High-Definition TV Choices More Complex
Since we talked about shopping and Black Friday sales last week, I thought this week would be a good time to cover the granddaddy of all digital presents this year - the high-definition television (HDTV).
As HDTV technologies continue to evolve, the choices have become more complex than ever. Some television choices such as DLP have pretty much gone away, replaced by the thinner LCD and plasma televisions. Yet manufacturers have added new options to both LCD and plasma televisions.
Plasma remains the best at overall picture consistency, blacker blacks, great viewing angles and fast-motion reproduction. But it is also the priciest, becoming economically feasible only if you are looking to buy a really big screen.
LCD televisions have always been good in a brightly lit room because they boast very bright pictures. The LCD technology has also improved to create better viewing angles. They are economical at small and medium sizes up to about 50 inches.
Some of the new HDTVs are also sporting a new technology called LED. This is actually an LCD television that uses LEDs to backlight the screen instead of the conventional fluorescent backlighting. This results in thinner screens and better energy efficiency.
LED models generally have better contrast and more accurate colors, but some experts say they see some slight picture uniformity problems with LED models. To my eye, they look great!
There are several other new technologies that you will see around this year. The first of these is 3D.
Manufacturers are promoting 3D television as something that everyone should buy now. The problem is that, in my opinion, the 3D technology is still not ready for prime time. Unless you don't mind the concept of having to wear glasses to watch television and don't mind paying extra for 3D glasses for your friends and family, you may want to take a pass on that technology right now.
The other new technology that you will encounter when you look at the new televisions is Web-connected sets. Most of the new televisions have an ethernet port or offer Wi-Fi connectivity so they can show Internet content. Not only can they give you the weather, news, sports and stocks, but also they can stream video from Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Blockbuster, Amazon and others.
Competition in this area is fierce, with each manufacturer offering its own special type of Internet features.
Samsung features a technology called Yahoo! Widgets to show Internet content on its televisions. Sony recently announced some of its televisions will integrate Google TV, a new offering that promises a full Web browser and an easy way to browse the Web and to watch Internet content. Panasonic has Skype video conferencing on some of its televisions. Vizio is poised to bring out a remote control for its televisions, with a slide-out keyboard that can be used to navigate the Internet.
The Internet choices are changing very quickly with some manufacturers offering different types of connectivity on different models.
Most of today's televisions also include a USB port, which can be used to play music and movies and to show pictures from a portable hard drive or flash drive.
While plenty of 720p televisions have been purchased over the last few years, 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels, progressively scanned) has become the norm. Previously there was a cost premium to be paid for 1080p, but that is no longer the case, especially in higher-end models.
There are still no regular television transmissions in 1080p, but if you purchase a Blu-Ray player, you will be able to view movies in this higher resolution. That said, the higher 1080p resolution is especially important for screens bigger than 36 inches. If you are looking for a smaller television and don't want to play Blu-Ray movies on it, a 720p television will probably be fine.
By the way, the price of Blu-Ray players has come down dramatically. You can now purchase them for under $100. You do have to purchase Blu-Ray disks to get the full 1080p resolution, but today's Blu-Ray players can also play all of your old DVDs and will even upconvert them to make them look better.
Two things to watch out for - when you purchase a new HDTV, stores often try to sell you an expensive HDMI cable. Yes, HDMI is the best way to hook up any other equipment to a HDTV, but unless you need a cable longer than 10 feet, a $10-$15 cable will be just as good as a $100 cable.
Also, watch out for other things you might need to purchase to go along with your new television. A friend recently purchased a Sony television with wireless connectivity only to find out later that he needed to purchase a pricey proprietary Internet card from Sony before the Wi-Fi would work.
Send your computer-related questions for publication in this column to Sandy Berger at Computer Living Corp., P.O. Box 5895, Pinehurst N.C. 28374; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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