Best New TV For Watching Old Movies?
January 28, 2016 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Our TV, a stately Sony Trinitron that's served us since 1999, is dying. We need a new 42 inch-ish TV. I have no idea what to look for in this new flat/plasma/HD market. All I want to avoid is that godawful HD thing where old movies look like cheap soap operas and everything is too sharp and flat. No interest in a smart TV or 3D or anything like that. What should I buy to make our media diet of old movies and Netflix TV shows look the best?
posted by The Whelk to Technology (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think they stopped making them, but I love my Panasonic plasma. I like it way better than any of the (fairly high-end) LCDs I have elsewhere in the house. It does have "smart" features and 3D, but I just completely ignore them. It's not even connected to the network. It may be hard to find a current tv that doesn't have that crap built in.
posted by primethyme at 2:33 PM on January 28, 2016

Luckily, the godawful HD thing can be easily turned off on most sets, so you don't have to restrict your options on that account. This article gets very technical on what causes it, but the most important part is about 25% down the page where they list each major manufacturer's name for their ugly-ass "motion smoothing" feature and what button you can push to make it go away.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:36 PM on January 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is a good website for TV reviews:
posted by bluecore at 2:45 PM on January 28, 2016

Plus sometimes setting the session to B & W on the set itself is handy with differing original lighting to make a unique showing. Even newer color selections look great B&W'ed - Fargo, the new Kong, classics from Criterion DVD restorations etc.
posted by Freedomboy at 2:47 PM on January 28, 2016

This appears to be the current version of the Vizio I bought 2 years ago.

It's "Smart," which I know you said you don't care about, but you can ignore it. Although mine came with "Netflix" and "Amazon" dedicated buttons on the remote, and I do end up using those as the fastest way to get to those options. (Otherwise I could get them through my Tivo.)

I'm not an expert on the "soap opera effect." As far as I can tell, mine doesn't seem to have it. I've Googled about it and everyone says Vizio calls it "Smooth Motion," but I've dug through the menu settings and there's no "Smooth Motion" on mine. The closest thing is it says it has a "film" mode that is supposed to detect if something is film vs. video and adjust settings accordingly. I have that on and I think things look very good. So either I don't have this effect at all, or I have it and can't turn it off and don't notice it.

I do watch movies on Turner Classics a bit and nave never thought things look bad or odd.
posted by dnash at 2:53 PM on January 28, 2016

You should get a 120 Hz LCD so that your Blu-Ray player can output native 24p. (And with the right re-transfer, it is worth it to upgrade to BR.) After that, turn off all the motion smoothing options or put them on the lowest setting. (I initially had them turned off, then put them on one notch above off.)

I have had this Vizio for about 3 months and really like it.
posted by supercres at 2:59 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

One thing that can be a bit tricky about LCD panels is that some of them look fine straight on but don't have consistency across viewing angles. This sounds like it might not be a big deal, but it is - especially on a large TV that takes up a significant fraction of your field of vision - you're not moving but the viewing angle changes as you look at different parts of the screen.

There's actually a spec that lets you filter on this, the viewing angle spec, but it doesn't mean what you think it is. If you see a spec of less than 178 degrees, it means the viewing angle is very narrow and the sweet spot is maybe 20 degrees or less - basically if you're not looking straight at it, it's not going to look very good. 178 degrees is the magic number to look for that gets you the panels with the technology that is not as inconsistent across viewing angles. I've had good luck with it as a basic filter on LCD buying; it's not 100% fool proof in getting you a great screen but it will steer you away from a large number of bad ones.
posted by doomsey at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I see Trinitrons on Craigslist in supposedly good condition for very cheap.
posted by at at 3:29 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is relevant in your situation or not, but about 5 years back we went from a 19" good old regular TV to something just bit larger in the plasma division and the results were pretty awful. It seems that the old fashioned TVs had a fair amount of blur, for which sitting across the room worked well. The newer stuff has higher definition, yay?, but that means that with a larger TV and the couch on the other side of the room, like it used to be, the screen is a blur. Equivalent viewing distance is not at all the same and we should have gotten a much larger set. Now we slide the couch to the middle of the living room when we watch TV and it is pretty bizarre and makes me cranky.

posted by SLC Mom at 5:53 PM on January 28, 2016

Don't underestimate the smart TV, especially if you've ever considered going cable-less. It doesn't cost that much more.
posted by wwartorff at 6:50 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you really want the best picture in 42", you need a late model second hand plasma from Panasonic or Samsung. Unfortunately Samsung quit a year ago and Panasonic quit two years ago, so you can't get those new (LG also quit a year ago, and their sets weren't as nice or reliable). They're a bit finicky so you'll have to watch out for burn-in. But the late models are thinner and lighter than an LCD from a few years ago.

Whatever TV you get, turn off all the automagic motion smoothing and color tuning, put the tv in film mode (gets the color and brightness curves into a sane space, etc). That'll get you pretty well set.

But just a thought, if you happen to have a room that's big enough to pull it off in: projectors only cost about $600 new, and they can throw a pretty bright, and goddamned enormous picture across a decent sized room onto a whitish wall. Yes, you're losing contrast, and the ability to watch TV on a sunny afternoon. But on the other hand, a 10 ft diagonal picture changes the rules of TV watching. And while a projector isn't easy to place, it's a roughly shoebox sized object, not a room dominating sheet of glass. Worth the trouble? Maybe not, but I grabbed an old, slightly less than 720p capable one from a recycling shop for $20, threw $40 of bleached muslin on the wall and I haven't turned on my nice TV since.
posted by wotsac at 9:16 PM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't underestimate the smart TV, especially if you've ever considered going cable-less. It doesn't cost that much more.

We bought a "dumb" TV and a Roku for what the smart version of our TV would have cost. The Roku has a speedier interface and a lot more options for channels.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:49 AM on January 29, 2016

Yeah, you're much better off with a Roku or other streaming box than a smart T.V. because a smart T.V. will almost never get a substantial update to add new services or improve ease of use. You're locked into whatever they felt like putting in that model at the time it was made.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:06 AM on January 29, 2016

Go into a store that sells TVs and bring a DVD of an old movie. Ask them to show you how it looks on the TVs you are interested in and if there are different display modes that you can try. Our smart Vizio has at least 5 and we tried them all. I think we actually stuck with "Gamer" mode since one of the others made sitcoms look like reality shows.
posted by soelo at 7:58 AM on January 29, 2016

I personally always go for an LG set (my current is a 47" 3D one) their menu system makes sense (like they actually brought in a menu designer and didn't just let the engineers do it) and the remote doesn't feel the need to have ALL THE BUTTONS POSSIBLE. Also nthing that I loathe that HFR "soap opera" look. It needs to die in a fire. Thankfully you can just turn it off.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2016

The Wirecutter is a good place to go for qs like this
posted by lalochezia at 11:45 AM on January 29, 2016

Seconding "gamer" mode and turning off smoothing, etc..

We have an LG OLED and the depth of color and the careful treatment of grain make it ideal for old movies.

A counterpoint to the projector above: we switched from a projector to a regular TV. It was a fun novelty, but the resolution and color depth wasn't great. The bigger issue however was the heat generated and the cost of bulb replacement made it expensive to operate.
posted by Gucky at 6:04 PM on January 30, 2016

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