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Plasma vs LCD vs LED

The biggest television technology revolution since color, flat-panel TVs are replacing tubes as the direct-view televisions of choice. You can hang flat sets on the wall, on the ceiling or above the mantle in place of a trophy buck. The three major players in the flat screen game are plasma, LCD and LED, so we’ll go over each type separately.  

 
 
 
 
 
1. Plasma
 
 
LG PQ60-series plasma TV

With promotional prices starting at S$899, a coveted plasma TV is within reach of most shoppers. But now that you can get a 42-inch LCD for just S$200 more, plasmas have to depend on factors other than price to remain competitive against their LCD nemeses.  

Picture quality varies greatly between different brands, so be sure to read reviews before you plonk down your cash. Most plasmas can produce near CRT-quality blacks, with excellent color and viewing angles. That said, some similarly sized LCDs and LEDs also have higher resolutions, delivering more details and smooth game graphics.  

Burn-in: This occurs when an image–such as a network logo or letterbox bars–gets etched permanently onto the screen because it sits in one place too long. In our experience, this issue has been greatly exaggerated. The burn-in risk is greatest during the first 100 or so hours of use, during which time you should keep contrast low (less than 50 percent) and avoid showing static images for hours at a time. Many plasmas also have burn-in-reduction features such as screensavers and pixel orbiting, or functions to treat burn-in once it occurs, such as causing the screen to go all white.  

Plasma lifespan: Most plasma makers today rate their latest models as having a lifespan of up to 100,000 hours before the display fades to half brightness. On average, that works out to more than 17 years before the set reaches half-brightness.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Best black levels; very good home theater image quality in best examples; wide viewing angle.
Slight potential for burn-in; reflective screen; lower native resolution than similarly sized LCDs and LEDs for entry-level models.
More 50-inch and larger full-HD models to come, cementing plasma’s place as a favorite among videopiles and enthusiasts.

 
 
2. LCD
LG LH50-series LCD TV

Flat LCDs are extremely popular in screen sizes below 47 inches, thanks to their widespread availability and vast selection. Larger LCDs–as big as 70 inches–remain more expensive than plasma, but in the critical 40- to 42-inch size range, LCD prices have dropped precipitously to as low as S$1,099 during sales.  

The LCD picture quality has historically suffered from poor black levels, but the latest versions are much improved. That’s because LCDs cannot achieve true black since there’s always some light leaking through the pixels. In this respect, color saturation is also affected as well.  

Viewing angle: This is another LCD weakness compared to plasma. Some brightness and color shift can be visible when we watch from an angle that’s far from the sweet spot right in front of the TV (to either side, above and below). Higher-end models based on In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology and derivatives such as Super-IPS and Alpha-IPS are known to perform dramatically better in this department.  

Motion reproduction: LCD spec sheets often talk about response time, but in our experience, almost all newer LCDs have adequate response time to deal with fast motion. To further boost image fluidity, many vendors have also introduced 100Hz and 200Hz engines. Some of them are implemented using frame interpolation and/or backlight-scanning processing.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Higher resolution than comparable-sized plasmas; no danger of burn-in; available in a wide range of sizes.
Relatively expensive for 60-inch and larger panels; black level quality generally not as good as plasma due to backlighting; relatively narrower viewing angle.
Flat-panel LCD will continue to be the most popular HDTV technology, thanks to falling prices and strong manufacturer support.

 
 
 
 
 
3. LED
LG SL90-series LED TV

LED TVs are a subset of LCD panels. Rather than use conventional cold cathode florescent lamps (CCFL) to illuminate the LCD pixels, they employ tiny light-emitting diodes. There’re two predominant types used by the vendors based on conventional rear (back) and the latest edge lighting with street prices starting at S$2,199.  

Backlit LED TVs also support the local dimming function which independently illuminates different clusters of pixels. This produces plasma-like blacks in scenes with concurrent dark and bright details as opposed to global dimming used in edgelit models. That said, the latter employs fewer diodes, which allow for slimmer TVs and higher power savings.  

Energy efficiency: An LED TV consumes the least power among all HDTVs with a substantial energy savings of up to 40 percent compared with a conventional lamp-based LCD model. The other major benefits of using light-emitting diodes include an extended panel lifespan, low heat emission and better eco-friendliness. The latter is due to the mercury-free design of these energy-efficient bulbs.  

Ultraslim design: Another advantage of edge lighting is that it frees up space behind the screen, which significally reduces bezel depth, giving rise to a family of ultraslim panels measuring as thin as 29.1mm in width. Putting aside the “wow” factor, these lightweight displays are much easier to install. Some can even be suspended on a special steel wire wall-mounting kit, just like a photo frame.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Plasma-like blacks on top of most of LCD’s advantages; high energy efficiency; ultraslim design.
The priciest among all HDTVs; limited screen sizes from 40-inch and above; relatively narrower viewing angle.
LED TVs will gradually replace their LCD counterparts, though the former is probably going to cost a premium in the following years.

  

Price Parameter 

HDTVs are expensive beasts which come in different makes and capabilities. It’s near impossible to list down every single model for comparison, but they fall into a few distinct price categories of various screen sizes in general.  

Here’s a cheat sheet that’ll help better align the set of your dreams with the reality of your bank account.  

Nonetheless, if you need detailed pricing for specific models within each price bracket, check out the search and comparison filters on the right.

 

Disclaimer:

Note that these prices reflect the latest average street and manufacturers’ recommended retail prices as of this writing. They may be subject to changes without further notice.

 

 What you’ll pay  What you’ll get
Less than S$599  LCD: Up to 26 inches
S$599 to
S$1,199 
LCD: Up to 32 inches
S$1,199 to
S$1,899 
LCD: Up to 37 inches
S$1,899 to
S$2,999 
LCD: Up to 42 inches
Plasma: Up to 42 inches
S$2,999 to
S$4,999 
LCD: Up to 47 inches
Plasma: Up to 50 inches
More than S$4,999  LCD: Up to 70 inches
Plasma: Up to 103 inches

Size and your room 

Generally, 26-inch and smaller sets are great for bedrooms or guest rooms, but too small for the main living room. TVs with bigger screens are large enough for the whole family to enjoy and will probably be too much for most small bedrooms.  

If you’re mounting the set inside an entertainment center, be sure it fits in every dimension. Also, leave an inch or two on all sides so the TV has enough ventilation. If you’re getting a bigger set, you might want to consider a dedicated stand. Many TV makers sell matching stands that increase the aesthetic appeal of their hefty boxes. 

Widescreen HDTVs showing upscaled DVD and high-resolution Blu-ray also look better than regular sets, allowing you to sit closer and experience a more immersive, theater-like picture.  

With such panels, you can be seated as close as 1.5 times the screen’s diagonal measurement and not notice image pixelation, while sitting a distance of more than three times the screen size means you’re likely to miss out on the immersive feel and finer details. Here’s a rundown of minimum and maximum recommended viewing distances for widescreen sets.

HDTV diagonal screen size
(in inch)
Min. viewing distance
(in meter)
Max. viewing distance
(in meter)
26 1.1 2.2
32 1.4 2.7
37 1.6 3.1
42 1.8 3.5
46 1.9 3.8
50 2.1 4.2
60 2.5 5
70 3 5.9
80 3.4 6.7

 

Key Features

Convenience features, value-added functions, and even the sound system are all factors to consider in your next TV purchase. Many TV makers differentiate their baseline models from step-up versions by including all kinds of addons, so check our list to help determine whether that “loaded” set you’re considering really has the features that matter.  

1. Onboard multimedia playback

What it is: Implemented via an onboard card reader and/or a USB port, it allows you to view photos/movies and listens to music residing on memory cards, thumbdrives, etc., directly on the TV. This minimizes clutter and enables basic media playback without a need for external A/V equipment. Some also come with basic editing functions, slideshow presentations and zooming capability for enhanced playback. This value-added feature is fast becoming a standard for many brands of HDTVs even for their entry-level 2009 models.  

What it isn’t: This is not a full-fledged media player that is capable of replacing your computer or standalone A/V deck. While some of the latest iterations support the newer HD encodings such as MPEG-4, H.264 and AVCHD, they are still overall less comprehensive than the above-mentioned. Additionally, there can be some limitations such as lower playback resolution, supported video frame rate and soundtracks.  

2. Connected TV function

What it is: An extension of the above-mentioned multimedia playback, connected TVs are equipped with networking function and DLNA compliancy to stream files from home media servers either through wired and wireless means. With an Internet connection, some of them can also download and display free videos, photos and RSS feeds from popular portals such as YouTube, Flickr and Yahoo. The content available is country-dependent and varies even for an identical brand and make of TVs.  

What it isn’t: None of the existing connected TVs can deliver the full Internet experience similar to a browser. All the implementations have a different look and feel from the original Web site and have simplified user interface and search facilities that can be less effective in narrowing down specific content. Using the service via a virtual keyboard can be a steep learning curve for some users as well.  

3. Integrated Digital TV

What it is: Integrated Digital TVs (IDTVs) feature integrated digital TV tuners to receive high-quality digital programs. The selection ranges from your regular local productions to Hollywood blockbusters in high-definition video and Dolby Digital surround sound. An electronic program guide (EPG) is usually included, too, providing a handy overview of the station’s schedules though this is dependent on your operator. Some of the common digital broadcasting standards in Asia include Europe-oriented DVB-T, DVB-C and DVB-S.  

What it isn’t: This is not a substitute for analog broadcast since only a handful of Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea offer digital TV services. Even if it’s available in your country, there might be potential coverage as well as reception quality issues to resolve.  

4. TV sound enhancements

What it is: Almost every TV sold today has stereo speakers powered by a 10W x 2 stereo amplifier. The more sound-inclined sets come with dedicated tweeters and subwoofers to boost treble and bass reproduction. Some new audio enhancement technologies to look out for include SRS TruSurround HD and Audyssey EQ. The former is designed to recreate multichannel surround effects, while the latter compensates for the limited TV speaker response via software equalization.  

What it isn’t: No TV can compete with a dedicated audio system. So even if your set has lots of watts and simulated surround sound, you should consider a home theater audio system for maximum impact. If you have such a system, the TV’s sound becomes a moot point.  

5. Multifunctional remote

What it is: Plenty of TVs now come with these versatile remotes that can control other A/V gear. Usually, they work with a cable or satellite box, and many can also command DVD players, VCRs and even home theater systems. If you like watching movies in the dark, you should look for a remote with backlit or glowing buttons.  

What it isn’t: Not every remote can control everything. Some, known as unibrand remotes, can control only the same brand of equipment as the TV itself. Most are preprogrammed with a set list of codes, and if the codes don’t match your older or off-brand gear, you’re out of luck. A few are learning models that can accept the IR codes from your other remotes, and thus control any kind of gear. 

Input and output sockets

Perhaps the single most confusing item on a TV spec sheet is the forest of input and output sockets used to hook up the set to other equipment. The newer types provide lossless digital interface, while their analog counterparts’ performance can vary from one end of the quality spectrum to the other.  

Another consideration for proper HD playback is High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection compliancy. Implemented as an anti-piracy mechanic, the system prevents unsolicited video recording on digital video outputs. For a trouble-free viewing experience, do ensure that your HDTV’s HDMI and DVI inputs are HDCP-ready.  

The following trail of breadcrumbs, arranged in order of video quality, should help put you on the right connectivity path.  

Jack
Cable
Name
Typical use
Level of
video quality
RF
A.k.a. radio frequency; antenna; cable; screw type; F-pin
Antennae, VCRs, cable and satellite boxes Lowest
Composite video
A.k.a. yellow video; video; A/V (when combined with audio jacks)
Cable and satellite boxes, VCRs, DVD players, game consoles Low
S-Video
A.k.a. DIN 4
Cable and satellite boxes, S-VHS VCRs, DVD players, game consoles Medium
Interlaced component
A.k.a. component; Y, Pb, Pr; Y, Cb, Cr; 480i
Standard DVD players High
Progressive component
A.k.a. component; Y, Pb, Pr; Y, Cb, Cr; 480p
Progressive-scan DVD players, 480p digital television (EDTV) Very high
RGB
Connections can also be made through RCA or BNC-type connectors, and adapters are available between all of them
A.k.a. VGA; 15-pin D-sub; RGB-HV
Computers, some HDTV receivers, video processors and projectors Very high
HDMI
A.k.a. High-Definition Multimedia Interface
HDTV receivers and DVD players Highest (digital)

Here’s a quick note about switching: If you have multiple sources going into your TV, an A/V receiver with switching capabilities can really ease the hassle. The most convenient option is to leave your TV set to one input and have the receiver switch all other sources into that input.  

Many receivers have a feature called video upconversion, which often allows them to send every source, whether it’s composite, S-video, component-video or HDMI, through the HDMI output. If you have a lot of gear, they can make switching between sources much more convenient.  

 

 

Judging picture quality

Judging Picture Quality

 

Have you ever been disappointed by the poor picture quality of a spanking new TV you just bought, particularly since it looked so brilliant at the store? Here’s how to properly evaluate an HDTV at the megastores.  

1. The wall of panels

Most electronics stores display their HDTVs on a big wall, fed by the same video signal split a hundred times. Although bright lights, suspect salespeople, and a lack of remote controls will probably make any picture quality judgment difficult, here are a few things to look for on the wall.  

Don’t fall for brightness: Almost every television on the sales floor is set to the brightest picture settings, so try to get the salesperson to reduce the controls of the TVs you’re comparing. You want the pictures–not necessarily the controls–to be roughly equal in brightness, contrast, and color.  

Go out of the light: Few living rooms are as well lit as the sales floor, so see if the salesperson can reduce the amount of light shining on the picture. If nothing else, try to shade the screen if light is shining directly on it.  

Test materials: If you have a DVD or Blu-ray that you’re familiar with, see if you can use it instead of the TV signal that’s normally shown. Aside from HDTV, which isn’t very portable at the moment, these provide the best pictures that a TV can display, so it makes for a good reference from which to judge.  

Try all the picture modes: Many sets come with numerous picture presets such as Movie and Sports, which radically affect how the image appears. After you peruse the manually adjusted pictures, try the different presets and modes to see which ones look best.  

2. Features that enhance picture quality

In general, there are a few major factors that affect picture quality. Look for these features or characteristics and disregard others that sound good on the surface but are in reality just marketing ploys. Naturally, there are other important factors we can’t cover here, but this should get you started.  

Video processor: This is the chip that processes your standard-definition video sources to match the native resolution of your HDTV. Lower-end models tend to introduce video artifacts such as jagged outlines and soft images similar to expolated photos on computers. For the best visual performance, keep a lookout for videophile-grade solutions such as the Faroudja Directional Correlation Deinterlacing. This is normally identified by a DCDi logo in brochures and specifications sheets.  

Comb filter: If a television does not have a comb filter, its resolution will be limited to about half the full potential of DVD. Most sets with comb filters can provide all of the resolution of DVD. The types of comb filters you’ll see advertised, in order of lower to higher quality, include two-line, three-line, digital, and 3D YC varieties. They provide incremental improvements in performance, especially in reducing rainbows that can appear in fine detail such as a talking head’s suit coat. Comb filters affect only composite-video or RF connections (see Inputs and Outputs).  

Color temperature settings: Many televisions have presets for color temperature, which is basically the color of gray. A neutral gray is ideal, but most TVs have an extremely blue gray to make the picture brighter in the store. TVs with color temperature presets allow you to choose the color of gray. Generally, you’ll want the reddest or lowest setting available.  

Color decoder: Most TVs’ color decoders are set to be too red to counteract the blue color temperature described above. TV makers don’t advertise accurate color decoders, so you’ll have to judge for yourself or trust a reviewer. In the store, look for pale skin tones that don’t appear too flushed and reds that don’t bleed into other colors or otherwise seem more intense than the rest of the palette.  

3. Calibration

You’ll often see CNET reviews mention calibration or The Imaging Science Foundation (ISF). Our reviewers utilize specialized equipment such as a computerized calibrator to fine-tune the panel for an optimal configuration according to NTSC standards. ISF has a program that trains professionals to calibrate televisions, and for a few hundred dollars, you can engage an ISF professional to adjust your TV.  

Alternatively, you can use a calibration DVD to help you adjust your television. These discs, such as Ovation Software’s Avia, Joe Kane’s Video Essentials, and Sound & Vision’s Home Theater Tune-Up, show you how to optimize your set within the limits of the standard user-accessible menus.  

 

Accessories and Warranties

With any large purchase, the urge to accessorize can be overwhelming. Here are a few addons to consider, as well as some words on warranty concerns.  

1. Accessories

Cable requirements: In the store, you’ll probably hear a salesperson tell you to get extra cables. Expensive cables will deliver an incremental boost in video performance, especially in reducing interference, but most viewers can’t tell the difference. With digital HDMI connections, you will need only to consider specialized cables mainly for longer runs. For 2m and below cables, even generic models will work fine for 1080p signals.  

Surge protector: We definitely recommend shielding your TV investment with some sort of surge protector. Don’t believe the hype that a better protector will somehow improve video quality, but do choose a model with coaxial inputs and outputs for your cable or antenna.  

Furniture: Many TV makers produce matching stands for their larger TVs. If you like their style, they usually make setting up the TV a lot simpler. That’s because you won’t have to worry about your stand being able to support the TV or being the right height for comfortable viewing from the couch.  

Other room treatments: Watching TV in broad daylight will result in a washed-out picture. We recommend that any viewing room be equipped with curtains or other window treatments that can block out some light during the day and that the TV screen face away from the window. Try to keep room lighting from reflecting onto the screen. A low-wattage light placed behind the TV in an otherwise dark room can make an ideal viewing environment.  

2. Extended warranties

The final question you’ll be asked when buying a TV is generally, “would you like an extended warranty with that?” Most savvy electronics shoppers will answer with a knee-jerk no. TVs are an exception, however. With the numerous newer TV technologies becoming available and the high prices of HDTVs, it often makes perfect sense to spend a few hundred dollars extending the protection on your investment. You should still read the terms of the agreement carefully–the extended warranty should at least cover everything that the manufacturer’s warranty does, just for a longer period, and may offer additional benefits such as preventive maintenance and free or low-cost repairs. Most extended warranties begin from the date of purchase and so may overlap with the manufacturer’s warranty. When deciding whether or not to purchase extended coverage, the ultimate decision is whether the cost is worth the coverage that the warranty provides against whatever risk you expect the TV to be subjected to. That’s a decision only you can make.  

3. Manufacturer warranties

The standard warranty covers parts and labor ranging from one to three years. Some manufacturer warranties have separate time frames for accessories–such as the remote controller which is often covered for one year. There are also other vendors that offer onsite service on more expensive and larger models which are difficult to ship.

The biggest television technology revolution since color, flat-panel TVs are replacing tubes as the direct-view televisions of choice. You can hang flat sets on the wall, on the ceiling or above the mantle in place of a trophy buck. The three major players in the flat screen game are plasma, LCD and LED, so we’ll go over each type separately.  

 
 
 
 
 
1. Plasma
 
 
LG PQ60-series plasma TV

With promotional prices starting at S$899, a coveted plasma TV is within reach of most shoppers. But now that you can get a 42-inch LCD for just S$200 more, plasmas have to depend on factors other than price to remain competitive against their LCD nemeses.  

Picture quality varies greatly between different brands, so be sure to read reviews before you plonk down your cash. Most plasmas can produce near CRT-quality blacks, with excellent color and viewing angles. That said, some similarly sized LCDs and LEDs also have higher resolutions, delivering more details and smooth game graphics.  

Burn-in: This occurs when an image–such as a network logo or letterbox bars–gets etched permanently onto the screen because it sits in one place too long. In our experience, this issue has been greatly exaggerated. The burn-in risk is greatest during the first 100 or so hours of use, during which time you should keep contrast low (less than 50 percent) and avoid showing static images for hours at a time. Many plasmas also have burn-in-reduction features such as screensavers and pixel orbiting, or functions to treat burn-in once it occurs, such as causing the screen to go all white.  

Plasma lifespan: Most plasma makers today rate their latest models as having a lifespan of up to 100,000 hours before the display fades to half brightness. On average, that works out to more than 17 years before the set reaches half-brightness.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Best black levels; very good home theater image quality in best examples; wide viewing angle.
Slight potential for burn-in; reflective screen; lower native resolution than similarly sized LCDs and LEDs for entry-level models.
More 50-inch and larger full-HD models to come, cementing plasma’s place as a favorite among videopiles and enthusiasts.

 
 
2. LCD
LG LH50-series LCD TV

Flat LCDs are extremely popular in screen sizes below 47 inches, thanks to their widespread availability and vast selection. Larger LCDs–as big as 70 inches–remain more expensive than plasma, but in the critical 40- to 42-inch size range, LCD prices have dropped precipitously to as low as S$1,099 during sales.  

The LCD picture quality has historically suffered from poor black levels, but the latest versions are much improved. That’s because LCDs cannot achieve true black since there’s always some light leaking through the pixels. In this respect, color saturation is also affected as well.  

Viewing angle: This is another LCD weakness compared to plasma. Some brightness and color shift can be visible when we watch from an angle that’s far from the sweet spot right in front of the TV (to either side, above and below). Higher-end models based on In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology and derivatives such as Super-IPS and Alpha-IPS are known to perform dramatically better in this department.  

Motion reproduction: LCD spec sheets often talk about response time, but in our experience, almost all newer LCDs have adequate response time to deal with fast motion. To further boost image fluidity, many vendors have also introduced 100Hz and 200Hz engines. Some of them are implemented using frame interpolation and/or backlight-scanning processing.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Higher resolution than comparable-sized plasmas; no danger of burn-in; available in a wide range of sizes.
Relatively expensive for 60-inch and larger panels; black level quality generally not as good as plasma due to backlighting; relatively narrower viewing angle.
Flat-panel LCD will continue to be the most popular HDTV technology, thanks to falling prices and strong manufacturer support.

 
 
 
 
 
3. LED
LG SL90-series LED TV

LED TVs are a subset of LCD panels. Rather than use conventional cold cathode florescent lamps (CCFL) to illuminate the LCD pixels, they employ tiny light-emitting diodes. There’re two predominant types used by the vendors based on conventional rear (back) and the latest edge lighting with street prices starting at S$2,199.  

Backlit LED TVs also support the local dimming function which independently illuminates different clusters of pixels. This produces plasma-like blacks in scenes with concurrent dark and bright details as opposed to global dimming used in edgelit models. That said, the latter employs fewer diodes, which allow for slimmer TVs and higher power savings.  

Energy efficiency: An LED TV consumes the least power among all HDTVs with a substantial energy savings of up to 40 percent compared with a conventional lamp-based LCD model. The other major benefits of using light-emitting diodes include an extended panel lifespan, low heat emission and better eco-friendliness. The latter is due to the mercury-free design of these energy-efficient bulbs.  

Ultraslim design: Another advantage of edge lighting is that it frees up space behind the screen, which significally reduces bezel depth, giving rise to a family of ultraslim panels measuring as thin as 29.1mm in width. Putting aside the “wow” factor, these lightweight displays are much easier to install. Some can even be suspended on a special steel wire wall-mounting kit, just like a photo frame.

Upside:
Downside:
Forecast:
Plasma-like blacks on top of most of LCD’s advantages; high energy efficiency; ultraslim design.
The priciest among all HDTVs; limited screen sizes from 40-inch and above; relatively narrower viewing angle.
LED TVs will gradually replace their LCD counterparts, though the former is probably going to cost a premium in the following years.

  

Price Parameter 

HDTVs are expensive beasts which come in different makes and capabilities. It’s near impossible to list down every single model for comparison, but they fall into a few distinct price categories of various screen sizes in general.  

Here’s a cheat sheet that’ll help better align the set of your dreams with the reality of your bank account.  

Nonetheless, if you need detailed pricing for specific models within each price bracket, check out the search and comparison filters on the right.

 

Disclaimer:

Note that these prices reflect the latest average street and manufacturers’ recommended retail prices as of this writing. They may be subject to changes without further notice.

 

 What you’ll pay  What you’ll get
Less than S$599  LCD: Up to 26 inches
S$599 to
S$1,199 
LCD: Up to 32 inches
S$1,199 to
S$1,899 
LCD: Up to 37 inches
S$1,899 to
S$2,999 
LCD: Up to 42 inches
Plasma: Up to 42 inches
S$2,999 to
S$4,999 
LCD: Up to 47 inches
Plasma: Up to 50 inches
More than S$4,999  LCD: Up to 70 inches
Plasma: Up to 103 inches

Size and your room 

Generally, 26-inch and smaller sets are great for bedrooms or guest rooms, but too small for the main living room. TVs with bigger screens are large enough for the whole family to enjoy and will probably be too much for most small bedrooms.  

If you’re mounting the set inside an entertainment center, be sure it fits in every dimension. Also, leave an inch or two on all sides so the TV has enough ventilation. If you’re getting a bigger set, you might want to consider a dedicated stand. Many TV makers sell matching stands that increase the aesthetic appeal of their hefty boxes. 

Widescreen HDTVs showing upscaled DVD and high-resolution Blu-ray also look better than regular sets, allowing you to sit closer and experience a more immersive, theater-like picture.  

With such panels, you can be seated as close as 1.5 times the screen’s diagonal measurement and not notice image pixelation, while sitting a distance of more than three times the screen size means you’re likely to miss out on the immersive feel and finer details. Here’s a rundown of minimum and maximum recommended viewing distances for widescreen sets.

HDTV diagonal screen size
(in inch)
Min. viewing distance
(in meter)
Max. viewing distance
(in meter)
26 1.1 2.2
32 1.4 2.7
37 1.6 3.1
42 1.8 3.5
46 1.9 3.8
50 2.1 4.2
60 2.5 5
70 3 5.9
80 3.4 6.7

 

Key Features

Convenience features, value-added functions, and even the sound system are all factors to consider in your next TV purchase. Many TV makers differentiate their baseline models from step-up versions by including all kinds of addons, so check our list to help determine whether that “loaded” set you’re considering really has the features that matter.  

1. Onboard multimedia playback

What it is: Implemented via an onboard card reader and/or a USB port, it allows you to view photos/movies and listens to music residing on memory cards, thumbdrives, etc., directly on the TV. This minimizes clutter and enables basic media playback without a need for external A/V equipment. Some also come with basic editing functions, slideshow presentations and zooming capability for enhanced playback. This value-added feature is fast becoming a standard for many brands of HDTVs even for their entry-level 2009 models.  

What it isn’t: This is not a full-fledged media player that is capable of replacing your computer or standalone A/V deck. While some of the latest iterations support the newer HD encodings such as MPEG-4, H.264 and AVCHD, they are still overall less comprehensive than the above-mentioned. Additionally, there can be some limitations such as lower playback resolution, supported video frame rate and soundtracks.  

2. Connected TV function

What it is: An extension of the above-mentioned multimedia playback, connected TVs are equipped with networking function and DLNA compliancy to stream files from home media servers either through wired and wireless means. With an Internet connection, some of them can also download and display free videos, photos and RSS feeds from popular portals such as YouTube, Flickr and Yahoo. The content available is country-dependent and varies even for an identical brand and make of TVs.  

What it isn’t: None of the existing connected TVs can deliver the full Internet experience similar to a browser. All the implementations have a different look and feel from the original Web site and have simplified user interface and search facilities that can be less effective in narrowing down specific content. Using the service via a virtual keyboard can be a steep learning curve for some users as well.  

3. Integrated Digital TV

What it is: Integrated Digital TVs (IDTVs) feature integrated digital TV tuners to receive high-quality digital programs. The selection ranges from your regular local productions to Hollywood blockbusters in high-definition video and Dolby Digital surround sound. An electronic program guide (EPG) is usually included, too, providing a handy overview of the station’s schedules though this is dependent on your operator. Some of the common digital broadcasting standards in Asia include Europe-oriented DVB-T, DVB-C and DVB-S.  

What it isn’t: This is not a substitute for analog broadcast since only a handful of Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea offer digital TV services. Even if it’s available in your country, there might be potential coverage as well as reception quality issues to resolve.  

4. TV sound enhancements

What it is: Almost every TV sold today has stereo speakers powered by a 10W x 2 stereo amplifier. The more sound-inclined sets come with dedicated tweeters and subwoofers to boost treble and bass reproduction. Some new audio enhancement technologies to look out for include SRS TruSurround HD and Audyssey EQ. The former is designed to recreate multichannel surround effects, while the latter compensates for the limited TV speaker response via software equalization.  

What it isn’t: No TV can compete with a dedicated audio system. So even if your set has lots of watts and simulated surround sound, you should consider a home theater audio system for maximum impact. If you have such a system, the TV’s sound becomes a moot point.  

5. Multifunctional remote

What it is: Plenty of TVs now come with these versatile remotes that can control other A/V gear. Usually, they work with a cable or satellite box, and many can also command DVD players, VCRs and even home theater systems. If you like watching movies in the dark, you should look for a remote with backlit or glowing buttons.  

What it isn’t: Not every remote can control everything. Some, known as unibrand remotes, can control only the same brand of equipment as the TV itself. Most are preprogrammed with a set list of codes, and if the codes don’t match your older or off-brand gear, you’re out of luck. A few are learning models that can accept the IR codes from your other remotes, and thus control any kind of gear. 

Input and output sockets

Perhaps the single most confusing item on a TV spec sheet is the forest of input and output sockets used to hook up the set to other equipment. The newer types provide lossless digital interface, while their analog counterparts’ performance can vary from one end of the quality spectrum to the other.  

Another consideration for proper HD playback is High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection compliancy. Implemented as an anti-piracy mechanic, the system prevents unsolicited video recording on digital video outputs. For a trouble-free viewing experience, do ensure that your HDTV’s HDMI and DVI inputs are HDCP-ready.  

The following trail of breadcrumbs, arranged in order of video quality, should help put you on the right connectivity path.  

Jack
Cable
Name
Typical use
Level of
video quality
RF
A.k.a. radio frequency; antenna; cable; screw type; F-pin
Antennae, VCRs, cable and satellite boxes Lowest
Composite video
A.k.a. yellow video; video; A/V (when combined with audio jacks)
Cable and satellite boxes, VCRs, DVD players, game consoles Low
S-Video
A.k.a. DIN 4
Cable and satellite boxes, S-VHS VCRs, DVD players, game consoles Medium
Interlaced component
A.k.a. component; Y, Pb, Pr; Y, Cb, Cr; 480i
Standard DVD players High
Progressive component
A.k.a. component; Y, Pb, Pr; Y, Cb, Cr; 480p
Progressive-scan DVD players, 480p digital television (EDTV) Very high
RGB
Connections can also be made through RCA or BNC-type connectors, and adapters are available between all of them
A.k.a. VGA; 15-pin D-sub; RGB-HV
Computers, some HDTV receivers, video processors and projectors Very high
HDMI
A.k.a. High-Definition Multimedia Interface
HDTV receivers and DVD players Highest (digital)

Here’s a quick note about switching: If you have multiple sources going into your TV, an A/V receiver with switching capabilities can really ease the hassle. The most convenient option is to leave your TV set to one input and have the receiver switch all other sources into that input.  

Many receivers have a feature called video upconversion, which often allows them to send every source, whether it’s composite, S-video, component-video or HDMI, through the HDMI output. If you have a lot of gear, they can make switching between sources much more convenient.  

 

 

Judging picture quality

Judging Picture Quality

 

Have you ever been disappointed by the poor picture quality of a spanking new TV you just bought, particularly since it looked so brilliant at the store? Here’s how to properly evaluate an HDTV at the megastores.  

1. The wall of panels

Most electronics stores display their HDTVs on a big wall, fed by the same video signal split a hundred times. Although bright lights, suspect salespeople, and a lack of remote controls will probably make any picture quality judgment difficult, here are a few things to look for on the wall.  

Don’t fall for brightness: Almost every television on the sales floor is set to the brightest picture settings, so try to get the salesperson to reduce the controls of the TVs you’re comparing. You want the pictures–not necessarily the controls–to be roughly equal in brightness, contrast, and color.  

Go out of the light: Few living rooms are as well lit as the sales floor, so see if the salesperson can reduce the amount of light shining on the picture. If nothing else, try to shade the screen if light is shining directly on it.  

Test materials: If you have a DVD or Blu-ray that you’re familiar with, see if you can use it instead of the TV signal that’s normally shown. Aside from HDTV, which isn’t very portable at the moment, these provide the best pictures that a TV can display, so it makes for a good reference from which to judge.  

Try all the picture modes: Many sets come with numerous picture presets such as Movie and Sports, which radically affect how the image appears. After you peruse the manually adjusted pictures, try the different presets and modes to see which ones look best.  

2. Features that enhance picture quality

In general, there are a few major factors that affect picture quality. Look for these features or characteristics and disregard others that sound good on the surface but are in reality just marketing ploys. Naturally, there are other important factors we can’t cover here, but this should get you started.  

Video processor: This is the chip that processes your standard-definition video sources to match the native resolution of your HDTV. Lower-end models tend to introduce video artifacts such as jagged outlines and soft images similar to expolated photos on computers. For the best visual performance, keep a lookout for videophile-grade solutions such as the Faroudja Directional Correlation Deinterlacing. This is normally identified by a DCDi logo in brochures and specifications sheets.  

Comb filter: If a television does not have a comb filter, its resolution will be limited to about half the full potential of DVD. Most sets with comb filters can provide all of the resolution of DVD. The types of comb filters you’ll see advertised, in order of lower to higher quality, include two-line, three-line, digital, and 3D YC varieties. They provide incremental improvements in performance, especially in reducing rainbows that can appear in fine detail such as a talking head’s suit coat. Comb filters affect only composite-video or RF connections (see Inputs and Outputs).  

Color temperature settings: Many televisions have presets for color temperature, which is basically the color of gray. A neutral gray is ideal, but most TVs have an extremely blue gray to make the picture brighter in the store. TVs with color temperature presets allow you to choose the color of gray. Generally, you’ll want the reddest or lowest setting available.  

Color decoder: Most TVs’ color decoders are set to be too red to counteract the blue color temperature described above. TV makers don’t advertise accurate color decoders, so you’ll have to judge for yourself or trust a reviewer. In the store, look for pale skin tones that don’t appear too flushed and reds that don’t bleed into other colors or otherwise seem more intense than the rest of the palette.  

3. Calibration

You’ll often see CNET reviews mention calibration or The Imaging Science Foundation (ISF). Our reviewers utilize specialized equipment such as a computerized calibrator to fine-tune the panel for an optimal configuration according to NTSC standards. ISF has a program that trains professionals to calibrate televisions, and for a few hundred dollars, you can engage an ISF professional to adjust your TV.  

Alternatively, you can use a calibration DVD to help you adjust your television. These discs, such as Ovation Software’s Avia, Joe Kane’s Video Essentials, and Sound & Vision’s Home Theater Tune-Up, show you how to optimize your set within the limits of the standard user-accessible menus.  

 

Accessories and Warranties

With any large purchase, the urge to accessorize can be overwhelming. Here are a few addons to consider, as well as some words on warranty concerns.  

1. Accessories

Cable requirements: In the store, you’ll probably hear a salesperson tell you to get extra cables. Expensive cables will deliver an incremental boost in video performance, especially in reducing interference, but most viewers can’t tell the difference. With digital HDMI connections, you will need only to consider specialized cables mainly for longer runs. For 2m and below cables, even generic models will work fine for 1080p signals.  

Surge protector: We definitely recommend shielding your TV investment with some sort of surge protector. Don’t believe the hype that a better protector will somehow improve video quality, but do choose a model with coaxial inputs and outputs for your cable or antenna.  

Furniture: Many TV makers produce matching stands for their larger TVs. If you like their style, they usually make setting up the TV a lot simpler. That’s because you won’t have to worry about your stand being able to support the TV or being the right height for comfortable viewing from the couch.  

Other room treatments: Watching TV in broad daylight will result in a washed-out picture. We recommend that any viewing room be equipped with curtains or other window treatments that can block out some light during the day and that the TV screen face away from the window. Try to keep room lighting from reflecting onto the screen. A low-wattage light placed behind the TV in an otherwise dark room can make an ideal viewing environment.  

2. Extended warranties

The final question you’ll be asked when buying a TV is generally, “would you like an extended warranty with that?” Most savvy electronics shoppers will answer with a knee-jerk no. TVs are an exception, however. With the numerous newer TV technologies becoming available and the high prices of HDTVs, it often makes perfect sense to spend a few hundred dollars extending the protection on your investment. You should still read the terms of the agreement carefully–the extended warranty should at least cover everything that the manufacturer’s warranty does, just for a longer period, and may offer additional benefits such as preventive maintenance and free or low-cost repairs. Most extended warranties begin from the date of purchase and so may overlap with the manufacturer’s warranty. When deciding whether or not to purchase extended coverage, the ultimate decision is whether the cost is worth the coverage that the warranty provides against whatever risk you expect the TV to be subjected to. That’s a decision only you can make.  

3. Manufacturer warranties

The standard warranty covers parts and labor ranging from one to three years. Some manufacturer warranties have separate time frames for accessories–such as the remote controller which is often covered for one year. There are also other vendors that offer onsite service on more expensive and larger models which are difficult to ship.

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