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December 03, 2005

HDTV UPDATE: Reader Thomas Wharton emails:

Any progress on an HDTV search? Your posts from March mentioned the waiting game, have you or are you closer to making a move?

This could be the season for my wife and I, but information overload keeps me from pulling the trigger. We are of modest means so a good old CRT seems our best option.

Any info would be appreciated.

I'm afraid I'm still waffling. However, I was at Circuit City the other day with the InstaWife, and looked at the HDTV display, and was much more impressed with the quality of the pictures that I saw than the last time I did so. I don't think this is because the TVs were better, necessarily, but because Circuit City was doing a better job of getting a high-quality HDTV signal to each one.

If you've got the room, and you don't want something absolutely huge, CRTs are still a good deal. I'd really like one of these, or even (thinking bigger still) one of these, but I'm still surfing the price-performance curve.

Anybody got any suggestions for Mr. Wharton?

Meanwhile, while I was at Circuit City I did see Sony's new super-compact HD camcorder, which is just amazingly small for its quality and felt good in my hand, though I didn't really get a chance to try it out. That's another one I'm holding off on (we've got enough video equipment as it is), but if I had a new baby and anticipated shooting miles of video right now I'd consider it, as that's going to be the new standard.

And while I'm on the subject of TV-related stuff, let me whine just a bit. I've got one of these Sony DVD players. It was fairly inexpensive, but what I like is the almost iPod-like front-panel control setup, which makes it easy to control without a remote. (Click on "larger image" to see what I mean). It's discontinued, and I can't find that on the newer models. I guess Sony (and other manufacturers) want to save a buck or two by not putting that kind of functionality on the front, but I really like that. I hate appliances, TVs or whatever, that can only be run by a remote control. And I actually think it's a mistake for manufacturers to pursue a rock-bottom price point on this stuff. DVD players have gotten so cheap that I doubt a few dollars' price makes much difference, and -- to me at least, and probably to others -- an easy user interface is worth a lot. It's disappointing to see how often manufacturers miss that.

More thoughts on that subject here and here.

UPDATE: Reader Rick Giovanelli emails:

Check out the Panasonic HDTV plasmas -- TH-xx50U, where xx is for the size -- 37, 42 or 50. Consumer Reports and CNET both have it very highly rated. The 42 inch is available at Best Buy for under $3000, and you can probably finance it for free for 12-18 months, which makes it not much more expensive than a fully-loaded cable bill. Samsung DLP seems to be the next best option, moving down the cost-curve, but this Panasonic is really fantastic. I've had it for less than a month and it's already incredibly disappointing when the football game I want to see isn't on in HD.

As for DVD players, I feel your pain. Most of the new ones don't have the dang "enter" button on the front, so you have to find the remote simply to play a DVD. It's ridiculous -- something's got to give. It makes you really appreciate the Disney Fast Play feature that you noted a while back. Either DVDs need to be set up to automatically play, or you've got to give me a way to make them play from the unit itself.

Yeah, these people need to think about, you know, the user. Some readers warn that Samsung is among the less reliable HDTV manufacturers in their experience. I never know how much to make of stats like that, given that different models can vary widely in reliability anyway.

Reader Tom Provost emails:

I just bought this one a couple of months ago: Link

and I could not be happier. I am a total movie nerd (I work in film) and the picture with both DVD's and, say, watching football or 'Lost' in high def, is simply incredible.

I also like it because only one set of cords comes from the back, to a separate box all your other devices plug in; you can situate the box somewhere you can access easily.

That's nice, I guess. (See Tom's film company website here). Meanwhile, Kevin Murphy emails:

One of the odd things about HDTV is how abysmal most of them are at regular NTSC display. The new 1080p sets are generally no better than the old ones. Now, in a perfect HDTV world this wouldn't matter, but so much programming, especially non-network and live, remains 480i. I was particularly disappointed in the Sharp 1080p LCD set you link, as well as the new 1080p Mitsubishi DLP sets which are, if anything, worse.

If you really want to test a set for NTSC display, ask the salesguy to put up an NTSC basketball game. Seems to be the utter torture test of the set's scaler. Football will work, too. The salesguy will, of course, not want to do it, mainly because he knows most of the sets are mediocre to horrid at live action 480i.

Only one set was A-rated at NTSC by Consumer Reports: The Panasonic 50" plasma TH-50PX50U. Some say the new Sony 1080p SXRD set is pretty good. I've not seen either in that mode, however.

All HDTV sets seem to show HDTV and DVDs fairly well. And that's really all they want to show you at the store.

Go figure. Reader David Barlin wants to help:

Good afternoon and happy holidays from a long time reader.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Wharton - my company has a new site that makes product recommendations for people suffering from information overload - www.activebuyersguide.com.

Our engine asks 4 or 5 questions about how the visitor wants to use a product, and then suggests products that best match what the visitor needs.

Right now we have these active buying guides for two types of products:

Televisions: Link

Digital Cameras: Link

Then, like many other sites, we offer a comparison pricing engine so the visitor can find the best price.

Just thought Mr. Wharton and your readers might find it a useful tool.

He might! I tried it out and found it hard to navigate by preferred screen size, but it does have some useful information.

MORE: James Lileks emails:

That Sony HD camera is sweet indeed; I've been using it since August. The difference between the HD camcorder and the low-res predecessors is stunning, - instead of seeing trees, you see trees and leaves; instead of lawns, you see blades of grass. Also, nose hairs and small, indelible wine stains. But it's still worth it.

Apple's entry-level movie-editing app, iMovie, handles HD, so anyone can start making crappy, plotless home movies with a heretofore unimagined level of detail. Provided they have the storage space - one hour of HD, edited, takes up about 75 GB.

You'll need some of those terabyte external hard drives, I guess. And reader Billy Earle emails:

I've dealt with various flat tv/monitor technology over the past eight years. Along with being a video producer, I've also ben charged with selecting flat monitors for displays, etc. for Georgia's Technical College System and various other departments across the state.

This is what those eight years have taught me:

CRT - old technology but a perfected technology. CRT tv's are sharp, reliable and last a long time. Great angle of view. They're heavy and take up space. They do not suffer from burn in. Bright.

Plasma - suffer burn-in quite easily, regardless of what the marketing says. Poor angle of view. Average life - five years if you are an average television watcher. Getting brighter.

LCD - this technology has great potential. Image retention is a problem (it's very close to burn in). For the most part, image retention can be corrected. Average life is five to seven years for the average tv watcher. Bright.

DLP - If you want to go big, go DLP. No burn-in, no image retention. Great angle of view. Bright. I would strongly suggest the Toshiba Cinema Series DLP sets. Great boxes. They have a black border around the screen which, visually, increases the brightness. Down side is having to replace the lamp.

Personally, I wouldn't own a big (larger than 20") LCD or Plasma television as I've seen too many of them after real world use and the picture just doesn't hold up in real world use.

Look for a set that can display 1920x1080 - that is true HD resolution. If you're paying for HD (cable, the terrestrial receiver cost, etc.) you may as well be able to display it natively.

For me, I'm gonna get the biggest 1920X1080 CRT I can find - or get that sweet Toshiba Cinema Series DLP. Unless you don't mind replacing a $2K TV in five years, I'd skip the LCD and Plasma until the technology has matured a bit.

-CAVEAT- I am a video producer/still photographer so my judgement regarding a good quality image display may be too anal for most.

So noted. And several readers have found the CNET reviews helpful.

Several readers also like the Audio Video Science Forum.

And if you're looking for an excuse to wait, you can always hold out for SED TV.

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