Help me pick out a LCD HDTV and accoutrements!
July 23, 2008 10:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick out a LCD HDTV and accoutrements wiithout falling prey to techno-hype! Budget is $2-3k for a ten-year techno-leap. Need to watch NHL hockey.

AVphiles of MeFi: Help me pick out a LCD HDTV and paraphernalia!

Requirements:
1. I'd like to set up NHL Center Ice in HD for my husband this coming season. He's so cute sitting there with a bottle of beer, and his eyes glued to the screen. I like to call it The Immobilizer.
2. I'd like an LCD HDTV so I can hang it on the wall. After some research, I'm thinking a Samsung 46" 1080p 120Hz from Amazon's warehousedeals.com . I may have fallen into the trap of what they call "future-proofing".
3. I can wait a few more weeks. I hear the price is going to drop. But I'm not made of steel.
4. We have a nice Yamaha receiver and speakers from about 10 years ago that does Dolby surround.
5. I have a Wii to hook up to it.

More details
1. I am reasonably technical and handy with hooking things up, but I have been out of the AV loop for a decade or so.
2. Budget is about $2-3k.

Questions:
1. Aside from the HDTV, what else will I need? Is a Blu-ray DVD player worth it?
2. Which satellite network (DirecTV or DishNetworks) should I go with? Is their internet service any good?
3. Do I really need a professional installer? If so, how and where to find one?
4. How much of "future-proofing" is unnecessary features? Is 720p just dandy?

Your help, be it basic pointers or specific suggestions, is much appreciated!
posted by ebellicosa to Technology (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wouldn't worry too much about "future-proofing". Just make sure you have a couple of points covered:

- no real reason to get a 720p with all the 1080p sets around.
- ATSC tuner
- HDMI ports
- make sure you like the colors the TV puts out. Not everyone is snobby about "balanced colors and contrast" but make sure you like the colors.
- If you can, test out the set in a store and see what the video looks like with SD programming and HD programming. Some TV's i've seen do fantastic HD content, but their upscaling hardware is shit. If you're paying 2k, make sure all the hardware performs up to your standards.
-120hz is niiiice.
- if you're spending the money, get the high end of a past line, NEVER get the low end of a new line. So if you have to, get the best 720p set you can instead of a cheap 1080p set.

Basically, find a TV that upon sitting down in front of it makes you glad, happy even, that you spent your hard earned money it, and enjoy.
posted by evanrodge at 10:40 PM on July 23, 2008


Good choice on the TV. I'd also check out the Sharp Aquos line of comparable TVs. I have the Aquos LC46D64U and am loving it.

Your questions....

1) You won't really need anything else, unless you want to hook it up to an a/v receiver / home theater system... in which case you'll need an HDMI cable. Check monoprice.com and get 'em there. Anyone who tells you you need Monster brand cables needs to be rapped on the head with a tackhammer.

2) Dish and DirecTV are ostensibly the same these days, save for a few different channel exclusives. If your hubby is into sports, which sports he's really into may dictate which you choose. It has been a while since I've looked into satellite, so things may have changed, but backw hen I was investigating, only one of the two offered NFL Sunday Ticket... and I think the other one had the better baseball offering.

3) You only need a professional installer if you insist on having it mounted on the wall. Then, you want a professional installer, because unless you're really confident in your handiwork... yikes.. that's a big investment to come crashing down. If you're just putting the thing on a stand, and putting the stand on a low-ish / wide entertainment center, there is no need for professional install.

4) 720p is still dandy for a while.. unless you like blu-ray and video games. Then you're going to want 1080p. Your TV choice (46") is just big enough that 1080p will actually look a little nicer if you're reasonably close to the TV.

Reverting back to question 1: As much as it absolutely pains me to say it due to my hatred for Sony as a company, a PS3 is probably your best investment if you think you'll be jumping on the blu-ray bandwagon. It's only marginally more expensive than a blu-ray player, but also plays video games, acts as a media center (though not as nice as some others), and is still the best blu-ray player out there as far as I've read.

I, for one, don't have a PS3. I have an Xbox 360 and a Wii, both of which I love. The Wii's graphics aren't stellar, even on an HDTV, but it's fun. Be sure to go into the settings and set it to 480p widescreen mode. It helps a bit, and makes use of the rest of that screen real-estate!

You're the best wife ever, by the way. I gotta find me one like you. A TV.. gadgets.. AND NHL Center Ice? Heaven.
posted by twiggy at 10:41 PM on July 23, 2008


Most of your questions have already been answered so I'll just try to add what I can. I got a Samsung 40" 1080p LCD last September and I love it. The picture is great, the contrast is great and I haven't had anything close to an issue with it.

I also purchased Center Ice from DirecTV last year and the nice thing is that they expanded their HD content around November of last year and they carried, for most games, both the home and away feeds for each game, with a few teams as an exception (I don't think DirecTV showed any of the feeds from the Flyers' home crew). They also usually had the home team's feed in HD. A drawback though, and I'm not sure if it's any better on Dish Network is DirecTV didn't carry any of the Canadian feeds in HD (CBC, TSN, Sportsnet) but hopefully that will be updated for next year. I can't imagine seeing Don Cherry's suits in HD, I'll probably go blind.

Anyways I second the "You're the best wife ever" comment and seriously, watching hockey in HD has ruined me for any time I have to watch it in SD, it's that good.
posted by crashlanding at 11:01 PM on July 23, 2008


Oh also, I forgot to mention that the Wii doesn't support HD, it's one of the features they neglected in order to keep the price down.
posted by crashlanding at 11:02 PM on July 23, 2008


I'd just like to offer the caveat that NHL hockey is possibly the most demanding thing you can ask of your LCD TV screen. A lot of sets that have otherwise fantastic screens don't do so hot with the tiny black puck speeding across the glaring white field.

If you can, I'd recommend buying a hockey highlights DVD, trucking down to your local big box store, and asking them to pop the DVD in so you can compare a few sets for this specific task. You'll quickly notice any differences.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:21 PM on July 23, 2008


I point you to this chart: "Viewing distance when resolution becomes important".

At 46" it appears that you have to be closer than 9 feet for 1080p to look any better than 720p. As far as "future-proofing" goes, this will never change.
posted by krisjohn at 11:44 PM on July 23, 2008


If it were my money I'd go for the 50" plus Samsuing DLP rear projection choices, eg. the 750.
posted by yort at 12:18 AM on July 24, 2008


Does professional installation include setting/tuning all the colours/brightness/contrast etc? I hear that process can often noticably improve the picture quality.

It's always an idea to check out the views or even post your question on one of the dedicated AV forums such as 'avforums.com'.

I'm not wild about buying top of the line in a market that changes so rapidly; your $2000 investment will be 'out of date' in a year or so (or to put it another way, this years $4000 TVs will be next years $1500 TV).

Have you given any thought to sound? While visual is impressive, often people forget about sound (or buy a really crappy integrated all-in-one set) and wonder why the experience is so-so, at best. As a rule of thumb you should spend the same on your sound equipment as you do on your visual. ANy sacafrice on quality is going to impact on the end result, so keep that in mindand think holistically.

I'd say absolutely get a Blu-Ray player; that format was 'won' the battle and is likely to be around for as long as DVDs were, so it's probably wise to buy, especially if you want to show off your awesome new teev. Although, like all things, the players are going to keep on getting cheaper and more advanced as far as feature goes with time so there's no rush. The suggestion for getting a PS3 is a really good one I think, and will take you from the most awesome wife to the most awesome wife in the universe (well, in a shallow material consumeristic way of course.)

Good luck!

(oh, I remember being told they often mess around with the settings on the units in store and do things like put the brightness on maximum etc, so the results you see in store might be different.)
posted by oxford blue at 12:50 AM on July 24, 2008


We bought a Sharp Aquos after comparing pictures side-by-side in the store. The Aquos blew the others in its price range away in terms of color, clarity, brightness, and most importantly viewing angle. Make sure you stand well to the side of the screens you are interested in. Crouch down and look at it from below. Many brands become noticeably dimmer as the angle changes. You will definitely not want to buy the screen that only looks good from a narrow angle - the viewing angle listed on the box is the maximum area from which you can see the picture, not the angles at which the picture necessarily looks good.

Also, we don't have HD - but even with regular broadcast cable, hockey games this season were great (and I'm not just saying that 'cause my team won!). Much easier to follow the puck on the new screen, and the black/white contrast ikkyu2 mentions wasn't an issue with the Aquos. Then again we opted for a smaller screen rather than a 46" beast, but we have a small living room.

It has multiple inputs - HDMI, component, standard RGB, even (gasp) plain old cable. We hooked it in to our receiver for use with the surround sound, TiVo, and DVD. Our Wii is plugged directly in to it rather than using the receiver pass-through. Definitely recommend ignoring the built-in speakers and going for full surround if you can swing it.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:36 AM on July 24, 2008


I know I'm late to the party, but have you considered a Plasma versus LCD?

Plasma has better brightness, contrast and much, much faster response time (which is critical with video games and fast-moving sports). I'm a huge NFL fan and avid gamer, and I never even considered an LCD, it was Plasma only in my house.

LCD does have an advantage in rooms with lots of natural lighting, but if this is for a darker room like a den or basement, Plasma wins there too.

I have a Panasonic 1080p 50" (PX700) and highly recommend it. Ask around, Panasonic Plasmas are the best TVs out there unless you want to drop $2000 more and get a Kuro from Pioneer (which is also made by Panasonic).
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:06 AM on July 24, 2008


1. Aside from the HDTV, what else will I need? Is a Blu-ray DVD player worth it?

A blu-ray player is HUGELY worth it. The picture can be startlingly good. You want a PS3 as a blu-ray player. It's about the best one anyway, *and* it plays games, *and* it makes a quite nice media streamer. And they've just enabled download-rentals and download-purchases of movies.

You might think about looking at the inputs and outputs of the receiver. Does it have digital inputs? The PS3 only has optical digital out, no coaxial.

Anyway, let's assume you have the satellite box, the PS3, and the wii. The satellite box will have an hdmi cable running to the tv and a digital cable running to the receiver. The ps3 will have an hdmi cable running to the tv and a toslink cable running to the receiver, and its outputs will be mildly crippled because of this. The wii will have component video running to the tv and rca cables running to the receiver.

So when you're watching tv and want to switch to a movie, you'll need to grab the ps3 remote to turn on the ps3, grab the receiver remote to change the audio input on the receiver, and grab the tv remote to change to the video input the ps3 is using.

More recent receivers starting around $400 can switch between hdmi inputs inside themselves, and can convert component inputs to hdmi outputs. So everything goes into the receiver, and a single cable comes out of the receiver to the tv, and that's it. No mucking with the tv remote. Receivers that can take audio off of hdmi inputs also mean that you can get all the sound out of the ps3.

4. How much of "future-proofing" is unnecessary features? Is 720p just dandy?

No, it isn't. 1080p means no scaling for 1080i and 1080p sources, and no scaling means good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM on July 24, 2008


I'm going to go against the grain, 720p is fine. And if you can find a set on sale simply because it doesn't have 1080p, go with it (assuming it is a good set that just happens not to do 720p).

Keep in mind that broadcast content is 720p/1080i with no one broadcasting 1080p. I doubt 1080p broadcasting will become popular anytime soon. While yes there is a difference on 1080p, properly transferred Blu-Rays, it is nowhere near the same quality increase you'll see going from SD to HD.

You'll need a new receiver. Don't worry they are cheap and you can get a good one for well under <$500. You'll want this for HDMI. Keep the speakers if you like them.
posted by geoff. at 7:41 AM on July 24, 2008


To be clear, the benefits of a new receiver are:

(1) Only two cables coming out of the tv to look bad stringing down the wall -- the power cable and an hdmi cable. Instead of at least six.

(2) Internal switching instead of having to switch both the tv's and receiver's inputs by hand

(3) Can take full the full input from the ps3 instead of a low-bandwidth input over toslink

Also, don't get hdmi cables at best buy or the like. They are HUGELY overpriced. Get them online for, for serious, like 1/10th the price.

Or, if you need one today, go to an Apple store where they have them for $15 or $20.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2008


If you get a 720p set, get one that is actually 720p. Many "720p" sets are actually oddball resolutions, commonly 1366*768. But being actually 768p instead of 720 means that everything, absolutely everything, has to go through a scaler to get displayed and ends up worse the wear for it. It's not like it renders the picture unwatchable, but you end up with jaggy lines on the rink that didn't have to happen. It's noticeable.

Some of these sets will show you a proper 1280x720 picture with a border around it. This is commonly called a direct mode or 1:1 mode.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2008


FWIW,

Plasmas are wall mountable, and prefer them over LCD for action scenes. I have a 3 year old Panasonic 50" 768p that is equal or better to the brand spanking new 46" Samsung 1080p my dad just bought.

Also, its fairly easy to wall mount, I have little to no handyman skills and have mounted 2 50"+ Plasmas on my own. Just make sure you hit studs and use a quality mount. (I went with Sanus).
posted by wongcorgi at 11:03 AM on July 24, 2008


Blu-ray is definitely worth it at this point. Really good Blu-ray movies (such as Pirates of the Carribean or Casino Royale) are stunningly good. Netflix rents movies in Blu-ray when they are available, and pretty much all new releases are on Blu-ray now. The PS3 is a great as purely a Blu-ray player, even if you don't play PS3 games, because Sony frequently releases firmware upgrades to keep up with the (still) evolving Blu-ray format (future proofing).

Also, you mentioned that you have a 10-year old Dolby Surround receiver, which is seriously dated surround sound technology. You DEFINITELY want to upgrade the receiver for better sound. Since DVD became mainstream, all receivers support at least 5.1 Surround (aka Dolby Digital as opposed to the old Dolby Surround). The 5.1 denotes 5 separate channels (left, center, right, and two rear) plus one subwoofer channel. $400-500 is a good starting point for a receiver - Yamaha, Onkyo, Sony, etc. are all pretty much the same at this price point. A good center channel speaker and subwoofer will make a big difference in movies, especially.

I agree with oxford blue, if you go all out with HD and Blu-ray but don't upgrade the sound, you'll be missing out.
posted by kenliu at 12:03 AM on July 26, 2008


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