Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why I'm Not Buying an HDTV Yet

   Working with video all the time, I should be an obvious owner of an HDTV set.  Alas, I'm not.  I've many times considered purchasing one but I just haven't been able to bring myself to pull the trigger yet.  Why not?  Let me explain why I'm not jumping in yet.

   First, no technology seems quite ready yet.  Each has a pretty substantial downside.  Second, there are still some changes coming that may effect the utility of what we're buying today.

   Let me run through the technologies quickly and explain why I'm not enamored with each one:

  • Rear projection - Almost all of the rear projection units on the market today require expensive bulbs that are changed out every few years.  I want something that can match my CRT and not require lots of maintenance.
  • DLP [Digital Light Projection]- Most DLPs on the market today are of the single-chip variety and use a spinning color wheel to generate the colors you see on the screen.  The problem with this is that, when things move quickly, you can sometimes spot a rainbow effect on the edges.  Like many video artifacts, once you see this, it's hard to stop noticing it.  DLP also has the bulb issue.
  • LCD projection [Liquid Crystal Display] - There is a fairly pronounced screen door effect unless you are back far enough.  What I mean by this is that you can pick out the individual pixels.  It is like watching TV on the other side of a screen door.  LCD projection has the bulb issue.
  • LCOS (SXRD/DILA) [Liquid Crystal on Silicon] - My favorite of the projection technologies.  It doesn't have any major shortcomings outside of the bulb issue.  It's still pretty pricey.
  • CRT [Cathode Ray Tube] - This is your traditional TV set.  Great technology but way too heavy in bigger screen sizes.
  • LCD - LCDs have very low contrast ratios and thus the dark areas of the screen all tend to blend together.  Trying to watch a night scene can be painful as all of the detail is lost.
  • Plasma - Plasma has one big drawback:  Burn In.  It is, by all reports, not as bad as it once was but it is still an issue.  Perhaps it isn't when watching TV but if you want to connect a computer or a game console, you have to be really careful.

   So nothing quite does what I want yet.  On top of that, there is talk of redesigning the HDMI connector.  HDCP (the encryption protocol for HDMI and DVI) is still unproven in my mind.  Each time I read an HDTV magazine, I hear about some cable box that won't talk to some TV.  Until this is rolled out on a bigger scale, I still worry that the connections will fail to work.  Finally, 1080p is a potentially interesting format.  Some screens (like SXRD) have 1080p native resolutions but they won't accept a 1080p signal yet.  They take a 1080i signal only.  I want to wait for them to start accepting the big signals.

For a whole lot of detail on the topic of HDTV, check out the AV Science Forum.


  1. Great post.  I've been watching the forums over there for a couple of years. I REALLY want a great television myself, but can't bring myself to buy something that expensive knowing the drawbacks are too great.  One thing to consider, if you do decide to go with a Plasma, is to look into the Costco return benefits as described on the AVS forums.  It's not a perfect solution, but it does provide a little "insurance" in case your plasma does experience burn-in.  I'm considering moving forward with a plasma from Costco -- foregoing the "best" price in favor of a really good return policy.

  2. But Duuude -- how can you play your Xbox 360 on anything BUT high-def??? (^_^)

  3. IMHO, CRTs are still the best when it comes to HD image reproduction.

    I have the KD-34XS955N from Sony and am very happy with it.

  4. I've got a Samsung 50in DLP. The rainbow effect is there, but I stopped noticing it after about a week. The only problem I think I have is the lag from my PS2, but the 360 works great, and watching TV is high-def really makes an impact.

  5. Tobin - Plasma burn-in isn't permanent.  You should be able to remove it by playing static or something for a period of time.  Burn-in is just a matter of certain pixels aging faster than the others around them.  If you cause them all to age, you'll get them back into alignment.  Still, it's not something I want to have to worry about.

    szurgot - I'm glad to hear that the rainbow effect is something you stop noticing.  As someone who tests video for a living, I have to say that I don't tend to stop noticing errors.  For example, once I learned what pan-scan was, I now have a difficulty watching movies cropped for TV.

    Ron, I agree, it's just the weight.  Moving around a big CRT is painful.

  6. I'm really happy with the 46" Samsung DLP projection. I used to see the rainbows at the begining, but than I haven't payed attention to them anymore. Now I don't see them at all, unless I really try to find them. It's amazing how the brain adapts and filters the information.

    And I really enjoy playing Xbox 360 on my tv ;)

    It has a small lag for the non hd images, but that doesn't affect the Xbox 360.

  7. I have to laugh at myself because no sooner did I type that I couldn't bring myself to buy one of these, I went out and bought a 50" plasma over the weekend. So far, I love it!

  8. So the big question still remains, do you really need HDTV or if you bought a SDTV 42" plasma, would you lose out on broadcasts etc.

    Also, after the 20,000 hours of potential use, what happens to your plasma, does it like blow up or summit ?

    thinking of buying a 42" plasma soon when i move house but need to know whether to buy a sdtv or hdtv set

  9. The difference between an SD set and an HD set is resolution.  One of the most important factors to look at when buying a set is its native resolution.  That is what the set is really capable of displaying.  SD is approximately 720x480 pixels.  HD is either 1280x720 (720p) or 1920x1080 (1080i/p).  If you buy an SD set, you'll never get a picture any better than DVD.  You won't be able to take advantage of HD-DVD, High-Def Cable, etc.  The TV might accept those signals, but they will all be scaled down and not nearly as good-looking as if you watched them at full resolution.  If you are buying a 42" TV today, get one that does at least 1280x720.

    As for the plasma, I don't know definitively but it should just get progressively more dim.  Think old CRT TVs from the early 80s.  When they get old, the picture just gets more and more faint.  The phospers in the plasma screen behave similarly and just dim over time.  At 20,000 hours or whatever, they reach a point where they are dimmer than you probably want to watch.