LCD or PLASMA for dummies 1.0

How to choose a flat-panel TV

These days, everyone wants to buy a new flat-panel TV. Not only do they look great in the living room, they also take up a lot less space than traditional CRT TVs while offering larger screen sizes, making them ideal for the modern home entertainment system. While early flat-panel TVs were known to suffer from certain performance issues and were priced at a premium, technological improvements and rapidly decreasing prices have made them a popular choice over other types of displays such as CRTs, projectors and projection TVs. But with so many new models and such a dizzying array of features to consider, finding the ideal TV for your living room can be confusing

 

The space you have

Generally, TV panels 32-inch or larger are recommended for the main living room. Anything smaller is usually more suited for the bedroom, study room or even kitchen. If you are planning to buy a full-HD TV, you will need to get at least a 42-inch LCD or 50-inch plasma panel

Your viewing requirements

Know your distance:
The viewing distance is usually measured between the TV and couch. The optimal viewing distance for a widescreen TV is usually about 1.5 to three times its diagonal screen size. For example, a 42-inch TV is best viewed from a distance of between 5.3-10.5ft. Anything closer, and the picture quality will look poor. Anything further, and the image becomes too small and the immersive experience lost. Note that a range, rather than a definite distance, is given as it also depends on individual preference as well as the type of video content you are viewing. Best Buy has a reference guide for both standard flat panels and HDTVs. DTV City has a calculator if you want to work backward and calculate the screen size based on the viewing distance you have.

Screen size

Suggested max. viewing distance

32-inch

8ft (standard) | 6.67ft (HDTV)

37-inch

9.25ft (standard) | 7.75ft (HDTV)

42-inch

10.5ft (standard) | 8.75ft (HDTV)

50-inch

12.5ft (standard) | 10.42ft (HDTV)

 

LCD vs. plasma:
This is one of the most common dilemmas faced by first-time buyers when purchasing a flat-panel TV. Both plasma and LCD TVs generally produce good picture quality and seemingly offer similar feature sets. However, there are pros and cons to each TV technology. Over the years, manufacturers have resolved (to a certain extent) some of the issues that have plagued earlier panels. For instance, plasma TVs now have features such as pixel orbiting to reduce the burn-in effects. On the other hand, LCD panels are now rated with faster refresh rates, thereby minimizing the potential for motion blur during fast action scenes. Some LCD panels have also narrowed the gap significantly with plasmas in producing deeper black images.

 

LCD

  • Wide range of screen sizes from 15 to over 60 inches
  • Available in 1080p full-HD resolution at smaller sizes
  • Relatively thinner and lighter, easier to install
  • Uses less energy than plasma
  • Limited viewing angle compared to plasmas
  • May have stuck (or dead) pixels
  • Potential for motion blur

Plasma

  • Known to produce deeper blacks than LCD
  • Better at handling fast-motion images
  • Better contrast and brightness than LCDs
  • Available in larger sizes only, from 40 to over 60 inches
  • May suffer burn-in effects
  • Generally lower resolution than similar-sized LCD
  • Glass surface reflects light
  • Runs hotter, needs ventilation space around

Full-HD or not?:
HD or High Definition simply refers to the display resolution set by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) for TV broadcasts. There are three main HD formats currently found in flat-panel TVs: 720p, 1080i and 1080p. All are widescreen formats, meaning a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the traditional 4:3 ratio on regular TV screens. The 720 refers to the number of lines of horizontal resolution, while the p and i denote progressive and interlace scan, respectively.

HD format

Resolution

Horizontal lines

Scan type

720p

1,280 x 720

720 lines

Progressive

1080i

1,920 x 1,080

1,080 lines

Interlaced

1080p

1,920 x 1,080

1,080 lines

Progressive

Naturally, the more lines, the better. And progressive is preferred over interlace scans. Most flat-panel TVs today are capable of 720p and 1080i resolution, which are generally good enough for most panels below 42 inches. 1080p, which is often known as full-HD, offers the best resolution of the trio. It is best viewed on TVs larger than 46 inches. Most people these days are looking for full-HD panels to complement their HD devices such as a Blu-ray player and PS3 gaming console, or to double as a PC monitor. But 1080p panels are not cheap. For that reason, the majority of users are sticking to 720p and 1080i panels which are relatively more affordable.

Other features:
Here are some key features to look out for.

  • Connectivity: In addition to the standard connectivity ports such as component, composite and S-video, most LCDs and plasmas today also come with at least one HDMI port, the latest digital interface that carries both audio and video in one cable. With increasingly more HDMI-enabled devices in the market, this is one connectivity option that you’ll want to have, especially if you plan to jump onto the HD bandwagon. Higher-end TV models currently sport up to three (and soon four) onboard HDMI ports. You may also want to look out for TVs that offer a VGA port if you plan to hook up your PC to the TV. The thing to remember here is, the TV you choose should support the connectivity ports that let you connect directly to the other A/V devices in your home entertainment setup.
  • Native vs. dynamic contrast: Contrast ratio is the measurement of the difference between the darkest black and whitest white of a TV display. A high contrast ratio usually denotes that the TV can deliver deeper black levels. This, in turn, means more shadow details and better picture quality. However, this may not be true all the time. We’d still recommend comparing panels side-by-side if possible to determine the color accuracy and details of the TV. Note that manufacturers like to associate their TVs with exaggerated contrast ratio figures, but these often refer to dynamic contrast ratio which is the difference between the white and black parts under dynamic backlighting conditions. To avoid being misled, make sure you look at the native contrast ratio when making comparisons.
  • Remote control: Most consumers underestimate the importance of a remote control unit when buying a TV. The fact is that a badly designed remote can make it a pain to use, so try out the remote control, too. A good unit should be comfortable to press and its buttons intuitively laid out and labeled. Increasingly, TV vendors are bundling remote controls that can double as universal remotes for other devices. Check to see if these remotes work with just same-brand products or across all brands. TVs that support HDMI-CEC also let you control compatible devices linked to the panel via HDMI, but this is usually restricted to devices under the same brand.
  • Built-in memory card slots: Many flat-panel TVs today offer integrated memory card slots which let you playback multimedia content stored on the various flash memory formats. This function is often used for sharing JPEG images taken with a digital camera or for listening to MP3 music, though you will find that some new TV models also support video playback.

Your budget

Obviously, the bigger the budget you have, the larger the screen you can buy. It’s that simple. There are some cases where you can expect to pay (sometimes, significantly) more for better features such as a higher-resolution 1080p full-HD panel, built-in digital tuner and integrated hard drive recorder. Several TV makers have also started introducing a designer range, which typically will cost more than standard models. LCD TVs are known to offer the best value in terms of price and quality for screen sizes below 42 inches, while the same can be said for 50-inch and larger HDTV plasma panels. Most people nowadays are looking at panels of between 32 and 42 inches due to their relatively affordable pricing. Larger panels are still priced at a slight premium.

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