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Why I'm not buying a High Def TV (yet)


Some material is very old and may be incorrect today

© November 2008 Anthony Lawrence

My father often told the story of buying a stereo system sometime back in the late 50's. A good stereo system was a fairly expensive proposition back then but my Dad wasn't one to spend money foolishly. He therefore arranged for a demonstration where the salesperson exercised ever more expensive choices. When my father could no longer discern any difference in the sound quality, he figured there was no reason to spend any more money, and that's the system he bought.

I feel the same way about HDTV. We'd like to get one someday, if for no other reason than to have something less bulky sitting in our living room. My wife has other reasons: she thinks the picture quality is wonderful. Of course most of the world agrees with her on that point. "You see the most incredible detail!" is the most common gushing endorsement from friends who have already made this purchase.

Well, I hate to be a spoil sport, but I do NOT see that "incredible detail". I walk by the displays in BJ's and other stores and I can see that some certainly have better color than others, but detail? They all look the same to me and really they don't seem much better than the TV we have now.

Oh, I'm sure that if I put one side by side with our present TV that I could tell which was which even if all I could see was the screens. But really it just doesn't jump out at me: I'm not wowed.

Of course I do have horrible vision. I'm something around 20/400 uncorrected with severe astigmatism. Thick glasses make the world fairly normal for me, but my world is never sharp and crisp. The old TV we have isn't all that much more "fuzzy" than my normal experience of the world, so HDTV really can't offer me much.

You'd think that my wife would be clamoring for this upgrade as her vision is sharp. I guess her Yankee frugality is pretty close to mine: she'll be ready to spend when the prices are rock bottom. Her idea of a good sale is 70% off and then another 50% off that.. no retail for her! With her unwilling to spend much of anything and my not caring much about HDTV to start with, I think our big old box will be sitting where it is until it dies a natural death.

So, 1080p, 1080i, lcd, plasma: we don't care. We're not ready to buy and probably won't be ready until 32 inch units break $300.00. That may not be too far way, especially if the holiday shopping season is as bad as it looks right now. But we can wait..


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Mon Nov 24 15:01:59 2008: 4805   BigDumbDinosaur


Well, I hate to be a spoil sport, but I do NOT see that "incredible detail".

The detail is better -- after all, the number of pixels per inch of screen is greater than on a conventional (NTSC) TV set -- but I certainly wouldn't call it incredible. The higher resolution is nice, but with a lot of LCD sets it comes at the expense of color accuracy, also typical of many LCD computer monitors. One thing I have noted is that the demo units in the stores typically have the color level set close to saturation, which tends to blur out the individual pixels and give the appearance of resolution that isn't actually there.

I was in a "big box" store recently and happened to walk past the area where TVs were on display. The nicest picture I saw was being displayed by a 32 inch CRT model, which happened to be fitted with HD technology. This set's color was superior to every LCD set in the place. Only the plasma units exhibited comparable color quality -- they should, considering the price! Other than size, the LCD models had nothing to offer over the CRT unit and, in fact, looked almost artificial in comparison.

Like Tony, I'm not in any rush to buy a new TV. The Zenith CRT unit we have right now still has a great picture and since I have been watching NTSC broadcasts since the early 1950s, I am completely acclimated to the presence of scan lines.

We're not ready to buy and probably won't be ready until 32 inch units break $300.00. That may not be too far way, especially if the holiday shopping season is as bad as it looks right now.

My rep at a well-known video monitor manufacturer says that prices will probably crash after February 17, as that is when the mandated transition from analog to digital broadcasting will occur and most sales of HD sets related to the change will have already occurred. Stores will then be eager to dispose of inventory that they didn't sell before the transition. However, I'd be leery of a 300 dollar 32 inch unit. The manufacturing of LCD displays is a complicated process that has resisted cost reduction. The low price on a cheap LCD model comes at the expense of picture quality. Slow response and dead pixels are also common problems with the cheap models. You only get what you pay for, as usual.



Mon Nov 24 15:22:11 2008: 4807   jtimberman


I wasn't convinced for awhile, especially due to the cost. I too didn't see the great quality difference at the big box stores. More on that in a minute.

Then a friend of mine got one, a 50" Samsung DLP (rear projection). It looked *great* in comparison to what I had (27" trinitron), and what I had seen in stores. He also had a home theater PC hooked up, and showed off some games. I was convinced :-).

I got the newer model Samsung DLP[1] (LED instead of lamp) last year and we love it. Standard def DVD's look fantastic, as the HTPC does upscaling through Windows Media Center. I have an over-the-air antenna plugged into the HTPC as well, and we enjoy the HD presentation of our favorite shows. We're very satisfied with the purchase, and the only actual HD content we get is local TV programming (we don't have cable).

The problem with the demos at the big box stores is they often aren't actually set up correctly. The Best Buy and Circuit City near me have Blu-Ray demos, but the Blu-Ray player isn't actually hooked up to the TV! The Best Buy had a DVD hooked up (via component RGB cable), and the Circuit City had theirs on a local OATV circuit. If there's a home theater specialty store in your area, you'll have a better time finding a proper setup, one that might be able to wow you :-).

What amuses me even more is the displays that are running standard def DVDs and they don't even have an upscaling player attached! Oops. Then there's the thousands of people who buy the TV, they might even buy an upscaling player, but then they go home and hook up just the two and don't even have surround sound. One half of the HDTV equation is the picture, the other half is that all the HD sources bring 5.1+ surround sound.

[1] It was $1450 on Amazon then, a newer model is available for $1080 now.



Mon Nov 24 15:23:24 2008: 4808   TonyLawrence

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Oh, definitely: when I say "break $300.00" I'm not talking about the $500.00 units reaching that price: I mean when the stuff currently selling for $1,500.00 gets down where it should be :-)



Mon Nov 24 15:25:59 2008: 4809   jtimberman


I personally would (and did) avoid LCD or Plasma. They're generally higher price for comparable quality. I've actually seen the larger model of my TV (56") set up next to a comparable size LCD AND plasma, and the DLP looked better, and cost far less than the other two. Guess which they try to sell you?



Mon Nov 24 17:13:23 2008: 4810   BigDumbDinosaur


I really don't care. I don't watch enough TV for it to matter as to how many pixels I'm viewing or whether the audio system's frequency response extends in a dog's hearing range. I'm not sufficiently enamored with the current crop of HD TVs to rush out and get one. Other than the larger screen, I see nothing of interest to me.

As long as our 27 inch Zenith CRT unit keeps producing a reasonable picture and sound keeps coming out the front I'll continue to watch it. We're on cable, so the analog-digital issue is a non-issue. When the old Zenith finally dies I'll step up to more modern technology.



Sat Oct 9 09:30:01 2010: 9036   TonyLawrence

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It's now late 2010 and we still have not bought a HDTV.

Never say never, but honestly this is extremely low on my radar. The only thing that would get us to do this in the foreseeable future is if our old TV just broke down.

One thing that could send us shopping sooner is Roku - (link) - if they go belly up, we'd be looking for a new TV the next day.



Sat Oct 9 23:27:51 2010: 9039   BigDumbDinosaur

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When the old Zenith finally dies I'll step up to more modern technology.

The old Zenith finally went kaput after some 10 years and it had nothing to do with age. In April of last year our idiot next door neighbor was doing a "suck 'n puff." That is, she was smoking and using oxygen at the same time. She succeeded in starting her living room on fire and it spread to our unit via part of the roof. The old Zenith, which was down stairs in the family room, literally got hosed. Water was running out of the ceiling and into the TV. Needless to say, it was ruined (as was the small 21 inch Zenith in the spare bedroom).

As luck would have it, one of the parts distributors with which we do business was offering such a deal on 42 inch Panasonic 1080p plasma units. The price, including shipping, was about what I paid for the old 27 inch Zenith, so it was a no-brainer.

The plasma picture is very sharp and when on a station that broadcasts in high definition, there is a noticeable improvement in clarity. On analog cable channels, the picture quality is no better than an analog CRT unit, but still better than an LCD TV.

For the spare bedroom, I got a 26 inch Toshiba LCD unit. It's okay as a second TV but I wouldn't want to watch it every day. The colors look fake.

Like Tony, I still don't see where the difference between analog NTSC and digital HD is enough to justify the prices being charged for this stuff. However, since our next door whack-job's insurance bought us a new TV, no reason to scrimp!

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