Perfect HDTV picture: Buy now or wait?
December 28, 2007 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I haven't owned a tv since 2004. Since then, I've been downloading my shows, at first at compressed HD quality, and then more recently 720p and 1080i/p. I don't want to watch broadcast TV that looks like YouTube, I want a beautiful picture. Should I wait until 2010 to get an HDTV and service?

Back in the day, I had digital cable on several TVs in an apartment on the other side of the country from where I live now. When I moved in 2004, I decided to save money and productivity by eliminating broadcast and cable/sat tv from my life. Indeed, I have been far more productive as a result. But, I still download a select few shows in hi-def and watch them on my laptop. Starting this past season, I've taken to downloading all of them in 720/1080 i/p depending on the rips available.

I'm starting to get in the mood to build an entertainment system again, and my field's audio, so I have that covered. My question is about the video side:

What HDTV, tuner, upscaler, DVD, Blu-Ray/HD-DVD player and HD cable/sat video service should I get for the most beautiful visual entertainment experience? (I've heard the DirecTV's video compression sucks, for example.) Will prices on this stuff drop dramatically after the big switch to HDTV in a few years?

I'm willing to invest in good equipment. So far, everything that I've seen at Best Buy looks like a youtube video, albeit with great color saturation, and I'm not going to waste my time and money on this if that's all I'm going to get. I'm also willing to wait a few more years until the broadcast and equipment quality catches up with what I had on my CRT.

So, what do I need? Should I wait? Thanks!
posted by stewiethegreat to Technology (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you looking at Best Buy?

A 1080p Sony Bravia LCD looks gorgeous. If it's being fed by Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, even better.

Push them through on HDMI and use a decent player but... it's digital, dude. The quality of the player isn't so much an issue, and only the bigger names are in the game right now anyway. (So a combo drive might work best for you.)

Regarding HD television, I've seen DTV's HD and it looks good, but I don't know what you consider "sucky." Do you have any friends with HD OTA, cable or DTV setups that you could check out? I would imagine that cable is best for HD now, but I'm really not sure if there even is a difference, beyond what line resolution each can pump out. (And even then, if there's a difference between them at that point.)
posted by disillusioned at 5:44 PM on December 28, 2007

At the moment we have OTA HD - perfect quality, either 1080i or 720p based on the channel. No matter what you get for Cable or SAT also get whatever antenna is needed for your area, we use an old UHF/VHF antenna and it's great. For a TV we have a great Sharp Aquos 37" - I'm not sure how the larger sizes look these days.
posted by true at 6:25 PM on December 28, 2007

The "most beautiful" is going to be over the air broadcast. It will look no worse than your downloads, and depending on their compression, might be better.
posted by Steve3 at 6:44 PM on December 28, 2007

Response by poster: From what I've seen, material from HD sources, such as an HDTV broadcast or a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD disc, look good... (even then, often a little "stuttery"). But it's the material from old-world sources, like DVD or analog cable channels look pretty much unwatchable.

In re my comment about Best Buy, everything I've seen there (at least, the TVs all playing in sync with one another) is riddled with picture artifacts and ugly squiggly lines, where I would normally expect excellent edge detail. The static images, and static parts of moving images look wonderful, but any moving parts of the picture look terrible. The color saturation, though, is always excellent, far surpassing old-world CRTs. I believe this to be the fault of the equipment, not the 720/1080 i/p formats, since what I watch on my computer look much, much cleaner and smoother.

I guess what it boils down to is what do I need to buy in addition to the TV to get great upsampling from old-world sources, and what sort of tuner/other external rendering box do I need to buy to get the smoothest, clearest picture from HD sources without jiggly lines and artifacts? So I'm just treating the TV itself as an output device - a monitor if you will.
posted by stewiethegreat at 6:46 PM on December 28, 2007

Best answer: AFAIK, there are two big reasons why the tvs at BB often look like crap.

First, you're not seeing a good source. You're often looking at an SD source that's been compressed to shit, split a billion ways so the signal is borderline, and then rescaled at the tvs. Even the HD sources often seem to be some sort of pseudo-HD with horrible macroblocking and dithering. In general, if you see macroblocking, that's the source's fault, not the tv's.

Second, they either turn the tvs to NIGHT SUN setting, or leave them at the factory settings which are BRIGHTER THAN THE SURFACE OF THE SUN. They do this to get a sale, since what looks better than the tv next to it is not the same thing as what looks good at home or what accurately reproduces the intended signal.

Your answer to both is avsforum, which is filled, I say FILLED, with AV dorks who care more about this sort of thing than they do their families or health. There is much wisdom to be had.

All of the HD displays currently get a little bit cheaper and a little bit better every year. I don't recall any scuttlebutt about any of the current systems getting cheaper after 2010. Whenever SED/FED tv finally comes on line, the current line is that it will be far, far, far better than anything out there. However, SED/FED tv is the Duke Nukem Forever of tv technologies.

About the only reason you really might delay is if you decide to go front-projection; ISTR that their price/quality ratio is falling even faster than flat-panels and 1080p projectors are dropping into reasonable prices.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:52 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

what do I need to buy in addition to the TV to get great upsampling from old-world sources

Nothing in particular.

For DVDs, any HD-DVD player or a PS3 should, by all reports, do a very nice job upscaling. For that matter, many HDTVs' internal scalers do a dandy job upscaling 480p/i video over component or hdmi to 1080p.

For SD tv, you sort of have to resign yourself to it looking like shit sometimes. This is because the signal looks like shit sometimes, and ain't nothin' can fix that.

what sort of tuner/other external rendering box do I need to buy to get the smoothest, clearest picture from HD sources without jiggly lines and artifacts?

Any 1080p HD-DVD player or a PS3 displaying through hdmi.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:59 PM on December 28, 2007

We watched DirecTV for the first few years with our Sony HD set - off the Satellite. Picture quality was fine, though the non-HD picture did not fill the screen. I would have stayed with DirecTV, but they aren't compatible with our new HD Tivo brand DVR.

The cable HD picture is just terrible. At the moment Comcast is dropping signal in the middle of local sports games (when everyone in the neighborhood is tuning in!) When I can tolerate another long installation day I am going over to Verizon FIOS. The picture quality is (reported to be) much better.

I don't think there is any reason to wait, except maybe further price drops.
posted by geekP1ng at 7:55 PM on December 28, 2007

Best answer: If you know audio, then you know the high-end audio stores also sell video systems that outclass anything you are going to get at a Best Buy or Circuit City, etc..

Harvey Electronics, for example, sells hi-end TV's like Runco and Pioneer Elite.
posted by wfc123 at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2007

Best answer: Every LCD I've seen on display looks terrible. LCDs I've seen in people's homes are better, but not remarkably so. The first mind-blowing HDTV experience I had was when I first saw a Pioneer Elite hooked up to a bluray player (hdtv should give the same quality). It was absolutely stunning. Try to get a demo somewhere.
posted by null terminated at 8:10 PM on December 28, 2007

Best answer: I saw a Pioneer Kuro at an acquaintances house last week and was blown away. I think he had DTV, but we were watching over-the-air signals, as those aren't compressed at all. If I were to buy an HDTV now, it'd be a Kuro.
posted by sanka at 8:20 PM on December 28, 2007

One thing that may be causing the sets at the stores to look bad is that you are too close. You stand less than 4 feet away usually and they do look awful up close. Stand back at least 10 feet and they look much better. Figure out how close you will be to your tv in your house and then go to the store and measure it out. You may find that 1080p is a waste of money like I did, because your eye cannot possibly see the difference.
posted by internal at 9:51 PM on December 28, 2007

Response by poster: I'd really prefer to have a picture large enough to occupy most of my vision, so I'd rather not have to sit 10 feet away from a 42" screen to look at an artifact-free picture. :)
posted by stewiethegreat at 10:47 PM on December 28, 2007

Image size is a function of viewing distance. A properly set up home theater image encompasses about 30% of your field of view. As internal notes above, there aren't enough degrees of arc difference in pixel size for your eye/brain interface to discern any difference in image sharpness between 720P, 1080I, or 1080P native resolutions at recommended viwing distance.

The correct viewing distance for a 42" display is 7ft , for a 46" it's 8 ft , and for a 50", about 9 ft. There is no display technology that satisfies your requirement, and HD broadcast will not do so either, and will, in fact, be a notch below HD DVD for quites some time. Currently there are no 1080P broadcast sources in North America, and it's unlikely that there will be any for at least the next decade. Therefore, the sharpest image available over this new display generation will be HD DVD players, unless this stupid format war kills this technology altogether. An argument can be made that the very idea of removable media is obsolete.

The correct viewing distance for a 42" display is 7ft , for a 46" it's 8 ft , and for a 50", about 9 ft. There is no panel display technology that satisfies your requirements, and HD broadcastswill not do so either, and will, in fact, be a notch below HD DVD for quites some time. You pretty much need one of these and a good screen to satisfy your needs.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:25 PM on December 28, 2007

I swore I previewed that post. I'm blaming it on the Nyquil and beer.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:28 PM on December 28, 2007

I meant "hddvd should give you the same quality" above, not "hdtv".
posted by null terminated at 3:33 AM on December 29, 2007

Best answer: Meh. I've downloading my TV for years. The 720p stuff out there is amazing, and I can watch it whenever I want instead of when NBC, Fox, etc decide to broadcast it. Just make sure you get it from Usenet instead of Bittorrent unless you want the lawyers to come calling.

My little brother really wants an HDTV but I see no reason to upgrade. Maybe if you play a lot of videogames it might be worth it. Or if watching TV is a big family activity for you. But neither applies to me.
posted by exhilaration at 8:24 AM on December 29, 2007

Response by poster: The thing about all this is that I could get a huge CRT and sit any distance close or far and get a decent looking picture - yet, with this newer, "better" technology I have to settle for 30% of the visual field in order to see a decent-looking picture.

HDTV is starting to sound like a scam to me. I know the format of the file is sound, but this LCD/Plasma BS seems like a big, steaming load.
posted by stewiethegreat at 2:58 PM on December 29, 2007

Here's the thing, though...

Any flat-panel set will have essentially perfect geometry. That which is straight appears straight. When the camera pans across the football field, the grid-lines or whatever you call them out towards the edges of the screen aren't curved. At *all*. About the only defects you might get are around the immediate neighborhood of the bezel on an LCD set.

When I go upstairs and watch a bit on the perfectly good 27" JVC that we were very happy with until this July, the warping and shifting is so huge, so obvious, that it's almost unwatchable for a minute or two until my brain reaccustoms itself. And bigger CRTs generally had worse geometry.

Another thing is that (consumer) CRTs were generally noisy enough that the noise concealed defects in the source. LCDs, not so much. When there's dithering or shade/color banding on a signal fed to an LCD, you see it more not because the CRT is better but because it can't accurately reproduce the dithering or shade/color banding that's in the signal. This is a big part about why SD tv commonly looks worse on hdtvs -- all of the flaws in the signal are now really obvious, because they're being more accurately shown to you.

We have a 42" Westinghouse lcd. I wouldn't recommend it to you, primarily because it has marginal black levels, but it does well at quality per price. Anyway, it's not the best tv in the world. I can see its defects from time to time, and I won't be sad to upgrade to something else in 4 or 5 years. But the overall picture is still hands-down *hugely* better than any CRT I have ever seen, and my bride used to have a production-quality monitor, in the sense that I cannot recall ever seeing any CRT that I would trade for our crap $1K lcd.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:31 PM on December 29, 2007

Photos of the Pioneer PRO-110FD.
posted by null terminated at 3:43 AM on December 30, 2007

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