Guide to HD-TV
of wanting to write something not directly about gaming
(there's more to the old Geek-Asylum.com world than just
games) and partly from seeing one too many message board
threads about it, I present something a little
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
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.
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.
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 time...at 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
some bad. Take many of the strengths of LCD, but then toss in
the projection weaknesses.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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...
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 techbargains.com.
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 techbargains.com.
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
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
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
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.
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.