Malik (2/28/06)

Malik's Newb Guide to HD-TV

Partly out of wanting to write something not directly about gaming (there's more to the old world than just games) and partly from seeing one too many message board threads about it, I present something a little different. 

In this guide, I aim to keep the technology end of things on the light side. It's as nice to see a overly complicated guide on something that should be simple as it's nice to see the word "audit" on a letter from the IRS. In other words, I aim to keep this casual, relaxed, and fun. Think of this as a newb's guide to buying a TV, but with a little extra detail. 

The Basics of HD 

So, if you're wanting to take full advantage of the next generation of gaming and movies, you're probably wanting to look at replacing an old standard definition TV with something a bit more enticing. Enter HD. 

The first thing to keep in mind with HD-TVs are what the numbers mean. You will probably see one or more of these numbers associated with any HD-TV; 480, 720, and 1080. This refers to the number of lines vertically scanned on your display. In other words, if your TV can display only in 480i (standard definition), then you will have 480 lines up and down your TV screen. However, with 720, you will have a good number more lines, but in the same potential space, and thus you get a more refined image. So, like with most things in life, bigger is better, and if you can display 1080, then you're at the top of the current spectrum. You should also remember, while some people (cough::Sony::cough) would like to say otherwise, HD is anything starting at 720 and going up. 

Now, each number will have an extra feature; a single letter following it. This will either be a "p" or an "i". Standard definition is 480i, which stands for 480 lines (vertically) of pixels, but the lines are refreshed in an alternating (interlaced) pattern. With each refresh of the display (usually around 60 times per second) either the even or odd lines will be refreshed with a new image. Meanwhile, with "p", or progressive scan, you will be treated to each line being refreshed at the same each refresh period. So, with how a larger number of lines in your resolution is a good thing, p is always better than i. However, you will usually not be able to notice a true difference unless you watch something with a lot of fast and frantic action (certain sports, like hockey, and some video games). So, if given a choice between two otherwise identical TVs that are 1080i and the other is 1080p, it will mainly come down to price. 1080p is usually "worth" an extra thousand dollars, or so.   Also, here's a good place to mention that you don't want an ED-TV.  Enhanced definition is simply 480p, which offers no better of a resolution than SD, or standard definition, TV.

Another set of numbers you will see are these; 4:3 and 16:9. This is the ratio between horizontal lines and vertical lines (those earlier numbers) on your display. In other words, this is standard size versus widescreen. It should be easy enough to see without needing to read a technical guide. The truly important part of this is that nearly all HD broadcasts are moving towards widescreen. While widescreen may cost you more money, this one is a no-brainer; widescreen is better. Also, most widescreen TVs will give you options to resize and adjust "narrow" screened images in a variety of ways. For example, my 52" will let me resize with a direct stretch of the televised image, a proportional stretch that will stretch certain parts of the image (the sides) more than the center for a more natural look, a zoom that will remove the top and bottom of the image, and a variety of other related techniques. Despite how weird it may sound, the image will usually look pretty natural. 

Also, when dealing with a widescreen TV, keep in mind that size can be deceptive. A 27" 4:3 and a 27" 16:9 TV, when both show only a narrow natural image (no stretch being used on a 4:3 image on that widescreen), the 16:9 is a much smaller display. So, if you own a certain size of 4:3 display, aim higher for your new display. I went from a 27" 4:3 to a 26" 16:9, and it was a shock when I finally got the thing home and compared the displays side by side. 

It shouldn't have been much of a shock, however, since in the end, a screen size is the diagonal measurement from on corner to the opposite corner. This is not effected by the status of being wide or narrow screen. 

Last of all, you should always see a TV in action before you consider buying it. Some TVs will have image issues that don't reflect anything about their stats. One TV may look grainy, while another with the same statistics will look flawless. Some (those that are of newer technology) will not show black, but rather will show a washed out gray. So, before you decide anything, always see a TV in action. To buy a TV that you never saw working is like buying a car you didn't test drive. It may look nice while sitting there, but can you say the same about that potential Fiat sitting in front of you when it's in action? Didn't think so. 


One of the final other factors in a basic HD-TV is what mechanics are involved in getting you your image. These all have pros and cons. 


Cathode-Ray-Tube TVs are what most of us know the best. It's the standard issue technology in TVs since the birth of the technology. On the bright side, these will offer the best price and the best image. These is simply nothing better than a basic design like CRT offers. You will not suffer dead pixels, ghosting, burn-in, or any other major problem. You'll also find these TVs are a far cheaper price than any others, on average. Best of all, these TVs will take a licking and ask for more. There is nothing as sturdy as a CRT. 

However, you will also have the traditional big-ass set. A CRT set will be deep, heavy, and it will make it's presence known to all who behold it. Also, due to these factors, and some others, you will not find many CRTs if you aim for a set bigger than around 34". Once you hit the big screens (40"+), you will be done with CRT technology. 


LCD is the technology found in many flat panel PC monitors. You all should be perfectly aware of them by now. They are common, not as expensive as some other options (cough::plasma::cough), and they do offer a nice image...usually. Best of all, they are light and small for the screen size. When you think of a wall-mounted TV, you are thinking of LCD or plasma. Also, you will not have to face burn in issues as easily as plasma. Best of all, LCDs can come in almost any size or shape you want. Going big? LCD has you covered. Going small? LCD is there. 

On the bad side, an LCD display can suffer from a few problems. They will eventually have burn-in problems if left static for an extended period. Also, dead pixels (a single pixel that doesn't display) can be found. In fact, a single dead pixel should almost be accepted on any large LCD screen. Most of all, if your TV is not from the best manufacturer, you may have issues with lighting. Blacks may not be as much black as they are a bright gray, edges may not be as illuminated as the middle (or vice versa), and you may be treated to different levels of contrast according to your viewing angle (what angle you are at in comparison to the TV while looking at the screen). 


In a nut shell, these things offer some damned nice images. Seriously, if you want a quality picture, plasma will do you nicely. Also, like LCD, plasma is small, in terms of being wall mountable. Plasma is also becoming more popular and refined as a technology. 

On the dark side, this technology limits you in some major ways. Ghosting (an image remaining behind after you turn off the TV) and burn-in (same thing, but the image is permanently there) are common with plasma. Also, these things heat up, so you may, depending on the manufacturer, have a loud fan or two to drown out some quieter audio. Also, many manufacturers will only allow your warranty to remain valid if you run the TV for 1 or two hours per 24 hour day. So, if you aim to watch a football game, play some RPGs, or do any other extended viewing, you may be looking at the wrong TV type. Most of all, these sets will set you back more in terms of price than almost anything else will get close to. 


Are you a gamer? Do you watch things with static images (like score bars while watching sports, a network logo, etc)? Then you should walk away now. Also, as a final word, the viewing angle and picture quality of standard projection TVs will almost always let you down. Also, after so many hundreds/thousands of hours, you will need to replace your bulb, which equals a few hundred dollars, or more, down the drain. 

LCD Projection 

Some good, some bad. Take many of the strengths of LCD, but then toss in the projection weaknesses. 

DLP Projection 

This is a special case for projection displays. DLP still has the same downfall of a bulb that can/will go out with time. However, the rest of it is different. 

The technology in DLP is somewhat confusing and new. All that matters is that you are dealing with a computer chip or two, some mirrors, and some lighting effects. In the end, you will have a big image with some wonderful colors, a slight viewing angle issue (usually you will have around a 160-175 degree viewing angle...CRT is 180, by the way), and one of the best images possible from a non-CRT display. Also, depending on things, you may also get a cheap TV in the bargain. Prices can vary for DLP from low-end LCD prices up through nearly plasma prices. So, with DLP, it pays more to shop around than with any other technology. Also, while the box is smaller than CRT in terms of depth, the actual unit will be too big for one of those nifty wall mount jobs. A 52" (widescreen) could weigh around 100 lbs versus about 90-100 lbs for a 27" CRT. Best of all, DLP is not known for having ghosting/burn-in issues...yet. It is still a pretty new technology. 

However, like I said, the bulb is going to eventually die. However, on the bright side, you will probably get the effect of having a brand new TV with a bulb replacement, for a few hundred dollars. Also, you viewing angle from the sides will be pretty nice, by from above and below, you may notice a more dramatic contrast shift, depending on the manufacturer. Last of all, you may see a rainbow effect. I have honestly never seen this, and I can't tell you what it looks like. I believe it's more of something some people see and others don't versus being something that certain DLP sets show while others don't. 


In conclusion, if you want a smaller set (32" and smaller), you should go CRT. If you aren't afraid of price, or if you need a wall mounted set, then go with something else. However, for the price and image quality, CRT is definitely the way to go. 

If you want a big TV, then LCD, plasma, and DLP all will have something to offer you. It will usually come down to what's out there and what you are willing to pay versus what features you can do with or without. 

Personally, I have an HD-CRT that's 26" 16:9 from Toshiba, and it was freakin' beautiful. On the other hand, I use 19" LCD monitors at work, and they always look nice. Most important to me is my 52" 16:9 DLP from Mitsubishi. This is a wonderful beast of a TV. It is big, quiet, bright, has solid blacks (which are a potential issue with all non-CRT sets), and it is nothing short of what I always dreamed of having as a child. 

Shopping Around 

Despite having some knowledge about what you may want, what brands you think are good (they all are...and they all aren't), and what price range you want to go around, the simple fact remains; you can only work with what's out there. If you want a 50"+ TV that's of a certain technology, and it's going to have quality, you will probably not want to have a strict price point of under $1000. 

In the end, price should be your ultimate deciding factor in this battle. As long as you set a firm, but slightly flexible, price range, you will find something to fit your needs. This, however, only remains true when you consider two factors. First off, if you've heard "plasma" enough times, you will probably want one...however, the price will usually go against you. The second factor is that you need to start... 

Doing the Research 

The best place to begin in finding your TV is to look online. You will probably find a better deal online than in a real store. The best place, in my opinion, to start would be This site will offer you a wealth of research on everything from prices to consumer reviews of both the product and the stores you will encounter. Plus, with some nifty filter sets, you can really limit your search to that TV your really want. To start, make sure you use the "for lowest price" button on the search window. From there, it will all come together. With filter options on the left side, and products and prices on the right, it should all become a cakewalk. Plus, when you find the TV you want, this site will further help you by letting you browse for some good peripherals (cables, universal remotes, or whatever else tickles your fancy). 

However, no matter where you look, the info you get will only be as good as the person who reports it. For example, my 52" Mitsubishi offers 480i, 480p, and 1080i. However, I've seen reviews that it will not handle 1080, and I've seen reports that it will not do 720. I've even seen reports that this DLP is a plasma screen. In the end, when you find that possible TV, go through the extra effort of checking the manufacturer's site to get the facts straight. 

Also, no matter how good of a price you may find, take the time to look around a little more, since you may be surprised. My 52" is found for about $1899 and higher online, but it is (and has been for over a month) $1299 at Frys. So, be ready to put some extra effort into your research. While buying something like a game, where you may lose $10 by not finding a place that has it on sale may seem minor, missing out on $600 for not shopping around on a TV is another thing. 

Last of all, when you find the TVs that are your front runners, go to a store and see the thing running. Even if you plan to buy online, and even if the customer reviews look good, it still pays to see it running in real time. After all, even if some online store costs more money, there's nothing wrong with hitting Best Buy, Circuit City, Video Only, Frys, or any other electronics stores to see your investment in action. It's a lot easier to not buy a TV than to buy a piece of crap and try to return it...especially if it's a 50" TV being returned to an online retailer. 

The most important aspect to check is if the picture looks good to you. Does it have bright and defined colors? If a black (or shadowy) image is displayed, does it look black, or does it look like a bright shade of gray? What viewing angle does the set have? Can you see it from the sides, or does the image quickly blacken/distort if you move to the side? Also, is it easy to use or does something as simple as changing your input require an adventure in some monstrous menu system? 

It also doesn't hurt to find a store with a good level of customer support on major purchases. For example, with Frys (I mention them so much only because I've dealt with them personally), they have cheap delivery, good delivery personnel, and they will hook up one input device when they deliver to confirm that the TV works. On top of that, they will follow up with you after the purchase, shortly before delivery, and after delivery. Plus, if you have the inclination for the extended warrantee (I won't say my personal opinions on this...but...), a good place will offer to not only do service at your home, but also will offer to replace your TV with a newer model of equal or better quality if the set is no longer available and is unserviceable. 

But First... 

However, before you settle for that final TV, there's a few things you will want to keep in mind as you look. First off, and this is what too many fail at, you need the right screen size for your intended viewing location. 

I have a 52" in my living room for a reason; I have my couch a good 12' from the TV. If your TV is going in a room that only offers a maximum of 6' from the display to where you aim to plant your ass, then you will want to scale things down. Think of it like watching a movie at a theater. A big screen is nice from the middle of the theater, but it sure sucks from the front or back row. If you're too far from the display, it will just feel awkward. However, if you're too close to a big screen, you can expect annoyance from having to constantly shift your gaze across a wall of images. 

The size of the ideal TV can be best guessed by two methods. One is to just see how your current set feels to you, and then upsize (or downsize) accordingly. The other way, and this is a rare thing, is to ask a salesperson. Most times, these people simply want to make some commission off of you, but they can be helpful in finding the right screen size, assuming you were smart enough to measure the dimensions of your room ahead of time. Other than getting the right info from them about display sizes, take all salesperson advice with a grain of salt. 

Inputs are another important consideration. First off, how many devices are plugged into your TV, or at least how many do you want to plug in? You can buy splitters and switch boxes for inputs, but it's always a little nicer to not need to. Especially when you keep in mind than a component switch box can cost you $50-$120 easily. You should probably look for something with at least two sets of composite (a third set on the front of the set is always nice) with S-video, two component, one antenna/coaxial (two if you like picture in picture), and at least one HDMI or DVI input for future add-ons. 

Along with those inputs, you will want to probably have one set of outputs. These will usually be composite, and that's all you need. It's just a little easier to go this way if you want to hook up a surround sound receiver in the mix. 

You also need to ask yourself what types of present/future technology interest you. Do you aim to be the proud owner of a Blu-ray (including PS3 for watching movies) or HD-DVD player? If so, make sure that HDMI or DVI input is HDCP compliant. Without this extra bit of foresight, you movies may either not play, or they will play in a non-HD resolution. 

Do you want a Cablecard slot? If you don't know what that is, then the answer is no. If you do know what it is, you probably still don't need it, since current generation Cablecard technology is quite limited. The same probably applies for a built in HD-tuner. If you have digital cable, then you should be able to rent a HD cable box for around $5 more a month. While this fee can build up with time, the alternative is to either buy an HD-receiver (which go for hundreds of dollars) or to buy a display with a built in HD-receiver (which will only get you broadcast channels and will leave you wanting the cable HD-receiver if you want any of the cable HD channels). Either way, if you definitely "need" a Cablecard slot or a built in receiver, you are looking to pay hundreds, if not thousands, more for a TV with, otherwise, the same technology as a far cheaper one. 

Last of all, you may see some HD sets for mighty cheap prices. Typically, you will find many of these to be 4:3 displays. If so, just walk away. While it may look like a good way to save some money, you need to remember that 95% of HD broadcasts (both over the air and on cable) are broadcast in 16:9. This means that most images will be cropped to fit on a 4:3, or you will be stuck with black bars at the top and bottom of the display. Either way, it's like getting ripped off out of a part of your display size. 

In the end, however, the best features you must have are these; HDMI or DVI input with HDCP compliance, easy to navigate menus, good options for adjusting your display (including filling out the 16:9 screen with a 4:3 image), and a nice set of input options. As long as these all work good for you, factors like brand, technology, built-in receiver, and the other little things will not be too important. The only exception is that you should avoid any brand that has a purely bad track record of customer support and reliability. 

Finishing Touches 

By this point, you are probably ready to get you TV. Good. This last section is all about what you should do after it's set up and good to go. 

First off, if you have a setup in which your TV and your computer are in the same room, it might be fun to let them play together. I know I'm not alone in enjoying some video files on the PC. So, if you have a perfectly sized display for your room, then why not display those computer videos on the TV. First off, check to see what outputs are on your video card. Many modern ones will have three; VGA, DVI, and S-video. If this is the case, and you are not using the DVI or VGA, go ahead and look for a cable to run your free output to your TV's HDMI or DVI input. It may take some effort, but just check out Never buy these cables from a electronics store without an employee discount, since they will price gouge you into submission. After you get the two devices hooked up, just use your display options (from the computer) to seal the deal. Also, if you don't have a free DVI/HDMI slot on your TV, you can still use S-video for a (limited quality) 480p monitor. 

You may also want a nice universal remote. If you feel like having a half dozen different remotes is overkill, then you will probably want a smart or learning remote. These will usually allow you to have total access in programming each button, or may be able to connect to the Internet, via your PC, to find the latest programs to run with all current (and future) devices. If this sounds a little too good to believe compared to a $20 universal remote from Target, there's a reason; price. You can expect to pay between $100 and several thousand dollars for this luxury. 

You also may have more devices than inputs. If so, you will want to find a good switch box. Radio Shack offers some nice quality ones with their name on them (but manufactured by Monster). They will work, if you are willing to pay a little extra. If you go this way, then you will probably get a smart box, which will automatically switch inputs when a remote control is used that works on the frequency of one of your attached devices. Otherwise, just check the net for a good deal. 

On the note of hooking up your shit, you may want to keep in mind that there are better quality and worse quality inputs. RF/coaxial (the connection from your wall cable jack) is lowest, followed by composite (yellow, red, and white cables, like most past game systems use), then S-video (round cable with a about a dozen small pins in it) with composite audio, component (lowest HD connection, with a red, blue, and green cable set, often attached to the standard composite red and white audio cables) and RGBHV (five different colored cables...a lot like component, but with five video cables, as opposed to three) are about equal in most cases, DVI (the type of connection found on most LCD computer monitors) which offers excellent video with no sound, and HDMI (small, rectangular, and futuristic in appearance) as the leader with the best current image AND sound possible for HD output. Also, there's a couple of other sound options, but they aren't really something for a TV discussion (RF then composite, then digital coaxial, and digital optical). 


So, in the end, that's about it. The most important thing to remember is this; a new TV is hella pricey. So, take the time and effort to find a good deal, to see how well it works in real life, and to compare your options. Also, keep buzz words and trends (plasma, Cablecard, etc) in their right places. Just because something sounds amazing, it doesn't mean it's true. Most of all, on that note, trust a sales person as much as you'd trust a used car dealer. There are some good ones out there, but there are also some sleazy ones, and it's all up to you to make the distinction. 

If you're a gamer who's wondering if "that" TV is right for your 360 or PS3, the answer's simple. Just check out the TV in a store, and if it looks good and offers 720 or 1080 resolutions on a 16:9 screen size, and if it has at least a couple sets of component inputs, then you're all set. The only think to keep in mind is that CRT is always going to be a gamers' best friend. While the other technologies are not too shabby, plasma may be an issue with it's limited use time (if you like following warrantee instructions) and burn-in issues.

Also, if you're wondering if this is all worth it, I have one thing to say; once you experience HD, especially on a game system or watching sports, you will never want to go back.