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Tuning Into HDTV in 2008

HDTV’s are still a hot consumer item – and events like Super Bowl inspire a big bump in sales. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, the 2008 Super Bowl will increase sales to 2.4 million high-definition TV sets. That’s a lot of plasma, LCD and projection sets.

In spite of bumper sales, there is still a lot of confusion around HDTV. This articles aims to clear up a few things buyers of HDTV’s should know BEFORE they head of the TV store.

HDTV + HD Broadcast

A High Definition TV alone will not give you HDTV results. You also need a high definition signal to feed to the HDTV set. This can be achieved by replacing cable boxes with digital boxes or putting a high-def antenna on the roof. According to a study by the Leichtman Research Group, 50 percent of HDTV owners are not watching high-def programs on their HDTV sets, yet 25 percent of them think they are.


Many new HDTV owners find that standard-def broadcasts actually look worse on a high-def TV. This is normal. Some also complain that the resolution does not seem as bright once they get the set home. This is also normal. And it is not because the stores boost up the brightness and contrast in the store-display screens. Its just the way most sets come from the factory.

Once they are properly calibrated in the home environment they generally look a lot better than in the store. So don’t forget to factor in the cost of having a technician calibrate your set at home, or negotiate it into the price of the set. Many HDTV vendors do offer that service as part of installation. See Testing HDTV in-store.

LCD, Plasma or Rear Projection

There is also still confusion and hot debate over Plasma, LCD or Rear projection. Both offer amazing pictures, with the traditional issues of plasma [burn in] and LCD [limited viewing angle, weak blacks, weak fast motion] have been largely eliminated. The remaining differences are:

  • Plasma - screens still have glossy surfaces, has truer color and does better in darker rooms
  • LCD –screens are still brighter, has more vivid color and does better in bright rooms. LCD is also lighter and more energy-efficient but generally costs more for the same size set.
  • Rear Projection - still overlooked, to some extent this has been due to the thickness of the screen on the wall. However, once you mount any flat-panel TV, it’s just as thick as today’s rear-projection sets. The quality of the rear-projection sets is very high, and improving every year. It still suffers from limited view angle but offer the size at the best price. And being much lighter, they are easy to handle. Their only drawback is a bulb replacement every few years, which still cost $200-300.

720p or 1080p?

720p and 1080p describe how many fine lines make up the picture. You need a 1080p signal to get a 1080p image. As yet, there is no 1080p TV broadcast and most likely won’t be for years. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, send out 720p (or less). The only way to get an 1080p picture on a 1080p set is to buy a high-def DVD player (Blu-ray or HD DVD). In addition, don’t expect to see any difference unless you sit closer than 10 feet from the TV and it’s bigger than 55 inches. So don’t pay out the extra for 1080p [around $2000 more] unless you are really into long term payback.

Screen Size

The most popular screen size is increasing. In previous years, it was 42 inches, now 50-inch is more common. This is largely driven by the price drops, but be careful not to oversize the screen for the room. A 60 inch screen needs to be viewed around 8 to 10 feet away.

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