Know pros and cons of those big TVs before spending big bucks
By ANDREW WINEKE THE GAZETTE
You’ve got four days left before the Super Bowl. You’ve invited the gang over and you want the party to be a hit. What can you do? Sure, a stocked fridge and an endless supply of chips and salsa are a start, but you need to start thinking big. Big, as in big screen. Big-screen television has gone through a revolution during recent years. It used to be that every TV was built around some variation of the venerable cathode-ray tube. Now, there are half a dozen competing systems. Everybody talks about plasma TVs, but plasma is just one of a raft of technologies making it ever more difficult to tear yourself away from the tube (assuming your new TV even has a tube). Alphabet-soup technologies such as LCD, LCoS and DLP are better and cheaper than ever before. Of course, in another year, they’re likely to be better and cheaper yet, but prices have stabilized enough that it’s not a bad time to take the plunge. Part of the allure of these new technologies is being able to watch TV in high definition. HD offers up to seven times the resolution of conventional TV — you’ll be able to count the blades of grass sticking to Tom Brady’s helmet. It also gives a wider picture. (The Super Bowl, by the way, will be broadcast in HD on Fox.) If you are tempted to make an expensive impulse buy, keep in mind that to see the game, or anything else, in high definition, you’ll need to buy a TV with a built-in HD tuner, instead of one that’s an “HDTV monitor” or “HD Ready.” Or you can buy a separate HD tuner or get an HD receiver from Adelphia or one of the satellite TV services, but it might take a few weeks to set up. Here’s an overview of the technology, the sizes and a few tips to help you decide which TV will turn your couch into front-row seats. We’ve also found an example of each design costing about $2,500. Most big-screen buyers spend $2,000 to $3,000, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. If the thought of spending $2,500 on a car, much less a TV, gives you heart palpitations, you might want to load up on the chips and salsa instead. DIRECT VIEW TELEVISIONS Direct view television sets project the image directly to the viewer — no mirrors or lenses get in the way. Although the technologies differ, direct-view systems usually offer
the best overall picture quality, especially close-up. CRT How it works: The TV you own is probably a cathode ray tube. That’s not a bad thing, although older CRTs can’t show high-definition images. In a CRT, a gun fires a beam of electrons against a screen, causing a phosphorous coating on the screen to shoot off photons, producing the image. Pros: Sharp, bright images, inexpensive. The best picture for the least money. Cons: Very, very heavy (more than 200 pounds for the largest sizes), thick (although if you can wait, manufacturers are working on thinner models), limited range of sizes. Some high-definition CRTs still have square screens, meaning high-definition images (which are rectangular) will be letterboxed. Common sizes: 27-40 inches Price range: $500-$1,500 Example: 36-inch Toshiba Flat Screen HDTV Monitor, $1,499, Target LCD How it works: A liquidtal display TV is just a big version of the screens used in laptop computers. Small fluorescent bulbs shine through a sandwich of liquid crystals placed between polarized panels. Applying a charge to a crystal forces it to bend, partially or totally blocking the light, creating light or dark spots and, with filters, color images. Pros: Thin (4 inches or less) and light, can be hung on a wall. Cons: Limited size range (45 inches is the biggest available, but larger sets are in development), very expensive, blacks and grays aren’t as deep as with some other technologies. Because of the circuits controlling each pixel, viewers can sometimes notice a “screen door” effect, where the image looks like it’s behind a fine mesh. Smaller units are often not high definition. Common sizes: 13-45 inches Price range: $600-$8,000 Example: 26-inch Panasonic LCD HDTV Monitor, $1,999, Best Buy Plasma How it works: Thousands of tiny cells inside the set contain neon and xenon gas. When an electric charge hits the gas, it ionizes and produces ultraviolet photons, which hit red, green or blue phosphorous-coated regions of the cell and produce visible light. Pros: Thin (4-6 inches), lightweight, biggest directview sets available, can be hung on a wall. Cons: Plasma screens might buzz noticeably at higher altitudes, including Colorado Springs. Static images such as video games or channel logos can “ghost” or burn in over time, meaning an after-image is permanently etched onto the TV. Many less expensive plasma sets offer lower resolution than true HDTV. Common sizes: 37-70 inches Price range: $1,500-$10,000 Example: 37-inch Panasonic Plasma Widescreen EDTV (one step below HDTV) $2,499, SoundTrack REAR-PROJECTION TELEVISIONS Rear-projection sets generate the image internally and then project it onto a screen. Projection TVs deliver bigger pictures for less money than direct-view sets, but there is a trade-off in terms of brightness, limited-viewing angles and in the thickness of the set. CRT rear projection These are the big-screen TVs most of us are familiar with. They use three cathode ray tubes in red, green and blue to project images to a mirror and then onto the screen. Pros: Much less expensive than other technologies and come in large sizes. Cons: Huge and heavy. Picture quality can degrade if CRTs aren’t aligned. Static images can burn in. Common sizes: 40-70 inches Price: $1,000-$5,000 Example: 65-inch Mitsubishi HDTV Monitor, $2,299, Sears DLP How it works: Digital light projection uses an array of microscopic, pivoting mirrors to reflect light into a pattern of pixels. The image is then sent through a spinning color wheel and bounced off a mirror to the screen. Pros: Excellent blacks and grays, large range of sizes. Relatively thin (8-20 inches) and light (less than 100 pounds). Cons: The color wheel can cause a rainbow effect on some images and might cause eye strain in a small percentage of viewers. Common sizes: 46-82 inches Price range: $2,500-$7,000 Example: 44-inch LG DLP Projection TV HDTV Monitor, $2,499, Circuit City LCD rear projection How it works: Light reflects off three mirrors and through three LCD panels, is recombined, bounces off a mirror and to the screen. Pros: Thin (about 17-20 inches for most sizes) and lightweight. Cons: Blacks and contrast may not be as good as CRTs and DLPs. Common sizes: 42-70 inches Price range: $2,300-$7,000 Example: 42-inch Sony Grand WEGA LCD Projection HDTV, $2,299, Sound Shop LCoS How it works: Liquid crystal on silicon (along with Sony’s similar SXRD technology and JVC’s D-ILA system) is sort of a combination of LCD and DLP. Like LCDs, LCoS uses a panel of liquid crystals that bend when a charge is applied, but, like DLP, the crystals reflect light rather than pass it through, giving a brighter image and better contrast. Pros: Excellent contrast, quickest response time, highest resolution available. Cons: Still an emerging technology, so there are fewer manufacturers and models to choose from. Common sizes: 52-70 inches Price range: $3,500-$10,000 Example: 52-inch JVC D-ILA HDTV, $3,500, Listen-Up Audio and Video FRONT-PROJECTION TELEVISIONS Front projection is like the guts of a rear projection TV without the screen or case. It works much like a movie projector, shining the image onto a screen. Most front-projection units are LCDs or DLPs and have the same pros and cons as their rear-projection brethren. Pros: Biggest picture available, 110 inches — or more. You can get a huge picture without taking up a lot of physical space in the room. Takes “home theater” to a new level. Cons: Most need a darkened room to get the best picture. A separate screen is required, which adds to the cost. Cheaper units often offer lessthan-HDTV resolution. Standard definition TV images can look really bad blown up to that size. You have to have somewhere to mount the projection unit, usually on the ceiling. Price range: $1,500 and up Example: Mitsubishi Colorview DLP Home Theater Projector, $2,999, Best Buy
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE - Spend enough of your hard-earned money on new TV technology and you just might feel like the action is right there in your living room. Our model is Vicki Rae Snider; television and location courtesy of ListenUp downtown.