Can you give me some advice on my new plasma HDTV?
June 1, 2007 7:29 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I just bought a new Plasma TV, and I need some advice as to what our next step is for hi-def.

We purchased the Samsung HP-T4254 this week for our enjoyment, and we're running into issues with picture quality. I must say that the picture is comparatively good, but we're missing the wow factor, obviously from the lack of HD signal.

We have a second generation Direct TV TiVo that we've hacked, and I have a Sony DAV-BC150 Surround Sound Unit/DVD Disc Changer. Neither of these units are 1080i.

What can I do to make our picture quality superior? Does anyone recommend devices or up-converting units that we can purchase that won't cost as much as the TV in order to make our home viewing experience fantastic? Is there something we can put in line from the satellite to the tivo that gives us the ability to upconvert the signal? Can you honestly go from component or S-Video to HDMI and get an actual HD picture that looks like it should? I've been researching these devices, and they're anywhere from 100 to 1000 dollars...

Any help is appreciated, and I thank you! I'll be researching this as well as we go.
posted by jimmyhutch to Technology (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your set seems to have an ATSC tuner. If you're close enough to the broadcast antenna (check AntennaWeb) you can use an indoor UHF antenna.

An upconverting DVD player is well worth it. The Oppo products are highly regarded on AVSForum and among my friends. Upconverting on a good, well-mastered DVD looks pretty damn good.
posted by kableh at 7:41 AM on June 1, 2007

Well, what you should be doing is investing in an HD-Tivo. HR10-250's can be had semi-cheaply on ebay.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:00 AM on June 1, 2007

You need an HD box from DirecTV to get HD channels. You can clean up the low def all you want, but w/o a HD box, you're just polishing a turd.

Unless you live in the complete boondocks, a simple set of rabbit ears may get you the local networks over the air. Where I live I get these channels with nothing plugged in the antenna jack. Once you compare the HD signal with the stuff you're getting on the low def DirecTV box, you'll write the check for the HD box. Or if you have cable available in your areas see what their offering is if you don't want to make a huge $ investment in a box.

I have an upconverted DVD player and it is much better standard DVD but still way crappier than a Blu Ray or HD DVD movie. I'm content with the standard DVDs until the prices come down and/or the format war is won.
posted by birdherder at 8:17 AM on June 1, 2007

This point can't be made enough: Upconverting standard definition signals for your set will never result in anything that shows off the set and makes its cost worthwhile. You're driving your Maserati at 15 MPH on the Autobahn.

The partial exception to that is a good upconverting DVD player. While it won't magically look like HD, it will make it look better. I can also firmly recommend Oppo's upconverting player.

The next investment for you is to get sources of actual HD content. Call DirecTV and upgrade to a HD package. If you've had service with them for more than a year, call them up and suggest that you might leave for cable if they don't give you a good deal on an HD package. When we used DirecTV, we got an OTA (over the air) antenna, dish upgrade, and HD TiVo (which they don't offer any longer, they have a different HD DVR system) for NOTHING (technically, we had to pay for it, but then received a credit for those fees over the next six months of service, so after six months, it balanced out to zero for the upgrade).

Get an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player (my personal preference is HD-DVD; it's more "fleshed out" feature-wise than Blu-ray, and I have a strong opinion about avoiding Sony's proprietary garbage). If you have cable, upgrade to an HD package.

Don't spend $60 on HDMI cables. If it says "HDMI" on the cable, it's been certified to support the digial HDMI signal, so find the cheapest HDMI cable you can find. In fact, for any digital signals at all, get the cheapest cable/fiber optic you can find. Digital either works or it doesn't.

For analog signals, like component video, VGA or non-digital DVI, getting shielded cable is a good idea, but don't spend lots of money on special oxygen-free cables, or whatever other crap they're selling at Best Buy. I

n fact, don't get any cables at Best Buy at all. Get them online at a site like MyCableMart (my favorite).
posted by Merdryn at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2007

Polishing a turd. That's great. :)
posted by Merdryn at 8:20 AM on June 1, 2007

Everyone on AVSForum swears by Monoprice for HDMI cables. But in the end, your main priority is to improve the source. To paraphrase birdherder, upgrading from Component to HDMI would just be pushing the turd through a fatter pipe. You need to get HD video sources (HD Tuner, HD Tivo, upconversion DVD player) for real improvement.
posted by junesix at 9:47 AM on June 1, 2007

FWIW, the HR10-250 is nearly obsolete at this point, since it doesn't support MPEG-4. Although it doesn't matter today, DirecTV continues to claim they will have a bunch more HD by the end of the year, and that's all going to be MPEG-4. Additionally, DirecTV downrezzes their HD and overcompresses it, so it lacks in both definition and clarity thanks to the lower resolution and macroblocking. It's better than SD, but nowhere near what I get from Cox, who sends all of their HD completely untouched, aside from taking the bitstream and putting it in a new container on a 256QAM. It's full bitrate and full resolution.

Dish Network has recently started doing the same, although some say they're not as aggressively reducing the bitrate as DirecTV. In the long term, if you can live without TiVo, DirecTV is probably a better bet, as their new HD DVR is apparently pretty decent and they have a lot more bandwidth available (once they get their new satellite up, anyway) than Dish will, so they won't have to continue to over compress.

Circuit City (blech!) sells a pretty darn good indoor antenna for around $30. It's a Phillips branded Terk (silver sensor, I think), I think the model number is HDTV2 or something equally plain. They're about the only place I've seen that sells a decent antenna locally. Even if you can't manage to pull anything in with it, you're out next to nothing. If you buy your HDMI (or other) cables from Monoprice, you'll still come out ahead.

IMO, if you can get cable, and your cable company isn't quite the spawn of the devil, go cable and get a TiVo Series 3 and a couple of CableCARDs. If you buy at Costco or the Tivo Community Store, you can get one for $599, and TiVo has a $200 mail in rebate deal going for the next couple of weeks. One nice thing about the TiVo is that TiVo is kind enough to include any cable you might need in the box, including a set of component cables and an HDMI cable. Of course, if your cable company is bandwidth limited and recompresses the HD and all that crap, cable isn't a better option.

BTW, an XBox with XBMC makes an excellent upconverting DVD player, only it does a whole lot more. While it can't play full HD files (it can almost play 720p XVid, but it drops frames in fast moving scenes), half res HD (960x540) looks a hell of a lot better than plain SD, although it's not great compared to real HD. It's better than what DirecTV sends, but only because of the lack of MPEG artifacts. DirecTV's signal is supposedly somewhat higher in resolution than 960x540.
posted by wierdo at 10:24 AM on June 1, 2007

If you're close enough to the broadcast antenna (check AntennaWeb) you can use an indoor UHF antenna.

This is worth a shot--you might be surprised what you can get by switching off the cable/sattelite. In my area, every network is sending out an HD signal in addition to their regular signal. When we got our HDTV, our selection of channels actually tripled. Obviously doesn't solve the problem of all your sattelite channels not being HD, but you might be able to watch the networks in hi-def.
posted by statolith at 10:41 AM on June 1, 2007

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