Archive for December, 2010

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Televisions and such…

December 1, 2010

JayG, who’s blog I read on a daily basis, has asked about things televisionistic and with a ceiling of about $1000.  How can I, the consummate geek (and spender of much moolah), not answer?  Here is how I would shop, if I were buying another TV.  Please note that I am avoiding specific brand names, as you should never shop by brand alone, but by features.  I look at four main things.

That said, let us begin with the source of the lumens in the light box.

Laser > AMOLED > OLED > LCD/LED > LCD/CCFL > Plasma > DLP > CRT

Research each independently, but avoid plasma and DLP, each of which has a limited life span (plasma needs recharged and DLP bulbs need replaced – neither of which is inexpensive) and CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) is what you grew up with, in all of it’s 320p glory.  These are all dying technologies, even if not everyone realizes it yet.

The laser TV, while visually AMAZING, is kind of out of our ballpark here, weighing in at north of $5000 each as of this writing.  Likewise are the AMOLED/OLED technologies.  Nice, but still a little too pricey.  To me, the sweet spot of price/performance in the sub-grand arena is in LCD w/ LED backlights, instead of the older CCFL tubes. They last longer and run cooler.  LED backlight also leads to higher…

Contrast Ratio

Higher is better, and the sky is the limit.  This leads to rich colors that pop against dark blacks.  Entry level here is 5,000:1 or so, I consider a ‘good’ ratio to be more along the lines of 60,000:1, and over 500,000:1 to be excellent.  With LED backlight, the magicians at the manufacturers have even figured out how to selectively modulate the LEDs to darken areas of the screen and brighten others simultaneously, leading to 1,000,000:1 contrast ratios on some models.

Refresh Rate

Standard TV refresh rate was 60 Hz for decades.  Then someone came up with the idea that if the picture refreshes more often, motion will appear smoother, similar to a higher frames per second makes video games better..  Hence we now have 120 and 240 Hz (and even higher, on some models) refresh rates.  This smoother motion, to my eye, is a double edged sword.  Motion can look flowing and graceful, but because we are so accustomed to 60 Hz, anything higher can look unnatural, depending on what the images are.  Some TV’s have settings to regulate this, so my advice would be to find a TV with a high refresh rate, but with the ability to tone it down if you find the look unappealing.

Resolution

1080p > 1080i > 720p > 720i > 480p > 480i > 320i

(there was no 320p standard that I am aware of)

The ‘p’ and ‘i’ abover refer to progressive scan and interlaced. Thiese are different ways that the video is processed.  Interlaced is the older standard, and can lead to some pixilation on your screen because it only scans every other line with each screen refresh.  Progressive minimizes that effect by scanning them all. It should go without saying that you want a 1080p-capable TV, but there’s another important feature you should look for in this area:  upscaling.  Typical TV signals (your DVD player, non-HD satellite or cable, digital free TV, whatever) is broadcast in 480p.  If you just toss that signal up on a 1080 screen, it looks blocky, like an old 8-bit Nintendo game.  Most TV’s come with the ability pass this signal through anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, commonly referred to as upscaling.  On a good TV, you’ll never even know you had to turn this on.  Some manufactures still do not include this, so watch out.

Widgets

This is kind of a bonus category, as it doesn’t really have any noticed any real so-called killer apps.  Some TV’s let you connect USB flash drives and watch pictures or movies, which is kind of cool.  Others have direct connections to Netflix or Boxee or Hulu (or more recently, Google TV) but I haven’t seen any one thing that really stands out and says BUY ME BECAUSE OF THIS ONE FEATURE!!!

So that’s my mind spoken on the subject of current television shopping.  If I missed anything, please feel free to let me know in the comments.

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