Why you should ignore Best Buy’s HDTV Buying Guide
Best Buy has an HDTV Buying Guide called HDTV Basics. It covers some of the questions that customers have about differences in HDTV technologies, what HDMI is, and other common concerns. However, it also provides and perpetuates a good deal of misinformation that can easily lead consumers to buy the wrong TV if they follow Best Buy’s advice!
To make sure our readers don’t fall into this trap, and so they can educate themselves, their friends and families, let’s look at the claims that should be put to rest.
Talking about Plasma TVs
Best Buy says plasmas are “a great choice if you like to watch TV in dark or dimly lit rooms,” and that they are the “least energy-efficient TV technology, with heavy, thick panels.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of plasma from them. However, the truth is that with any plasma you can purchase today, they put out enough brightness as you need for virtually any room. Not just dark and dimly lit ones. Current plasma HDTVs have new anti-reflective screens they’re very effective at rejecting reflections and ambient room light. The filters found in the 2013 mid to high end plasmas by Panasonic and the high end 8500 Samsung plasmas are the best, most effective ones we’ve ever tested.
It’s true that plasma TVs are less energy efficient and thicker than some LCD sets, but that doesn’t make them gigantic energy-sucking behemoths. Even if you run your TV for a few hours a day over a full year, you’re only paying $15 to 20 dollars more a year in electricity over an LCD. And even over a decade, that’s not a large difference. Since plasma usually offers a better value on the initial purchase price you will never make up the difference in energy savings. Moreover, many plasmas are 1½ to 2-inches thick. The top model LED LCD sets may be about 1-inch deep. But since your TV stand is still 6 to 8-inches deep itself, and most wall mounts take up at least 1 to 2 inches, that 1 inch might look big on paper, but in reality probably won’t be noticed.
On the other hand, Best Buy happens to have much nicer things to say about LED displays. The buyer’s guide points out that an LED TVs “Produces plasma-like deep blacks and rich, bright colors,” and that they have a “wider viewing angle than LCD TVs, so more people can watch without losing picture quality.”
Here’s the thing. Since LEDs cost a lot more than your typical plasma, it would make sense for them to be better in critical aspects of image performance. But they simply are not. In addition, Best Buy calls them LED TVs which is terribly misleading. LED TV is not a separate technology. These are not LED displays like you see at football stadiums, arenas or in New York’s Time Square. They are LCD panels just like the ones in “LCD TVs” except they are lit by LED lamps instead of fluorescent lamps called CCFLs. They have the same viewing and off-axis color shift issues as other LCDs. To prevent consumer confusion, HD Guru refers to LED lit LCDs as LED LCDs.
The only LED LCD sets that can rival plasma in black levels are those with a full rear array LED lighting system and the ability to dim groups of LEDs, called local dimming. These were common when LED sets were first released, but now there is only one on the market: Samsung’s $40,000 4K model 85S9. Yet even this one can’t match a plasma TV under the best circumstances. Local dimmable LED sets are prone to issues like haloing and other side-effects from the technology. Most LED sets are only edge-lit, which makes them thin but doesn’t help with black levels in the same way.
No LCD screen, even if it uses an LED backlight instead of a fluorescent one, can compete with plasma on viewing angles. Most LCDs will wash out badly once you are 30-40 degrees off-axis, and the best might still look acceptable at 45 degrees off-axis. The only correlation between LEDs and off-axis viewing might be from LED sets using better performing LCD panels. They are more expensive, but it actually has nothing to do with LEDs themselves.
720p, 1080p, and 4K
“4K Ultra-HD TVs represent the highest resolution and, thus, the new standard in picture clarity. 1080p HDTVs are ideal for 1080p content, like Blu-ray movies. For regular TV programming, a 720p HDTV will give you good performance because TV shows are not yet broadcast in 1080p” states the Best Buy guide.
Next, the Buyer’s Guide tries to break down 720p, 1080p, and 4K resolution. With 4K, there is currently no available content unless you buy a Sony display, and then you’re limited to the 4K content that Sony provides. Real 4K content won’t start being produced until the next HDMI standard appears, and a future update to the Blu-ray standard. These new standards are currently months or longer from becoming a new norm.
Furthermore, this is odd claim: “For regular TV programming, a 720p HDTV will give you good performance because TV shows are not yet broadcast in 1080p.” As we know, there is Pay-Per-View content available in 1080p. But the biggest fault here is failing to understand how 1080i HDTV content and deinterlacing works. Once deinterlaced, 1080i and 1080p are the same resolution. Any current HDTV will properly deinterlace a 1080i signal into 1080p.
1080i broadcast isn’t uncommon either. CBS, NBC, CW, Univision, CNN, NFL Network, Discover Channel, HBO, Showtime, TNT, USA, TBC, Comedy Central, and dozens more all broadcast in 1080i and will actually show a more detailed image on a 1080p set than a 720p one. We could give Best Buy the benefit of the doubt and say this was written a decade ago when this concept wasn’t well understood, but they talk about 4K so perhaps it is recent, and they are still perpetuating a myth on 1080i resolution.
Best Buy provides a breakdown for what you should spend on your TV, but simplifies it too much. Spending more on a TV brings you an increase in features like picture quality or size, and so one price doesn’t fit all situations. For instance, you might need a smaller bedroom or office TV, but you want a high picture quality. Or you may need a SmartTV with all the new features and apps. For the same price still, you may be able to afford a much larger TV, but with fewer features and lower performance, if all that matters is size. Several tradeoffs are available into the same price category, but they certainly aren’t the same thing.
Instead of breaking down the recommendations by room, you should decide how important features like SmartTV, performance, and size are to you, and then choose a display accordingly.
Some of the advice from Best Buy is correct, but they really do perpetuate a lot of misconceptions in their Buyer’s Guide that should have been put to bed ages ago. Again, much of the advice seems to be slanted towards LED LCD models, which are newer and more expensive than plasma displays and LCDs, but don’t offer better performance most of the time. Many of the concerns Best Buy brings up are antiquated remnants of 2004 and don’t apply to a modern plasma display. Why perpetuate these myths?
Yet Best Buy is getting away with their LED-slanted guide because plasma doesn’t always look as good in a showroom. We say if you’re setting up a wall of 15 different displays and have incredibly bright store-like lighting in your home, of course, go with the LED LCD! Consumers at this point also have pre-conceptions about plasma, and it’s probably easier to suggest that LED LCD displays have all the benefits of plasma, but none of the drawbacks they might have heard about.
It would be harder to sell more expensive LED LCD sets when the biggest selling point is really that they are incredibly thin, and not that they offer better performance than plasma.
Sure, we’re big on plasma here at HD Guru, but that’s because to us, it provides the best picture for the best value for most people. Sometimes you might need an LCD or an LED LCD TV (i.e. screen sizes <42-inches) but we contend that it’s probably not because of the reasons that Best Buy lists for you. Take our advice and ignore theirs, and you’ll make a better choice when it comes to buying a TV.
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