Should I return my shiny new 46" 1080p Samsung LCD?
January 5, 2007 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Should I return my shiny new 46" 1080p Samsung LCD? I have a real love-hate relationship with my new TV. Sometimes the image is stunning, sometimes it sucks. What's the problem? My cable signal? My cable box? My DVD player? Or the TV? (Lots) more after the jump...

(Sorry in advance for the length.)
So I did a lot of research and bought this tv because it seemed like the best deal for the criteria I wanted (large, bright screen; suitable for gaming and movies; long-lasting without burn-in risk; advanced technology to hopefully have a long life-span). Since getting it home, however, I've been fairly underwhelmed. I guess for $3k, I was expecting a high "wow" factor, and so far I haven't had that (at least not consistently). I'll describe my viewing experience on 2 different inputs -- DVD and Cable -- separately.

DVD (3 year old Toshiba progressive-scan with component video): I knew I wasn't going to get magic, but expected something better than what I'm getting. At times it looks great. Lush, high color scenes are gorgeous; blacks are deep and subtle, colors are accurate, lines are sharp.

Yet at other times, on certain DVDs, things look rough. I often see jagged lines, pixelating, and blurring. I wonder if this is just the DVD source-quality (Jackass 2, U2 - Elevation Concert DVD). LOTR:Fellowship of the Ring and Cars looked pretty nice. I need to watch more movies on it to be sure. (I have occasionally seen VERY faint diagonal black lines scrolling across the screen. I swapped power supplies and they went away; last night they came back. I think this is a power-supply issue, and am not concerned too much about it.)

Cable (BrightHouse with Scientific American HD box, via DVI > HDMI cable). Here's the tricky one. For the first week of ownership, even HD channels were terrible. Blocking, visible pixels, loss of detail with motion, etc. Dark, fast-moving scenes in CGI-heavy movies (like War of the Worlds) were almost completely unwatchable, even on "strong" HD channels (like HBO-HD). Discovery HD was beautiful... til the animals started moving! Then I saw dots, graininess, pixels, and general noise. (I bought an HD antenna, and returned it -- I live on the 2nd floor of a 3-story building, and can't get any decent signal at all.)

I called the cable company, and they placed an RF signal booster on the line. They also checked for line interference and replaced the "jumper" line into my condo. Things are better now, but not perfect. Last night, ESPN HD looked pretty nice. The Tonight Show and Late Night were gorgeous -- even fast-moving scenes. However, Return to Paradise had issues -- bright, well-lit scenes were beautiful. Dark, poorly-lit scenes (lots of those in the night scenes in New York, and in the jail in Panang) were very, very grainy. The cable folks have offered to replace the cable box, but short of replacing the line to my building (I live in a multi-unit condo), there's not much more they can do.

On top of everything, last night when switching channels, the image suddenly freaked out -- there was what I can only describe as "snow" all over the screen, with grainy pink lines through it all. I switched the cable box off and back on, and everything was fine. Weird.

SO - Do I keep this TV? Do I get better inputs? Do I watch better movies? What do I have to do to be wowed by HDTV (short of bleeding much more money)?!

Is there any hope for me, or should I return it and be happy watching movies on my Powerbook?
posted by fearless_yakov to Shopping (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
None of this sounds like a problem with your TV; you're right to think you need better input.

First thing is to get an upscaling DVD player. Right now the one you've got is just putting out 480p, so your TV has to display at far less than native resolution. I've got an OPPO and I can't find enough good things to say about it. As far as I'm concerned, until all the HD-DVD/Blueray dick waving ends, an upscaling DVD player is the shit.

As for the problems with the cable: that's nothing wrong with your set; it's your cable provider. HDTV is extremely high bandwidth, and many cable companies try to maximize the number of clients on a given cable trunk by over-compressing content or over-committing bandwidth resources. Either can lead to the grainy, blocky, noisy stuff you're seeing.

Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot you can do about it except complain, complain, complain. I'll bet if you threaten to switch the satellite TV you'll get some movement from them. In fact, you might want to think about actually switching to DirecTV; I've heard that their HD quality is excellent.
posted by jacobian at 10:40 AM on January 5, 2007

Here's the problem. Unless you are watching a program in HD 1080p, the picture will look lousy, UNLESS the TV has some option so that it displays the source signal in its original size.

No HD television is broadcast in 1080p. Some so 1080i (NBC?) but most do it in 720p. DVD's and regular cable TV are 480i. Those pictures have to be stretched. When the TV stretch the picture to fit it's larger screen size, it has to fill in the extra lines. The result is a softer picture that looks like it was drawn with pastels. It also results it jaggies and moire, which require more post-processing to fix.

Furthermore, LCD is qualitatively worse than plasma. It has a slower response time, and is therefore subject to ghosting on fast moving images. They have a contrast problem, and worse they have a dark scene problem - low dark grays clip to black, lkight greys clip to white. In dark scenes every tends to collapse to black, in bright scenes everything tends to wash out.

LCDs have technology to combat this, but again, it's all post processing that changes the original image.

Some of the other things you are talking about, like diagonal lines, pink lines, etc. sound like bad connectors, cables, and line noise. The blocking sounds like digital compression that they use on cable and satellite (do you get block on the over-the-air channels)? IT also sounds like you need a new cable box.

You might want to try getting a CRT HD set, and seeing if that suits you.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:44 AM on January 5, 2007

Yes it took awhile after HD came to my area for the problems you describe to stop.

I recommend purchasing a PS3 or an XBOX360 with and HDDVD. I have seen both of them, and both perform wonderfully. I do not have a comparison between the two with regular DVDs and one of those upmarket upscaling DVD players ($1k, Denon?), but I can say they perform more than satisfactory. Blu-ray, in the selections out now and in comparison to the 360 HD-DVD, out performs on a 1080p. Not so much I would drop EBay prices to buy one, but it is something to look into. I find that they both rival and somewhat exceed the 1080i HD MovieNet channel, which has great transfers.
posted by geoff. at 10:45 AM on January 5, 2007

also, there are upscaling receivers (Toshiba) that will upscale whatever you feed into them. This may be a better alternative to buying a number of new components that upscale.

Reading all these problems makes me think the way to go might be a netflix account, bittorrent, and a Mac with a 30" Cinema display and remote.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:47 AM on January 5, 2007

Fearless, I just bought the 40" Samsung 1080p. I agree with jacobian, get the upscaling DVD player, it makes a world of difference. Some DVDs are just crappy transfers, and there's no cure for that. My cable experiences vary from channel to channel, but the 1080i hidef stuff looks great. So don't blame your TV.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:54 AM on January 5, 2007

I would return it. All my tech friends made similar experiences like you. The whole infrastructure is simply not ready for HD machines like yours.
posted by homodigitalis at 11:11 AM on January 5, 2007

I would return it.

You are paying for the a premium for the 1080p set, as the "TrueHD" thing seem to be the current craze.

I just recently was considering 1080p until I found my 50" Panasonic plasma for $1800.


Either way, the source is the problem. Have you tried OTA HD? The picture quality is much better than any cable provider, and its free (you won't get as many channels though).

2nd the upscaling DVD player. Get the recently released Oppo DV981HD.
posted by mphuie at 12:18 PM on January 5, 2007

Use the setting to not stretch out non-HD content. Im guessing (if its not your crappy cable line) that you dontk now which channel is broadcasting HD and which ones arent. On top of it you dont know if youre getting 1080 or 720. If Conan O'Briens show is consistantly good looking then I doubt the problem is with your TV. Why should Return to Paradise look good? Its a low res DVD from 1998! Its not HD, and even if you got a fancy player which outputs HD resolution from a lo-res DVD it still wont look good. Do the cable companies even have a HD transfer of this?

Does you cable provider offer the HDNET channel? Its all HD.

Lastly, you may just be too picky. Different channels, different forms of mastering, different resolutions, etc might just be bothering you. Again, best to not stretch out non-HDTV content.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:18 PM on January 5, 2007

Thanks for all the good answers. I think the upscaling DVD player is worth a shot.
Also, I may be, as damn dirty ape suggested, just too damn picky. I know I paid a premium for 1080p and am not getting the benefit yet; I did so in hopes that I would be buying a TV that would be able to take advantage of 1080p content when it becomes more ubiquitous. That may or may not have been a good idea, but that was the strategy.

Some specific responses....

Im guessing (if its not your crappy cable line) that you dontk now which channel is broadcasting HD and which ones arent.

dda -- That's not the problem. I know which channels are HD. Trust me. Some HD channels are stronger than others, for reasons that only BrightHouse knows. I have an HD package that contains an HD version of the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS), plus ESPN HD, InHD, DiscoveryHD, HBO HD etc. Some of those are better than others. All of them are light years better than the non-HD channels.
Return to Paradise was a movie on HBO HD, and it was in HD format. It just lost clarity and detail in low-light scenes.

LCD is qualitatively worse than plasma.
That's what I thought, too -- was fully preparing to buy a 720p Pioneer plasma. But watching one side-by-side with the Samsung LCD, the LCD looked better. Also, several objective reviewers rated the top-end LCDs higher than similarly-priced plasmas.

Several of you have said that I'm stretching content. That's not the problem. I have the TV set to display everything in its native resolution. So regular old non-HD cable is in a much smaller, non-stretched format than the full 1920x1080 resolution. Even my DVD movies are letterboxed down to their native resolution. I may be clueless, but I'm not that clueless.
posted by fearless_yakov at 1:57 PM on January 5, 2007

The issue is with the quality of the 'HD' you feeding the television.

720p and 1080i should look great on that set. Your set has a built-in ATSC tuner. You should be able to plug-in an antenna and tune to your local HD channel. During primetime is when the HD stuff should be on.

That stuff is true HD at the ATSC standard. If that looks good, then your monitor is fine and the sources are not great.

Cable companies often downconvert HD content to lower bitrates to fit more channels in their systems. This lower bitrate leads to crappy looking pictures.

I second the recommendation for the Oppo DVD upconverter. I have one and it makes a difference.

I'm a professional TV engineer and the problem is not your LCD or 1080p. It's the quality of the actual HD signal you are receiving.
posted by Argyle at 2:42 PM on January 5, 2007

For around $70, you can pick up a Philips DVP5960, which is an upscaling DVD player with HDMI out. Though it isn't pretty, and the remote sucks, it allows you to select the resolution (my LCD is best at 780), and it also has a USB port that allows you to play divx and xvid movies from a flash drive or external hard drive. While that might not sound like a big deal, you can find media that has been encoded at a higher resolution very easily, and some of it looks great.

I encode movies for my kids at the highest resolution I can, and they play fine on a SD or HD set with this DVD player.

That is one cheap solution for your input problems. I use Dish network for the TV side of things, and some of the Voom stations look incredible. The local stations in HD are too compressed, unfortunately.

Unless you are willing to get some better input, your output is going to look worse in HD.
posted by bh at 3:32 PM on January 5, 2007

This is precisely the reason why I bought a HD CRT. You can still get 34" Sony 960's for less than a grand at BestBuy. I got my XS955 (last of the Ultra Fine Pitch) about a month ago and haven't regretted a single thing about it. Not even the 250 lbs. weight. :) If you have the room, nothing beats the image quality of a CRT.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:39 PM on January 5, 2007

It's worth knowing that your cable signal, even your HD cable signals, are compressed. Compression varies depending on which channel and which time of day; your cable provider tries to keep the stuff that a lot of people are watching (i.e., the Super Bowl), as lossless as possible, but the old movie on channel 592 may be using lossier compression.

Not enough signal is a perennial problem everywhere I've had cable. Sometimes the cable company will install a booster; you've already had that stroke of good luck. Other things that helped me were making sure that my cable wasn't routed through a "cleansing" power supply before it hit the cable box, and making sure that every other cable outlet in the house was terminated. These steps can reduce line losses considerably. The result of not enough signal is the square artifacts and sometimes even dropout of the picture.

Good luck getting it fixed!
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:45 PM on January 5, 2007

It's worth knowing that an Xbox 360 with a VGA cable can output at 1080p and upscales DVDs pretty well. We use it to play DVDs -- admittedly only at 720p -- at it makes even badly-encoded discs look pretty nice. Well-encoded discs, like anything put out by Pixar, look gorgeous. If you have an Xbox 360 but no VGA cable, you might want to give this a try for your DVDs.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:27 PM on January 6, 2007


Thanks again for all the good responses. I have decided to keep the TV. On the advice of several, I bought an upscaling Denon DVD player, and it looks terrific. Even some of the DVDs that looked unspectacular before look outstanding now.
posted by fearless_yakov at 6:05 PM on January 7, 2007

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