HDTV Choices

By Richard Binckley
May 12th, 2005
Updated July 13th, 2007

Introduction
Many people find the choices of HDTVs very confusing. Since most consumers do not have a technical background, they don’t even know where to go or what to look for when shopping for a new HDTV. I will try to shed some light on the current choices starting with the least expensive sets and proceeding to the big daddies, the plasmas.

General HDTV Information
First of all some general information. There are sets that are ready to plug in and receive HDTV programming via an over the air antenna (built in HDTV tuner) and there are sets that have only a conventional TV tuner and finally there are sets that have no tuners at all. Depending on the brand, some sets offer an optional HDTV tuner that either plugs in or may be integrated with the set. If you have strong HDTV over the air sources in your area, the sets with the built in HDTV tuners may have value for you. If you are going to get your HDTV signals via a cable box or satellite, then you may want to forgo the extra cost of a built in HDTV tuner.

Most HDTVs being sold today will have a screen format that is referred to as 16:9. The SDTVs were all in the 4:3 format. Simply stated the 4:3 format means that for every 4 inches of screen width there will be 3 inches of screen height. Similarly in the 16:9 format, for every 16 inches of screen width there will be 9 inches of screen height. The 16:9 format provides a wide screen display that more closely resembles a movie screen. Combining that with the greater detail of the HDTV picture provides a theater like experience.

16:9 screen format these days generally will display Grey bars on the sides of the picture when 4:3 information such as standard cable channels is being viewed on the screen. Some people find this annoying and will opt to place their screen in some form of panoramic or zoomed display, so that the screen is filled with the picture. Some modes will just provide zoom where the top and the bottom of the display is just chopped off, and other modes will expand the picture horizontally which makes people look fat. It takes some getting used to and some experimentation for one to decide what they like best. I have some customers that have asked us to remove their wide screen TVs and replace them with conventional 4:3 units because they have such trouble getting used to the fat people. Other applications we have built in some sliding panels in the cabinets to allow the grey bars to be covered.

More and more the gray bars are being replaced with black bars. This is especially true of broadcasts that upconvert 4:3 programming.

Direct View CRT HDTVs
The lowest cost option (although this depends on size somewhat) for a HDTV is the direct view CRT set. These sets use a conventional picture tube and are available in the conventional 4:3 format and the 16:9 wide screen format. The smallest direct view screen size I know of, other than computer monitors which also will double as an HDTV monitor, is 27 in. 4:3 format. I have a Zenith C27V28 27 in. Flat Screen Television in my home office that doubles as a computer monitor, for example. Other Zenith models go up to 36 in. and the price ranges from $900.00 for the 27 in., $1,300.00 for the 32 in. to $1,800.00 for the 36 in. These are all 4:3 format screens and present black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when operated in the 16:9 wide screen mode.
The advantage of the direct view units other than size and price is they are very bright and have about as good a picture as the plasmas. Their smaller screen size actually has a much better picture when viewing SDTV than most big screen HDTVs will have viewing the same material.

This type HDTV is beginning to die off as of 2007 and they are getting very hard to find. With the prices dropping on other technologies, expect to see them all but disappear from store shelves in the not too distant future. In addition to the customers willing to sacrifice a bit of picture quality for say a LCD panel, the stores appreciate the reduced storage space and display space required, so les and less are being shown and pushed by sales personnel anymore.

What seems to take the place of the direct view CRT HDTV is the SDTV CRT with a digital tuner. The FCC has required all sets to have a digital tuner in preparation of the 2009 cutoff, but allow any resolution to be output. I would suspect these sets will be popular for those applications where 27 inch and smaller sets are used today.

Rear Projection HDTVs with CRT Guns
This technology has been around from the first big screens and is still a viable option for HDTV viewing if your space permits. These floor standing units are some of the biggest cabinets, screen size for screen size, of any HDTVs on the market. They generally will be embedded into a large entertainment cabinet or sometimes just standing alone.

While when properly set up these units will provide excellent HDTV performance, there are issues to be watched for with these units. The focus and convergence may need adjusting for the best performance, even right out of the box. One of my HDTVs is the Zenith R49W36 49 in. Projection Television and it has a neat auto convergence feature that will reset any drift of convergence at the push of a button.

CRT based rear projection TV range from 40 inch 16:9 for about $1,000 to 60 inch 16:9 that are above the $3,000 price tag.
Like the direct view CRT HDTVs the RP HDTV are almost a thing of the past in 2007 when it come to new sales. I would expect them to be completely gone by 2009.

LCD Rear Projection
This technology is an outcropping from the LCD projector systems that will be covered later. The drawback of the LCD projectors used to be the brightness of the picture and many units have a different hue to them. Lately these problems have been overcome and the new LCD rear projection TVs provide a fine display. The HDTV units are limited to about 1380×720 pixels as opposed to the direct view and CRT based tube units that will provide the full 1980×1080 pixel coverage. Since they are by nature progressive scan units, they will provide a rock solid high definition picture that is hard to distinguish from the higher resolution CRT based units. One advantage the LCD units have over the CRT based rear projection units is cabinet size. The cabinets are not much larger than the screen size, so they are usually placed on a table or shelf in an entertainment center. This allows for additional storage or equipment that would be taken up by the TV if a CRT based rear projection TV was used. The Zenith D60WLCD 60 in. 16:9 LCD HDTV Monitor Projection Television cabinet measures 57.0 in. wide x 17.3 in. high x 19.3 in. deep compared to 56.7 in. wide x 60.0 in. high x 22.4 in. deep for the 57 in. 16:9 HDTV Monitor Rear Projection CRT based.

DLP Rear Projection
DLP stands for Digital Light Processing and consists of hundreds of tiny mirrors that are motor operated. Basically the mirrors turn to provide more or less light reflection to the lens. The complete method of operation is beyond the scope of this document, but more information can be obtained at this link: DLP Technology.

The advantage of the DLP technology is size comparable to the LCD rear projection units and an expanded contrast ratio. Blacks are blacker due to the ability of the mirrors being able to cut off all of the reflected light. Also since there are no phosphors or active elements to decay, the burn in possibilities are eliminated. Additionally, there are not any trailers that frequently occur on LCD based displays, so the DLP units are a favorite for big screen gamers. If this is your deal, be sure the set you choose is going to be compatible with your game box or computer before you purchase.

DLP based rear projection HDTVs range from $3,000.00 to the $7,000 price range, although the price seems to be pretty fluid so I would suspect the price will drop as the popularity of this technology increases. DLP units like the LCD units generally have the 1280×720 resolution although the 1920×1080 resolution is becoming increasingly popular. The 1920×1080 DLPs mostly use the “wobbulation” technology developed by HP where the picture is created by interlaced vertical columns consisting of two passes of 960×1080 each. Each pass is completed in 1/120 second to maintain the 60 Hz overall picture refresh rate.

Home Theater Projectors
This technology has been around for some time and you have probably seen a projector used for a Power Point presentation at some time. Most projectors used for computer presentations will have a resolution of 800×600 pixels and were marginal for home theater use. Also when screen sizes approached 6 feet, the use of video processors to add lines became necessary, thus running the cost of the installation up even further. Nowadays there are LCD and DLP projectors that provide 1366×768 pixel resolution and some have the line doublers built in to provide a great home theater video source. But be forewarned, this technology is not to be had on the cheap as it is generally required to dedicate a room for the theater, where lighting can be controlled as the brightness is somewhat less than other technologies. Projectors can be had for as little as $2,500.00 up to the $40,000.00 range. You also need a screen and mounting which will add several hundred dollars more, but if you want a 12 foot HDTV, this is probably the way to go!

Direct View LCD Panels
This is a limited market because the panel size currently is limited to about 45 in. or so, but for people who want a high quality HDTV with very limited space requirements, these units serve the purpose. We have installed the Zenith L30W36 30 in. 16:9 LCD HDTV Monitor in bathrooms, for example. Other applications have been where a computer monitor and HDTV was required. The newer 1920×1080 LCD panels in the 37 inch size make a spectacular PC monitor and a 42 inch or 47 inch could be even better in many cases.

By 2007, as of this update anyway, this technology has found the greatest price adjustment as well as technology upgrade. Prices have fallen dramatically with resolution going up to the full 1920×1080. Black levels have improved as well, but still lag behind the other competing technologies, mainly plasma panels.

The positive attributes of the LCD panels are cost and lower power requirements. LCD 1080p panels in 2007 start at about $1,000.00 and up, depending on where you look. I bought a Westinghouse 42 inch 1080p monitor for $999.00 plus delivery, for example.

The negatives for the LCD panels is primarily the backlight bleed through that will prevent black areas from being really black. They still end up being more of a very dark charcoal gray, which in a well lit room is not very noticeable at all, but in a dimly lit room will show up pretty dramatically. I generally watch TV with the room lit, so I don’t notice much difference from my older RP CRT HDTV.

Plasma Panels
This is the big daddy of the HDTV world today. Some had thought by 2007 the SED displays would have replaced the plasma, but so far the SEDs have failed to hit the market. Plasma panels have a light source that is closest to sunlight and therefore it is said they reproduce colors as close to nature as is possible. They are also the most expensive with 42 inch units starting about $2,500.00 to 72 inch units over $20,000.00. This is a technology where the buyer needs to be sure of what they are getting. Many of the 42″ units are not HDTV panels, but rather what is called EDTV. EDTV is basically 480 lines and it is generally accepted that a display needs to have at least 720 lines high to be considered HDTV. Many EDTV panels will accept a HDTV signal and down-convert to the 480 lines, so some unsuspecting user can be fooled into thinking they are getting an HDTV when indeed they are not.

Additionally most 42 inch plasmas that are advertised as HDTVs have a resolution of 1024×768. While the CEA considers any TV with at least 720 lines as being a HDTV, the ATSC broadcast specification defines HDTV as 1280×720 or 1920×1080 as HDTV. Most 50 inch plasmas and larger are 1366×768 pixel resolution with scalers that convert the 1280×720 or 1920×1080 signals to the native resolution of the display. As of 2007 several full 1920×1080 pixel resolution plasma panels have been introduced with even one by Panasonic in a 42 inch model.

The main advantage of the plasma panels is they are very adaptable to fit into their surroundings. They can be boxed into a recess above a mantle or sat on a table. They can be mounted on a pole like you see on many TV sets or stuck on a wall. Their thin size will accommodate the widest degree of mounting possibilities yet still provide a big 60 inch, or larger, HDTV picture. Plasmas also have very bright picture output, but have an issue with glare. Why they don’t have antiglare screens like the LCD panels is a mystery to me.

Conclusion
Selecting a new HDTV can be a major decision. Hopefully this will provide some help.

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Copyright 2005 - Richard Binckley

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