A locus for eccentrics (hopefully)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Televised Revolution

On El Jefe's request, here are my thoughts on how to piss a shitload of money away on a high-definition television:

(in progress!)


Technically, there are four different types of HD TV: CRT, DLP, LCD and plasma. CRT TVs have the same picture tube as a traditional television. This means that they're heavy as hell and only available up to ~30" screen sizes, and have been surpassed in price-to-performance for even those smaller displays. DLP is a dark-horse candidate; it has good picture quality and scales much more readily to large screen sizes than either plasma or LCD. However, it does take up quite a bit more real estate on account of not having a flat screen; it also produces visual artifacts for some users (a twirling, "color wheel" effect). That issue has become less salient as DLP sets have moved onto LCD mirrors.

While DLP certainly has its applications, most potential HD TV consumers want to bring the sexy back with a flat screen, which means plasma or LCD.

LCD screens typically cost a bit more than plasma, but they also tend to have higher resolutions. They also, historically, have higher latency between frame updates. This means that, for applications with fast-moving objects (sports and video games), you might see "trails" or some smearing. Some name-brand LCDs, such as Samsungs, have a discrete "game mode" that will reduce that latency. LCDs trail plasma displays in contrast ratio, or the ability to show bright colors vs. dark colors in the same environment. They also are immune to "burn-in," or artifacts produced by static images over long periods of time, which brings us to...

Plasmas, which (in my experience) do a better job of producing bright, vibrant color, but at the expense of the risk of burn-in. The two big name-brand plasma developers, Panasonic and Pioneer, produce displays that--if the Intartubes are to be believed--are no more prone to burn-in than traditional CRTs. That said, it's still a possibility, and unfortunately it's a possibility that is extremely hard to estimate, particularly over the lifespan of a $1500 investment. They do better with sports, but then video games frequently have the static displays you'd be most worried about in terms of burn-in.

For what it's worth, when I faced this decision myself I ended up going with a 42" Panasonic plasma, purchased from CostCo (model TH-42PX6U). For me, plasma consisently produced a better image than LCDs in all the store displays I saw. I've had it for almost 9 months and haven't seen any evidence of burn-in; at the same time, I always worry about it in the back of my mind when I watch letterboxed content.


1080P, Sony tells us, is the One True HD specification. The reality is that the standards bodies define three HD standards: 720P, 1080I and 1080P. The number in each refers to the lines of vertical resolution. Since HDTVs nowadays are all shaped on a 16:9 aspect ratio, this equates to resolutions of 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080. I and P refer to interlaced versus progressive-scan output; progressive-scan writes all of the lines of resolution to the screen at the same time, while interlaced writes odd- and even-numbered lines in alternating cycles. For this reason, 720P content is usually more visually attractive than 1080I, even though the latter technically displays more information.

Your choice as a consumer, then, is whether to buy a 720P or 1080P native resolution display. Panels with 1920x1080 pixels are, of course, more expensive. It's not clear whether or not that expense worth it. HD television programming is only available in 720p / 1080i, and HD video game consoles render internally at 720p. Furthermore, for most room dimensions you won't be able to perceive the difference in resolution -- see this comparison.


Blogger steve said...

Good post. I gave my brother some inadequate advice about it and then referred him to you.

9:18 PM

Blogger Jefe said...

Cool man, I appreciate this. Useful info, especially the 720p v. 1080p conundrum.

3:22 PM


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