fulsome and I have recently been having discussions about him possibly buying a new TV. I’ve obviously got some experience in this department since I’ve bought 2 TV’s in my life (but have spent about half of it researching the purchasing of those 2 TV’s) and fulsome is obviously a cheap bastard.
Living in the SF area, fulsome has been hoping to procure one of those HDTV’s that the rich upper-crust discards like used tissues as new models come out. In this case, it involves sending me pictures of TV’s and asking me what I think about them.
I’m obviously coming from a different place them him when it comes to TV’s but I think we can all agree that we want the most bang for the buck.
So here’s a little bit of a primer about how you want to shop for an HDTV
What Kind of Box Is It?
With the intro of HDTV, people really started trying to use different kinds of sources for TV’s. In the old days, all TV’s were CRT based. Whether it was projection or direct view, everything came through the tubes.
Now though, we have not only CRT but also Plasma, LCD, LCoS, and DLP. Each has advantages and disadvantages which I’m obviously not going to detail all of here. There are plenty of places that do that better on the internet.
Important fact: almost all CRT TV’s can’t actually display a full 720p or 1080p pictures. Since the way that the CRT creates the images involves sequentially moving down the screen and creating each line, it’s difficult to get up to 720 lines on such a big display. That’s why most CRT’s native supoprt tops out at 480p and 1080i. Since 1080p is interlaced, it actually only has to update 540 lines every time which is not significantly higher than 480p (60 additionallines vs. 240 additional lines).
This isn’t to say that 1080i can’t provide you with a very nice picture, it’s just not going to get you that silky smooth 720 lines of progressively updated picture. Not having a native resolution mode for 720p doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t display a 720p sourced picture. Most newer TV’s include scaling to take a 720p image and upscale it to 1080i, you just need to be sure that you know which kind you are getting. This is particularly an issue with the PS3 since unlike the Xbox 360 it doesn’t have an internal scaler. If you have a PS3 game that maxes out at 720p and your TV doesn’t handle scaling, you’ll simply get a 480p picture which isn’t technically even HD.
Fixed pixel displays like LCD and plasma have a similar issue in that it used to be very difficult and expensive to create displays of a large size with the number of pixels required for HD resolutions. To look at this in terms of required resolutions, 720p would be 1280×720 pixels and 1080p would be 1920×1080 pixels.
Many LCD and Plasma TV’s that came out a couple years ago have what’s called ED (enhancd definition) picture. Lying somewhere between SD and HD, ED allowed customers to see the benefit of a higher definition signal without having to pay the full price that those screens demanded. Nowadays, cheaper LCD or plasma TV’s will come with a 720p or equivalent resoultions (maybe 1366×768 or something similar) but still not be 1080i/p native. The 1080p fixed pixel displays still command a premium when compared to the lower resoultion models.
The last class of HD boxes are really the rear projection sets. These use primarily LCD, LCoS or DLP technologies now (while older ones used the CRTs discussed earlier). They work mostly the same as their direct view (not projected) cousins. There are two technologies (LCoS and DLP) that don’t have direct view versions since they both work on reflected light but they are fixed pixel displays and work fundamentally the same way as LCD or plasmas.
The only thing to really worry about with projection TVs is the bulb life/brightness. As the set ages, the bulb loses some of its brightness and can eventually wear out. The manufacturer usually estimates how long the bulb should last and some TVs even include timers for figuring out how much you’ve used it. But at some point in its life span you’ll be spending $1-300 to replace the bulb. Backlights on LCDs can have similar issues but are much harder to replace.
One quick final note on DLP TV’s, some people say that they get headaches from watching DLP TV’s. This os due to the mirrors/rainbow effect that is caused by the DLP technology. It’s not very common but you might want to make sure that it doesn’t affect you before you buy one (or buy a TV from somewhere with a decent return policy).
Does It Include a Tuner?
It’s mandatory that all HDTV’s released now include a high definition tuner for decoding Over The Air (OTA) HD signals and most new HDTV’s also include a QAM tuner for getting unencrypted HD channels off of cable. Back in the dark days when HDTV’s were first coming out, this was not required.
That means if you’re looking to pick up an older HDTV, make sure it comes with a tuner. Otherwise you’ll need to make sure you have an external cable, satellite, OTA tuner, or TiVo box to hook up to the TV because otherwise it’s just showing you the same old analog signal you’ve had for years.
Starting in 2008 the US government will be giving out $40 vouchers towards the purchase of an external OTA tuner. This is designed to help those who have an older TV with no digital tuner get the necessary emergency and public broadcasting that they got on their earlier set. I don’t know exactly how this will work but if you want to wait that long you might be able to get the federal government to subsidize your TV habit.
What Connectors Does It Have?
HDTV picture can come over a couple different connectors. The most common one is the Component which is 3 separate coaxial cables for video only (each is a specific color: red, green, or blue). This should not be confused with Composite cables which are 3 cables with a yellow for video and then red and white for 2 channel audio. Composite is not HD capable.
The other HD inputs are RGB, which is the 15 pin connector that is used by your computer monitor and HDMI.
Of the 3, HDMI is pretty much the accepted standard going forward. It enables copy protection that the media companies are so fond of (HDCP), allows for straight digital signal, and enables the sending of both audio and video via the same cable.
There are different versions of HDMI with the most common being HDMI 1.2. As far as video is concerned, that’s probably the one you need to make sure you have. HDMI 1.3 supports a higher range of colors and some advanced audio options (7.1 uncompressed surround sound) but if you’re reading this, then you probably wouldn’t care or would already know this.
VGA and Component provide you with basically the same picture quality and they’re both analog. As such, media companies are not big fans of them since they could allow someone to extract the content that they so desperately want to sell you over and over again. Supposedly, at some point in the future there may be advanced copy control features that prevent you from sending HD TV shows or movies via that output but that probably won’t be happening any time in the future. Plus, you’d still be able to get HD signal from your computer or video game console.
The only major drawback with VGA or Component is that it’s hard to find boxes that support 1080p input via those connectors. If you really want 1080p you’ll probably have to go with HDMI (which would theoretically be ensuring the best picture quality anyway) and spend some money.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow I’ll try to go over a couple sample Craigslist entries and explain why you would or would not want to buy that specific TV.
Anyone who has more questions or noticed a glaring mistake in the post, please let me know.