung, many HDTV viewers receive the Weather Channel, CNN, Bloomberg, CNBC for this information. The 6 series sets also have a USB 2.0 side mounted jack to allow you to view photos or hear MP3 music from an MP3 player. They are available in 40” (LN40A650T) 46” (LN46A650T),

The 7 series adds 1GB of internal memory with built in photos (artwork and scenes) and a more sophisticated file control options for external sources (MP3 music, photos). It’s also boasts the addition of a separate woofer for deep bass.

The HD Guru™ recommends purchasing one of the closeout 2007 LCD models, you’ll save money and get similar image quality.

Samsung Plasma

Samsung has made a number of changes to its 2008 plasma TVs. Its most significant, improved contrast ratio and an improved anti-reflective filter to reduce room reflections on the screen, higher contrast ratios including a dynamic contrast claimed to be 1,000,000. Dynamic contrast is measured using a screen with no content (black) compared to a screen with a full white small patch of the screen. It has little to no relevance to real world contrast ratios. However, the true contrast ratio is now been improved from 10,000:1 to 20,000:1 for its 1365 x 768 resolution models and 30,000 for its Full HD Models.

Samsung also introduced 3D (it’s really stereoscopic) HDTV. The system requires a computer interface and 3D glasses for the viewer. A Samsung representative told me the system is designed to connect to a PC and will have some PC video games available later this year. The way the system operates is it alternates left and right eye images. The improved contrast ratio should improve image quality, though I have not yet been able to do any side-by-side comparison. In addition, Samsung has made no claim of reduced black level, a factor that would improve image quality.
Unless you want the 3D feature, The HD Guruâ„¢ recommends you compare the 2007 and 2008 to determine if the contrast ratio improvement justifies the higher prices of the new models


Sony’s 2008 model line has split introductions for its all LCD flat panel line. The Z4100 series (46”, 42”) 1080p 120HZ models 24p input; the W4100 series (52”, 46”, 40”) 1080p, 120 Hz and the V4100 series (52”, 46”, 40”) 1080p 60Hz available now or late spring. The XBR6 series will be available in late May or early June. It offers 120Hz and 1080p in 32” and 37” sizes. I feel that unless you a few feet from the display (think 58” for the 37” and 50” fro the 32”) you will not be able to see the extra resolution that a 1080p display offers. In other words, for the vast majority of viewers that sit further from their TVs, 1080p sets under 42” should not be considered.

Sony also has a line of 720p 60Hz HDTVs in the N4000 and M4000 series in the 26”, 32” and 37” sizes.

The replacement models for the XBR4 and XBR5 will not be announced till summer with fall delivery expected.

With no major improvements in picture quality of the 2008 models announced so far (with the exception of a few more 120Hz models) the HD Guruâ„¢ recommends saving money with the purchase of a closeout 2007 Sony HDTV.


Mitsubishi unveiled a prototype of its “LASERTV” at CES. The demo model had a 65” screen and a depth of less than 10 inches. As promised, the color gamut was far larger than any other display technology, with highly saturated colors including brilliant reds. The underlining technology is three sequentially fired lasers, bouncing off a Texas Instruments DLP chip utilizing its smooth picture pixel shifting method to produce a full HD 1080p image.

The demo consisted of a number of short clips. Lasers are very efficient devices producing light with a fraction of the power required for lamp driven devices.

This prototype demonstration showed Mitsubishi has licked the “speckle” problem that has plagued all previous laser demonstrations I have seen. Speckle (also referred to as sparkles by some) is caused by interference patterns in laser (coherent) light when it is reflected from a surface. However, this prototype had some issues that need to be resolved before production can commence. They were a limited viewing angle before significant brightness fall-off of (around 120°, in other words 60° off center right, left or top, bottom). The other issue, the image, did not possess the super high brightness expected with laser technology, in the HD Guru’s opinion, this quality is needed for this technology to succeed in the market place.

Mitsubishi also demonstrated a laser TV prototype with 3D (stereoscopic) playback via a 3D Blu-ray player and polarized glasses. Mitsubishi has announced they will have HD Blu-ray players and glasses available 2008 with 3D movies on Blu-ray began released later this year.

Mitsubishi will reveal its 2008 line in early April


First the good news, Pioneer demonstrated its “Absolute Black” Kuro plasma and its super thin (9mm) plasma models. The Kuro was to be available in 2009 (according to sources) and provided a total black by eliminating any idling light discharge, meaning black areas in the image produce no light output and a theoretically immeasurable contrast ratio.

Now for the not so good news. Pioneer will cease the production of its Kuro plasma panels later this year. It will continue to sell plasma TVs by sourcing panels elsewhere and assembling them in Japan in two of the factories that have been producing its panels.

A number of websites have writing the news as the beginning of the end of plasma TV, this is not correct. Here are the facts.

Pioneer’s plasma factory is the most inefficient in the industry, producing only one panel at a time. By contrast, LG makes eight 42” panels off of one “mother” glass, while the largest Panasonic plasma factory produces up to nine 50” plasma panels at once.

Because of the high cost production, Pioneer could no longer sell plasma TV for a profit, even though their prices are considerably higher than any other brand. Pioneer has been losing money on plasma for the last two years.

Beginning in 2009 with 2009 model year product), Pioneer will purchase panels for its plasma TVs from another Japanese plasma maker (that means either Panasonic or Hitachi) and according to news reports, will provide its partner with its patent portfolio and intellectual property regarding “Absolute Black”, cell structure and its other unique plasma technologies.

As far as 2008 models, they will not be released until this July.

Copyright ©2008 Gary Merson/HD Guru™. All rights reserved. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.