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Big screen, bigger choices

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Posted: Sunday, January 28, 2007 5:57 am | Updated: 8:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

High Definition TV is any screen with 720 pixels or more from top to bottom, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. HDTV gives the viewer a sharper image, but with an array of competing initials such DLP, LCD, PDP and LCoS the picture can get pretty fuzzy for a consumer searching for the right TV.

With the Super Bowl upon us, we’ll bring the major differences among the competing technologies into focus.

Walk into any electronics store and head toward the TVs, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the giant screens emitting colorful, crystal-clear images.

The days leading up to Super Bowl XLI are some of the busiest for electronics retailers as many fans want to showcase the game on a brand-new, big-screen TV.

Screen sizes are getting bigger and bigger as the public’s appetite increasingly turns away from anything under 37 inches.

There’s flat-panel LCDs (liquid crystal display) and plasmas, and DLPs (digital light processing), as well as a dwindling number of tube TVs.

Prices are steadily dropping as each technology strives to remain competitive, said Matt Duda, director of merchandising for Ultimate Electronics’ video group. He chooses the TVs and video products the company carries in its stores.

“This holiday season by far was the most aggressive pricing that we’ve seen across the retail industry,” he said. “LCD and plasma have really started to move into the commodity life cycle, meaning more people are able to afford 42-inch plasma or 32-inch LCD because they’re no longer at these exorbitant prices. So as those prices come down, more people would like to buy them, so that continues the trend of driving the prices of those products down. You can expect that trend to continue in the next year.”

KEEP IN MIND

It’s a good idea to learn what you need before you start looking for a new TV, Duda said.

“The fundamental question that the average consumer needs to ask themselves is what room is it going into, how big is that room and what’s the viewing distance from where they’ll be sitting versus where the TV will be placed,” he said. “That will dictate the size of the TV they want to purchase.”

For example, you wouldn’t want to buy a 73-inch Mitsubishi DLP TV for a room where the viewing distance is only six feet, Duda said.

“It would be like when your mom told you as a kid ‘don’t sit too close to the TV’,” he said.

“You’d be a little bit overwhelmed by a huge picture, and it wouldn’t be the greatest viewing experience.”

The bigger screens — 60 inches and up — are best for rooms that can accommodate a considerable distance between the seating and TV, Duda said.

Next, it’s important to examine the lighting conditions of the room where the TV will be placed, he said.

“If you have a lot of open windows and brightness ... what we recommend is an LCD or micro display (DLP), and in a darker room, a plasma, a front projection or a micro display would suit that purpose just fine,” he said.

FUTURE-PROOF

If you plan to watch High-Definition programming on your new TV, it’s important to make sure the TV accommodates a 720p (progressive) picture, said Kent Webster, an electronics salesman at Spencers TV and Appliance in Mesa.

“The Super Bowl will be broadcast in 720p,” he said. “If you’re watching the regular broadcast you’ve always watched, like cable, it has about 325 lines in resolution and 325 interlaced lines.

That means it paints one line and skips one at a very high rate of speed, and then the TV fills in what it thinks should be between those lines.”

With 720p, it’s painting every line, so it includes much better detail, Webster said.

The latest wave of HD is 1080-progressive, which provides even greater detail and later will become the standard in HD programming.

Many flat-panel and DLP TVs can now accommodate a 1080p signal, but there is little 1080p programming now available, Webster said.

“People are (buying 1080p TVs) for their setup for the future mainly, so

they’ve got something that will handle any upcoming source, and the picture quality is incredible,” he said.

WHAT YOU WANT

Edgar Aguirre has a hard time watching anything that’s not in HD.

“I have a non-HD in my bedroom and I have to sit in the living room to watch TV all the time,” he said. “It makes a big difference in just the way you see things on the screen itself.” Aguirre plans to buy a 65-inch HDTV within the next month or so, and has noticed prices dropping steadily. “I was looking about a year ago around Christmastime and they seem to be a lot cheaper now,” he said.

Gina Lisy and Dean Stephan just purchased a 57-inch Mitsubishi DLP TV. Lisy lives in Mesa and Stephan lives in Gilbert. “Price wise, it’s good, it will last longer than the plasmas and if you have to fix it, it’s a lot less expensive,” Stephan said. “It has a great picture.”

DLP Digital Light Process

Invented by Texas Instruments in 1987, DLP uses a chip that comprises more than a million mirrors, each about a fifth of the width of a human hair. An image is created by tilting the mirrors at different angles to direct light toward or away from the screen.

50 - 60 inch

$1,200 - $2,600

Over 60 inch

$1,900 - $3,300

Cheapest of the four technologies on average

Does not suffer from burn-in (residual image permanently left on the screen)

Highest contrast ratio

Long display life

Inexpensive to repair Viewing angle is narrower

The color wheel causes some people to occasionally see rainbows in the image

Not as thin as LCD, Plasma or LCoS

Some models may have fan noise

LCD Liquid Crystal Display

Liquid crystal display uses two sheets of polarizing material with a liquid crystal solution between them. Electrical charges manipulate the orientations of crystals, which allow different amounts of light to pass through to create an image.

20 - 30 inch

$300 - $2,200

30 - 40 inch

$400 - $3,600

40 - 50 inch

$1,000 - $4,200

50 - 60 inch

$1,000 - $8,000

Over 60 inch

$2,000 - $8,800

Thin and lightweight

Does not suffer from burn-in

Can double as a computer monitor

Image is clean and has a wide viewing angle Larger LCDs can be very expensive

Black levels are not as dark but are improving

Slow response times can cause a ghosting effect

In rare cases they can have dead pixels that remain permanently unlit or lit

PDP Plasma Display Panel

The display is made up of millions of tiny cells filled with neon and xenon gases between two glass panels. Electrical charges convert the gases into plasma, which spurs phosphors in each cell to emit light.

30 - 40 inch

$900 - $4,000

40 - 50 inch

$700 - $4,200

50 - 60 inch

$900 - $5,200

Over 60 inch

$3,600 - $22,000

Very thin

One of the most vivid picture qualities

Can view clearly at almost any angle

High contrast ratio

High black levels Expensive though cheaper than LCDs of comparable size

Subject to burn-in

Lifespan is relatively short

Heavier than LCDs

LCoS Liquid Crystal on Silicon

LCoS is a hybrid of LCD and DLP technologies. Three silicon chips – representing red, blue and green – are covered by mirrored surfaces that are coated with liquid crystals. An image is created when the liquid crystals are adjusted, allowing light to be reflected or blocked.

50 - 60 inch

$1,500 - $3,500

Over 60 inch

$2,000 - $5,500

Least visible pixel structure

Highest black levels

Does not suffer from burn-in

Image is very clean and has a wide viewing angle Very expensive

Only two manufacturers produce LCoS (Sony’s SXRD, JVC’s D-ILA)

Lower contrast ratio

Relatively short bulb life

Too heavy to wall mount

FOCUS ON TERMS

When you’re shopping for a TV you can become overwhelmed by a sea of unfamiliar acronyms and terms. Knowing the basics can help you decide which technology is best for you. Here’s a quick buyer’s glossary of HDTV terms.

DISPLAY Resolution: The number of pixels used to make up the picture – higher is better.

Interlaced: The picture is made up of two half pictures, one per screen refresh. The odd-numbered lines are shown, then the even. This is done quickly enough that they appear to be one picture. (Example: 1080i)

Progressive: The entire image is shown on each screen refresh. (Example: 1080p)

High definition: A TV system that has twice the standard number of scanning lines per frame, producing pictures with greater detail.

HDTV capable or ready: The buyer will be required to purchase an HD receiver to watch HD programming.

Integrated HDTV receiver: The set is ready to handle an HD signal immediately, without the need to purchase a separate receiver. Contrast: The ratio between the brightest and darkest areas of an image. A higher contrast ratio is better than a lower one. (A contrast ratio of 10,000:1 is far superior to 1,000:1)

Black level: On a display or television monitor, black level is the technical term for what is usually called brightness. Black level determines the amount of light that a picture display emits for the darkest areas of an image.

Burn-in: When color elements are not excited or are continuously excited by a static image for a long time, they do not deteriorate at the same rate as the part of the screen where the image is moving. After time and enough exposure a residual image is left.

Dead pixel: Pixels within the LCD display that do not function and are not repairable on an individual level. They can be very noticeable and annoying, or barely visible, depending on the LCD monitor model and their location on the screen.

Response time: The amount of time a pixel in an LCD monitor takes to go from active (black) to inactive (white) and back to active again. It is measured in milliseconds.

Rear projection: A TV system in which the picture is projected on screen for viewing from the opposite side of the screen.

Picture in picture (PiP or PoP): A small viewing screen superimposed onto the larger main viewing screen of a TV monitor.

AUDIO Focus: This technology has the unique capability to electronically reposition the audio of nonoptimally located speakers, such as those found in big-screen TVs and automobiles, to the ideal position right in front of the listener.

SRS WOW: A popular complete audio enhancement that includes SRS 3D, Focus and TruBass. SRS 3D: Retrieves the spatial information lost during compression and restores a 3D sound field to any mono or stereo source over any pair of standard speakers or headphones.

TruBass: Psychoacoustic bass enhancement for speakers and headphone systems that delivers bass up to an octave below the physical capabilities of the speaker's driver. Surround Sound: A type of sound output that encircles the listener by 360 degrees

Dobly Digital: A digital audio coding technique that reduces the amount of data needed to produce high-quality sound.

INPUTS HDMI: High-definition multimedia interface. A digital, point-to-point interface for audio and video signals designed as a single-cable solution for home theater and consumer electronics equipment.

Component: Output of a video device consisting of three primary color signals – red, green and blue – that convey all necessary picture information to the display.

DVI: Digital visual interface. A digital interface created by the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG) that converts analog signals into digital signals to accommodate both analog and digital monitors.

RCA: The most common of inputs including composite video and left and right audio. S-Video: Separated video. An encoded video signal that separates brightness from color data. S-video can greatly improve the picture when connecting TVs to any high-quality video source such as digital broadcast satellite (DBS) and DVDs.

VGA: Video graphics array. VGA computer monitors have a resolution of at least 640 X 480 pixels.

SOURCES: About Inc.; How Stuff Works; SRS Labs; Dolby Laboratories; NexTag; Texas Instruments; TV manufacturers’ web sites Scott Sheils/TRIBUNE

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