Choosing the best big-screen
TV for you -- Page 2
Another concern is
no one can really say how long plasmas will last, which is a factor if you're
sinking thousands into a purchase. Like LCDs, plasmas will also gradually lose
brightness over time, he says.
In addition, the sets can
have problems with burned-in images if similar pictures or graphics stay on the
screen for a prolonged period, so they are not recommended for video games
or 24/7 use. Still, weigh the options. The problem of burn-in is "played
up too much," says Greenberg. "Obviously, it's worrisome for someone
who's spending $5,000 to $6,000 for a television."
Two things that
aren't widely known: The sets are extremely heavy and generate lots of heat, says
Heim. As a result, "you probably need to have a professional install them,"
he says. In addition, some makers sell the tuner separately, so you need to add
that to the tab.
And beware of plasma sets that aren't high definition,
says Greenberg. "I don't recommend $2,000 to $3,000 non-high definition plasmas,"
he says. "That's not a very good value." For big-screen value in that
range, look at rear-projection high-definition sets, he says.
These are the sets you see in sports bars. They're not
as thin as flat panel, but LCD and DLP versions are much thinner than conventional
sets. Gives the size of plasma and nearly the clarity. Here's a run-down of some
CRT: "This is the defacto technology that's been used for the
past 10 years," says Greenberg. These are the "bigger, bulkier style"
of rear-projection sets, he says. Prices range from $1,000 up to $4,000, and high
definition versions "start at $1,200," he says.
quality "especially for a high-definition version, is very good," says
Greenberg. "In some ways it's even better than LCD or DLP quality."
Great contrast and will render natural black.
LCD: While these don't come in a flat-panel version, they are much slimmer
than the traditional CRTs, "so you can shove it against a wall," says
The main advantage is the huge screen size for
the money, says Greenberg, who considered this technology "the biggest bang
for the buck." Prices range from $1,000 to $6,000. Screens are available
as large as five feet. And quality doesn't necessarily mean most-expensive. Greenberg
tested one 61-inch model that retailed for $2,800. "You'd think it was plasma."
advantage is no burn-in problems, so it's better for video games than other technologies.
disadvantage is that as good as the picture can be it's "not quite as sharp
and detailed as plasma," Greenberg says. Again, it's LCD, so it doesn't show
black and can lose brightness over time. Also, sets contain a bulb that has to
be replaced every year or two, he says. Cost: $250 to $500.
DLP: Digital light processing sets are similar to LCD microdisplays
in strengths and weaknesses. Also slimmer and lighter than CRTs. Will not render
pure black. As with LCD sets, you have to replace expensive bulbs occasionally.
LCDs and DLPs, which technology has the edge? "DLPs have a lower resolution
than LCDs, so the picture may not look quite as sharp if you were able to compare
it side to side," says Heim. "And they are more expensive: $3,500 to
Greenberg doesn't agree. "You can get
equivalent performance," he says. "Neither has it over the other in
terms of resolution or picture quality. It really depends upon the individual
This is not your high school teacher's film projector. The new projectors,
whether CRT, LCD or DLP, throw a picture on the wall just as big as you want it.
And while the price has come down, the quality has gone up. It's still not the
most practical option for everyday use, so these sets are more the purview of
the home theater aficionado.
The market is "really moving away from the CRT technology," says
Greenberg. The reason: they require regular maintenance. "Even the best units
need to be continually reconverged and recalibrated," he says. But the advantages
are the same that you'd find with any CRT product: great contrast, true black
and a terrific picture. Prices run from $2000 up to $15,000.
projector: You can get a very small set that throws a very large
picture. "Some very high-end ones, and some entry-level ones, are the size
of a couple of paperback books," says Greenberg. Unlike CRTs, they are very
low maintenance and require no calibrating.
The picture quality
is similar to other LCD sets. Prices run from $1,000 to $10,000.
projector: Advantages are similar to LCDs projectors, with the same
low maintenance requirement. They tend to cost a little more, running from $1,500
to $25,000. Picture quality is similar to other DLP sets.
Now that you've selected the type of television you
want, how about some of the new features?
screen: Strictly a matter of preference, but techies definitely
seem to prefer the wide screen. "If you're spending more than $500 on a TV
it should be a wide-screen," says Greenberg. "That's where the industry
Heim agrees. For people who want to get a big-screen
high-end television, "going for the wide screen makes sense," he says.
The downside is that if you're watching something that's not
in wide-screen format, you will notice black or gray bars on the sides of the
screen where there is no picture. Or many sets have an optional feature called
"stretch mode," which expands the images on the sides of the screen
to fit the format, says Greenberg. And while characters in the center of the screen
appear as they normally would, if they move to one side or the other, "they
look like they've gained 10 pounds," he says.
definition: "It can be compared to when TV went from black
and white to color," says Greenberg. "Whereas regular television looks
like television, high definition looks like you're looking through a window."
you might see:
- Integrated high definition: Everything
you need to capture a high definition picture is in the box. The most sensible
and usually the most expensive option, says Heim.
ready: "Tells you you're going to have to spend money later for a high-definition
tuner," says Heim.
- EDTV: Stands for "enhanced definition
television." Not the quality of high definition, but a little better than
the normal picture. "If I want something better than regular
TV, I would rather go all the way and get high definition," says Heim. "This
is a compromise, and I'm not sure it's going to last very long."
also need to do a little homework on the signal you're getting, says Andy Pargh,
co-author of "The Gadget Guru's Guide to the Best." Just because you
have a digital box or satellite dish doesn't mean that you are getting a high-definition
signal. If you need to upgrade the receiver, you want to know that before you
buy, he says.
Get what you pay for
The best way to get a good buy? Still the shoe-leather approach.
biggest mistake consumers make is "going by the specs," says Greenberg.
Instead, he recommends bringing a live-action DVD movie that you've seen several
times. Watch portions of that on your top choices and see how it looks. "You
will instantly know whether this TV is doing it for you," he says. And if
the store balks, walk.
"It's like test-driving a car,"
Greenberg says. "You will not know if a car's for you until you get behind
the wheel and drive it."
is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.