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HDTV (from 2009)

July 4, 2010

Updated for Christmas 2010

It’s been two full years since my 50″ 720p Plasma TV was delivered.  I continue to be amazed by the picture quality and size.  LEDs are out and LCDs are better, but plasma still looks best to me.  WII and PS3 compete with programming for time on this TV and we have no burn in at all.

There are two new technologies (LED backlighting and 3D video) to be aware of, but the market place has changed little in two years.  LEDs are a different way to backlight LCD displays that looks a little better and uses a little less electricity while adding a little to the price tag.    I demo’d 3D at Best Buy and was underwhelmed.  If you love 3D and have to have it, buy a package.  Some info on 3D here.

Good info here…

Your eyes matter more than other people’s opinions. Best thing to do is spend some time in front of sets. Start by measuring the distance from your viewing area to where the set will be. That matters because if you are sitting six feet back from a 50″ tv, you will be hard pressed to distinguish 720p from 1080p (chart: when resolution starts to matter). Visit a few stores. My Walmart feeds s-video to their HDTVs, so the picture is not so good to begin with. Best Buy, Circuit City (hurry), and Sears are good places to see a wide variety of TVs. Try to see a lot of programming. A blu-ray disc of dolphins frolicking is going to look good on all sets. High motion (sports) will challenge a lot of expensive TVs.

Most of the differences (price, image retention, picture quality) between lcd and plasma right now are slim.

  • LCD will look better in a bright room (plasma is glass/reflective)
  • LCD uses less electricity
  • Plasma is better for motion
  • Plasma looks better in a dark room (deeper blacks, richer colors)
  • Plasma looks better from wide angles (when you are off to the side of the set or looking down on one)

There is more variation between brands than technologies. Most rate Pioneer and Sony plasmas at the top, but Samsung and Panasonic are right there for a fraction of the cost.

The Rest of the Story…

I spent most of the summer of 2008 reading about prices, sizes, distances, brands, technologies, resolutions, colors, blacks, motion blue, image retention, etc. At the same time, I spent more than a hundred (estimate) hours sitting in front of hdtvs — at Walmart, BJs, Circuit City, Sears, and Best Buy.

By the time (9/25/08) Best Buy bundled the pn50a450 with a 1200w 5.1 htib with upconverting dvd player plus free shipping for $980, I knew it was the right technology with the right features at the right price for me. Just the same, I had 30 days to decide for myself in my home, so I watched a lot of TV and played a lot of games. I am very happy with my set and terms.

Take a look at the list of things I studied. I lump them into two characteristics — image quality and value. Value is deciding how little TV will make you happy and how much you are willing to spend. Image quality is how you feel about the TV after the bill is paid. When shopping for a TV, you should make a list of all the sets you will feel good about once the bill is paid then watch for a price that you can live with. I set my budget at $1500. I wanted to get a TV and a PS3 and couldn’t dump more than $2k into the project. I was fully prepared to play the PS3 on our 36″ Sony SDTV if the right deal didn’t come along.

I was looking for a set that would be a dramatic improvement over my Sony 36″ SDTV CRT. It had to be impressive from across my living room. The furthest seat from my tv is 12′ away, most seats are 8′ or less, and the kids pull chairs within 4′ to play games. I used this chart to get a starting point for size and this one to help me get my head around resolution options. I also cut out a piece of cardboard the size of the set to see how big or small it would look in my living room. My second filter was size. My TV would be at least 42″ — 50″or more if I could afford it.

My first trips to the stores were just to watch TV. I didn’t look at models or makes, technologies or resolutions. I watched movies and sports and stood off to the side and right in front. I decided right away that LCDs were not good for watching sports. Except for very expensive LCDs, all sets suffered from noticeable motion blur. I also noticed how washed out LCDs looked at angles. It got so I could separate the plasmas from the lcds as I approached the TV wall. This was not true for all LCDs — just the ones I could afford. So my third filter was technology. The best looking TV I could afford would undoubtedly be a plasma.

I had read that Pioneer and Sony made the best plasmas then Panasonic and Samsung. What I saw in the stores affirmed this. The Kuros are amazing, but outside my price range. The Sonys looked good, but I’d lump them in with the second tier. Again, too expensive for me. In my price range, I liked Panasonics and Samsungs. I preferred the Samsungs, but would have been very happy with a Panny. I never really considered 1080p. At eight feet, the 1080p set did not always look best to me and at four feet, the 720p always looked good to me. I decided that I would be happy with a 720p and would only buy a 1080p if the price was within $200 of the same set in 720p.

After that I simply shopped for price. I found the Best Buy deal and jumped on it. I had the set delivered late enough that I could return/rebuy or price match or simply return if Black Friday prices were amazing, but they weren’t.

If I were to rank the inputs to my purchasing decision, I’d rate my in store personal impressions as most important, followed by the 30 day in home trial, then professional reviews, and finally information posted by set owners. Set owners tend to be fanboys and even the objective ones have a very limited experience. I think I have more experience, objectivity, and information than most consumers, but I would not take my selection as a recommendation.

You shouldn’t either, so go shopping. Look at lots of programming on lots of sets. Any set that looks good next to a bunch of other sets will look great when it’s the centerpiece of your living room.

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