Buying a Big Screen, No Big Deal - Tucson News Now

Buying a Big Screen, No Big Deal

By: Andy Taylor, KOLD News 13 This Morning's Tech Expert

THE DIGITAL TELEVISION SWITCH

Who would have thought that picking a television could be rife with so many options? When Scott Kilbury told me he wanted to do a story on the February 2009 switch to DTV and how consumers were purchasing TV's that were ready for the switch, we began to read some of the questions that have been frequently asked in regards to the switch as well as what to look for with today's screens. First and foremost has been information regarding the TVs that will adhere and operate with over the air Digital Television.

It's best to understand that Digital Television is already here. KOLD TV 13 operates on the Digital Television band and is able to offer programming for these digital signals. Those televisions with ATSC tuners are already able to pick up over the air transmission of Digital Television with "rabbit ears." As of March 2007 under a mandate by the FCC, all televisions manufactured that include a tuner, or any device for that manner, with a tuner must include a ATSC (DTV) tuner. This includes DVR's, DVD Recorders and VCR's (Yes, people still buy them!).

Another area of confusion surrounds the ramifications of Analog TV's (NTSC Tuners) after the big switch. Some consumers have been led to believe that the TV's they have will just stop working. For the family that's been out of the loop and bought that nice looking 37" television a few years ago that still has a great looking picture, will they have to toss it? No!! The TV's will work fine for DVD playback, VCR's, Video Games and yes, even television.  Under a congressional bill, discount coupons will be available towards the purchase of these converters with the ATSC tuners so these televisions would still operate from over the air signals. If you receive Digital Cable with a set-top box, they are cable casting the DTV stations for you, thus handling that conversion.  There have also been some developments with technology for those that don't have a Digital Set-top box but have cable television and purchase a television with a QAM tuner, usually found as a ATSC/QAM tuner. This QAM tuner can handle the signal of some HDTV content from the cable company however with some cable systems charging a premium for the service they have found ways to scramble the signal. I contacted a Customer Service rep at Comcast here in Tucson who told me that the signals are scrambled thus a digital set top box would be required. 

One of the biggest questions is whether DTV and HDTV are the same. The answer is No. HDTV represents High Definition television which is the highest resolution possible on the television screen. Even on the Digital Television band, some broadcasters may elect to broadcast in Standard definition on the Digital television band giving them more bandwidth for additional channels. Broadcasters electing to broadcast High Definition over the Digital television band will have the better picture however alternate programming bandwidth could be limited or nonexistent. For the best picture possible, productions, advertising and local shows shot in High Definition and played back over the Digital TV band will look better than the standard definition shows.

More Information on the "Big Switch" can be found right here on the KOLD website.

PICKING THE TELEVISION - LCD VS PLASMA

There is a difference between the two and trying to figure out what that is can be confusing and involve some real research. Even in the category of LCD TV's, the models can vary from manufacturer. One of the most frequently asked questions to home theater stores is what the difference is between both of these generally great looking screens. In many conditions, the deciding factor, other than how much the pocketbook can take, is the room conditions where the screen will be located. A determination of how large the room is and just how far back the viewer will sit can help the buyer make a decision that they would be happy with. Another important factor is lighting, in some cases this is one of the biggest reasons to go with one over the other.

PLASMA PLUSES

Plasma televisions tend to fare much better in dark room environments. Home Theaters which are in rooms designated as viewing rooms only, almost always have the ability to cut out all light. In this scenario, Plasma delivers with deep rich and vibrant separation of the colors and non pixilated black areas of the screen that can sometimes be present with LCD.  Plasma screens also deliver better off-viewing angles as well as the ability to handle motion over LCD's which can be erratic depending on the motion. . Some LCD manufacturers have delivered technology allowing for a 178 degree viewing angle for side viewing, although, I really don't know anybody who enjoys watching a hit film from the side. I would hate to say the point on the viewing angles should be mute, large events such as that big football game sometimes will force some side angle viewing so this will mean something to somebody. To combat the motion issues with LCD, manufacturers have begun to deliver these screens with 120 Hz screens, double the 60 Hz on the previous models. This allows for higher and faster draws to the screen thus eliminating the 3:2 pulldown which created the visual blur artifacts in intense motion settings.

PLASMA MYTHS

 

We've heard them, Plasma's are more expensive. Plasma life is not as long as LCD's. Plasma's are heavier. Plasma gas needs to be recharged. There have been a good number of myths over the years and while these may have come from people looking to unload LCD screens, Plasma televisions offer some benefits if you can get past the neighbor that will say "Why did you get that, they only last a couple of years!" Not the case at all. Industry experts have determined that if you were to watch Plasma television for 4 to 6 hours a day, even on a medium contrast setting, you could get about 40 years of life out of that screen depending on the manufacturers life rating. In terms of cost, it actually is less expensive currently for a plasma screen versus LCD screen. This again can relate to size and manufacturer.

PURCHASING LCD OVER PLASMA

The question was asked this week as to why would somebody purchase LCD over a Plasma television considering the factors that make Plasma so desirable. Size can actually be an issue as LCD screens can be found in 20" or larger sizes with the Plasma traditionally available at 42" According to Jason at Definitive Home Theater LG is going to be releasing a 32" plasma screen. Those generally looking towards LCD are those using the LCD screen as a Computer monitor or game console screen. Image burn in on Plasma can be an issue, technology has again helped eliminate/reduce this but the LCD screen has been a strong growth market for the computer user. Looking at your computer on a 37" LCD does look pretty awesome!  LCD technology as stated earlier has also advanced to give much better side viewing angle the previous.

1080P WHAT DOES IT MEAN

 

When shopping for a TV you will certainly run into the terms, HD, 720p, 1080p, what does it all mean?
720p (Progressive) or in some cases 1080i (Interlaced) is standard High Definition.  Cable box or Satellite Set top boxes with HDTV channels look great on screens at 720p and 1080i. The picture will also look just as good on a 1080p (Progressive) screen. Why then would a consumer spend a few extra bucks on the 1080p screen? This format is true Super HD and with Blu-Ray or HD-DVD, the picture is almost three times the resolution of standard high definition. In room size, sitting back about 20 feet from the screen at 720p or even 1080p will be unnoticeable, move up to 5 feet back - the difference is amazing. The recommendation for most however is to get the 1080p now as the technology will continue to advance making the most use out of 1080p. In terms of size, the minimum was 37" and Sharp has been talking about a 1080p Monitor for 22" which would be perfect for the gaming segment. 

CONTRAST RATIO

This can be confusing, a good mark of a contrast ratio should be 1200:1 to 1500:1 and assist in delivering a much crisper picture. The industry tends to look at many factors for this math however for true or peak rating the numbers above should be considered.

USING YOUR PC ON THE BIG SCREEN

Connecting to the PC, viewers wanting more screen size and running 1080p would be getting a resolution of 1920x1080.

SCREEN OPTIONS

Having the home theater is great, we've checked out some of the question that many have regarding screens however we haven't touched upon a couple of nice options. If you have enough Moolah and a room that is large enough to have it, a Panasonic 103" screen is available for around 75k. A site survey needs to be conducted before the screen is sold and the cranes bring it in. For a sizeable reduction in price, Epson makes a 1080p front projection system which like the plasma operates best in true home theater dark room environments. The Epson Pro can project anywhere from 60" - 200" inches and retails around $3499. A 103 inch screen can be purchased for around $800.

When locking the decision down to a particular screen, take a movie with you that would represent the genre of film you would be inclined to watch. Most Home Theater or professional audio and video wouldn't have a problem with this. A good type of film would be an action film with lots of movement  and dark colors.  The conditions however for this test should match the environment you would be watching the movie in. 

HARDWARE

Some things to think about when purchasing a large screen TV is "where are you going to put it!?" There are many wall mount systems available for both firmly mounting to the wall as well as a cantilever system from Omni which can be automated as well as programmed for specific room environments. With every purchase of a system, the consumer should also purchase a line conditioner/power conditioner for not only protecting the system but keeping the signal clean. For cabling, HDMI is the best way to connect from the Set-top boxes or DVD player to the screen. Any devices you have that would use HDMI should be connected with this set up. Get a screen cleaner; never spray Windex or any other window cleaner on your LCD or Plasma Screen. Monster Cable produces a Screen Cleaner that can get rid of the nasty fingerprints that mysteriously appear on the screen. While we haven't touched upon other items that could be thought of, such as Surround Sound, Seating and blinds or curtains for eliminating light, the home theater is more accessible that ever before for many. It's start with the screen, and takes off from there.

Some Helpful Links

  

Thanks to Definitive Home Theater for giving us a great education on the technology of Big Screen and theater options. Hopefully we have helped clear up some of the questions surrounding home theater. Did I miss some? What would you like to know more about? Give us your thoughts; Feel free to drop me an Email with your comments or questions to andy@techtalkradio.com

Andy Taylor is host of the TechtalkRadio show heard Sundays 9am to 11am on KNST-AM 790.
His website is at http://www.techtalkradio.com

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