Home theaters: The skinny on high definition TVs
With the Feb. 17 deadline looming when television stations will switch exclusively to digital signals, many consumers are looking to upgrade their home theaters with a spanking new flat-screen HDTVs. Holiday sales make the switch even more attractive.
But a walk down the television aisles of any large electronics store can be overwhelming.
Answering just a few questions will help narrow your choices, according to Daniel Plunkett, sales associate in the home theater department of Best Buy in Indian Hills.
What size do you need?
What level of picture resolution do you need, 720p (p stands for progressive scans) or 1080p?
Do you want plasma or LCD (liquid crystal display) format?
To determine size, consider how far your viewing couch or chair is from the TV. The enhanced picture on high definition televisions means you don’t need to sit as close as with older analog sets, but you don’t want to be too far either.
“If it’s 10 or more feet, you’ll want a 50-inch or better set,” Plunkett said.
The picture quality of less expensive 720p models is better than analog televisions from years past. Broadcast, cable and satellite program top out at 720p resolution, so that might be all you need.
However, Plunkett recommends going with a 1080p because the resolution is detailed enough to keep up with new technology in games, blu-ray or other features of the future.
The decision between plasma or LCD may be the most complicated.
In general terms, “plasma tends to be more realistic,” Plunkett said. “LCD is more vibrant.”
However, the two technologies vary as to durability, power use, and even altitude.
Altitude can be a drawback to plasma. Most televisions are built at or near sea level. At high altitudes, the plasma gas expands and can vibrate and hum. Besides the irritating noise, it reduces the life of the set.
But don’t rule them out. In recent years, many manufacturers are making plasma televisions calibrated for high altitudes. The important thing is to ask.
Benefits to plasma include better contrast and detail in the picture and a better refresh rate (to better display rapid movements).
On the other hand, LCDs are lighter weight, use less power and tend to have a longer life.
If you watch TV in a well-lit room, the picture on an LCD is easier to see. In the dark, plasma is better.
Once you know what size, resolution and format you need, walk down the HDTV display aisles.
Look at the black and white balance and whether the picture can be seen from any angle. Bring in a familiar DVD and ask to play it so you can compare pictures.
“What looks best to you?” Plunkett said. “It’s really a personal preference.”