Buying an LCD tv.
January 10, 2007 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Advice on buying an LCD tv.

I've done a lot of research online, and looked at past askmefi questions, but I'm still really confused. My situation:

I'm buying an LCD widescreen for my bedroom. I'm looking at 32-37 inches. I'd like to eventually hook a dvd player to it, a receiver, maybe even apple tv. I don't want cutting edge, I don't have the money. So I know I can't have everything. But what is make or break? Resolution, contrast (I never read anything about contrast) and types of connections. I'm guess I'm looking for middle of the road. Not cheapest, not top of the line.

So what numbers and features should I be shooting for?
posted by Dennis Murphy to Shopping (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
posted by rossination at 12:11 AM on January 11, 2007

Yep, read that one. It has almost nothing I asked for. The original poster even said "I am also somewhat knowledgeable about what kind of brightness and contrast ratios to look for, what sort of inputs I'm likely to need, etc. etc.".

I'm not. He wants price. I'm open to price. I'd like to know what specs / connections I should at least shoot for while trying to save money.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 12:48 AM on January 11, 2007

In that case, Sir, I apologize for what probably seemed like a snarky response.
posted by rossination at 12:53 AM on January 11, 2007

No, it's ok. If I can find the answer through a previous question I'm all for it. Thanks for trying.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 1:01 AM on January 11, 2007

The Complete LCD TV Buying Guide has some plain English explanations of the state of the art in LCD TV technology, and the specs of a couple of current best-selling 40" models that you could use for comparison in shopping. And LCD TV Buying Guide has some comparison of older models of 32 to 37 inch sets from 2005 that might still be relevant as you comparison shop. If you're a subscriber, or willing to pay $6 for a 1 month subscription to read their reviews and buying guides, and if you believe in their testing, Consumer Reports frequently revisits and updates consumer electronics ratings, including LCD TV. C|net's LCD TV Shopping Guide is great for quick online comparison shopping, because you can quickly group and sort its 238 candidates in the 32-39.9 screen size by price range, and features.

Contrast ratio and brightness are more important to those who have little control of ambient light. Presumably, in a bedroom, you have curtains or other means of satisfactorily controlling daylight washout at your desired screen location, so this might be less of an issue for you. Fast display response time (8 ms being about the current best, with 12 - 18 ms being indicators of older technology) is somewhat important in larger screen sizes, if you're a devotee of programming with fast changing image detail, like sports programming, but it may not be so important if you're going to be primarily watching Letterman and chick flicks late at night on your bedroom TV. You also want to think a bit about your needs for HD in such a set, with some broadcast networks rolling off their current HD offerings at 720p, while other cable services are supplying 1080p programming services. Not all LCD TVs will be HD capable, and of those that are, not all will do the high resolution 1080p or even higher quality 1080i, but again, if all you'll be watching is Letterman and Leno, you might not care too much.

One thing you might want to think about carefully, if you're a cable subscriber, is whether you need a tuner in the set, and particularly if you need a CableCard slot, as leaving out CableCard is one way manufacturers are making low cost LCD sets. Another thing that will have some bearing on the cost of a set in your size range is the sophistication of its video and audio interfaces and internal components. If you plan to hook up gaming consoles, outboard sound systems, use your TV as a computer monitor, or have other goodies you want to use with it, you may want a set with better/more input/output capabilities, which will cost more.
posted by paulsc at 3:00 AM on January 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

paulsc has given you plenty to work with, but I'd like to make sure you're clear on one part:

"the high resolution 1080p or even higher quality 1080i"

I'm sure this was just a typo, but those are reversed... 1080p ("True HD") is the superior standard and is the digital standard that high-definition content is now being recorded in. Blu-Ray and HD-DVD both support 1080p. Whether or not you need that technology is another matter and something you need to decide for yourself, but there you have it.

Happy researching!
posted by empyrean at 3:26 AM on January 11, 2007

So what numbers and features should I be shooting for?

Make sure it has an HDMI port, just for future-proofing. 1080p vs. 1080i is irrelevant for two reasons: first, because LCDs are progressive displays, and second, because nothing takes advantage of 1080p at this moment except the PS3. Even HD/BlueRay content is almost always 1080i source. Which means anything displaying at full-resolution is going to be up-rez'd. If it's transmitted material at 1080, it'll also be full of lousy (and lossy, but mostly just lousy) compression to fit down the pipe. The bandwidth requirements for MPEG2 video at 1080p are simply too stupid-big for the networks to support at this moment.

CableCard is kind of a joke. I've got CC and can't use it, because TimeWarner makes it very difficult to justify: I'd have to pay almost $120 a month for the basic cable package that was offered with CableCard. It's infuriating. And the whole time they try and talk you out of it ("Sir, you know that you'll be missing out on all the OnDemand features, right?) Good idea in theory, but in practice they're trying to discourage its use. They'd rather you use their box, or no box at all. I opted for the latter + BitTorrent + XBOX with HD output.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better, but you already knew that. Here's NewEgg's list of all 30-40" LCD's with contrast ratios larger than 1000:1. Personally, I'd get this Samsung. This line offers the highest contrast ratios (4000:1) and come with built-in ATSC tuners (useful for tuning in OTA broadcasts).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:02 AM on January 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

One final consideration re HDTV is to consider whether your eyes be able to tell the difference from standard TV. This depends on a combination of visual resolution, screen size, viewing distance and, of course, the quality of your eyesight. This article goes into more detail - if you look at their chart you will see that for a screen of less than 40 inches diagonal and for a viewing distance of 5 to 10 feet the benefits of HD are only starting to become useful. To see the benefits of 1080p with a sub 40 inch screen you have to have 20/20 visual acuity and be 5 feet or less from the screen.
posted by rongorongo at 6:31 AM on January 11, 2007

Resolution: You want 1280x720 resolution, which is also 720p. You can do 1920x1080, or 1080p, but that'll cost you more.

What you *don't* want is an off-resolution like 1366x768, which some Sonys use (among others). The reason is scaling. A regular DVD at 720x480 scales cleanly into 1280x720 because all it has to do is interpolate a line between each pair of lines recorded on the dvd, which should usually look nice and neat. Shifting to 1366x768, on the other hand, should normally introduce The Dreaded Jaggies and other artifacts into your picture.

Also, look up the resolution, not what resolutions it can show. It's common for a tvs to claim to do 1080p if they can take in a 1080p signal, downgrade it, and show you the result.

Contrast: higher numbers are better.

Inputs: You want at least two of component, dvi, and hdmi.

You also want to show up and look at the tv in action, especially on something with a lot of movement. Some LCD tvs still break up on heavy-motion scenes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:42 AM on January 11, 2007

oh - and he also says "Also, the Imaging Science Foundation states the the most important aspects of picture quality are (in order): 1) contrast ratio, 2) color saturation, 3) color accuracy, 4) resolution. " - so you might want to shop with those priorities in mind.
posted by rongorongo at 6:43 AM on January 11, 2007

Best place I've seen for research, reviews, and advice on flatscreens (lcd/plasma/other) at levels ranging from basic to more arcane than you can imagine are at avsforum.
posted by kookoobirdz at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2007

Just backing up rongorongo, all the talk in the market is about 1080 vs 720, but the absolute, No. 1 factor in people's perception of TV image quality is contrast ratio (and as an aside, plasma still slaughters LCD on this front).
posted by markr at 3:20 PM on January 11, 2007

and as an aside, plasma still slaughters LCD on this front

Just to follow this aside with a comment: the problem is that neither LCD nor Plasma can compare with old-fashioned CRTs in overall dynamic range. It's crazy. They expect you to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to replace your television with inferior image quality and shortened life expectancy.

To wit: Plasmas do slaughter LCD's in contrast ratio, the problem is the black point. With every plasma I've seen (even high-end ones), there's a marked luminance shelf where everything darker than a certain amount of darkness just turns to black. If you watch a lot of dark movies, this can be infuriating, because you lose all the details that make a dark scene intriguing/scary/whatever.

And don't even get me started on burn-in.

LCD's have almost the opposite problem: you can coax detail out of darkened areas, but your blackpoint is never really black, it's more a very dark grey. And on the other end of the spectrum, you've got to worry about your highlights getting washed out.

And don't even get me started on manufacturer's dead-pixel policies.

SED technology is supposed to be the magicaly mystery answer to all these problems. We'll just have to wait and see.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:34 PM on January 11, 2007

Thanks so much for everyone's input. I have a much better grasp on what I'm looking for now.

What you *don't* want is an off-resolution like 1366x768

That kind of sucks. While shopping today it seemed more lcds in the 32-37 inch range had that resolution than 1280x720.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 5:16 PM on January 11, 2007

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