Help me spend less/more money.
April 10, 2008 8:06 AM   Subscribe

How bad does XBox 360 look on a standard definition TV?

It's April, and for 6 months I've been telling myself that I'd pick up a 360 when GTA 4 came out (it's basically the only game I would put significant play time into). It's about that time, but as much as I'd like to pick up an HDTV as well, I just don't feel that the price point is right yet (I'm in the market for something in the 37" range; even the very cheapest ones are still mostly $700+).

In any case, the basic question is, how disappointed will I be at the 360 on my 27" SDTV? I've heard reports of fuzzy, hard-to-read text and general dullness. Truth, or fanboy hyperbole?

I can afford to buy both if there's a compelling reason (also it's baseball season, which is a fantastic excuse), but buying all this crap at once--none of which I actually need--makes me kinda squirmy.

Thanks, folks.
posted by uncleozzy to Shopping (22 answers total)
Best answer: Mine was originally set up on a 2003 Phillips 32" and it looked fine, though it was running through component video. Never had any problems with text or anything hard to read.

It will probably look fine, unless the TV itself is generally disappointing at all times. But the games look brilliant through HDTV.
posted by uaudio at 8:13 AM on April 10, 2008

Mine's hooked up to a cheap 17-inch LCD TV. It looks just fine. I've not encountered text that can't be read on it. On a 27-inch you shouldn't have any problems.

For the record, my sons and I mostly use it to play shooters such as Halo 3, Call Of Duty 4, Gears Of War, and Ghost Recon.
posted by veedubya at 8:14 AM on April 10, 2008

Best answer: I had a 20" set for my 360 for nine months until I got my HDTV (37", $900, love it)

95% of the time, I had no problems with it; the games obviously still look amazing, just not as amazing as on HD.

The other 5% of the time, I wanted to catch a plane to the developers' offices and engage in acts of physical violence because critical text was being printed way, way too small to ever be readable. This is very much a game-by-game situation - most are fine - but it was enough to render some games unplayable (there was a demo I can't remember that I couldn't even get through because I couldn't read my objectives), and sometimes just be really annoying (about one in ten conversation options in Mass Effect was blurry enough that I wasn't entirely positive what it was, though almost never to the point of genuinely impairing me.)

Gears of War, Halo 3, Bioshock, Prey, all perfectly fine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:16 AM on April 10, 2008

Some of the early games for the Xbox were made to wow you on an HDTV. So, the text is unreadable on a regular TV I discovered while playing/cursing at Dead Rising. But I have not had any problems with recent games even if they are text heavy.

You will be fine.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:17 AM on April 10, 2008

Best answer: I was in the same boat last fall. Wanted a 360 for the games but didn't also want to spend an extra $700 just to utilize the HD. I dove in and got the 360 in middle of December - dabbled in Portal, Bioshock. They looked fine on my 27" SD. After Xmas, I used the sales to get a 32" Samsung HDTV for $550. I do not regret it one bit. Most startlingly however was how awesome OTA broadcast HDTV looks - and it's free!

Will you be disappointed in the look of the 27" SD? I think not. But you'll LOVE it when you finally do upgrade.
posted by yeti at 8:20 AM on April 10, 2008

You can buy VGA cables and play with any PC monitor at higher resolution than an SDTV, which helps with the unreadable text issue that plagues some games. (Dead Rising, Assassin's Creed)
posted by utsutsu at 8:21 AM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Rockin'. This is what I (or the rational, burning-hundred-dollar-bills-averse part of me) wants to hear. That's not to say I won't get impulsive and blow the cash on a cheapish HDTV, but at least I know I won't be grumbly if I don't.

How about the whole 4:3 vs. 16:9 thing... any likely issues (or, I suppose, more likely, annoyances) there?
posted by uncleozzy at 8:22 AM on April 10, 2008

Just wanted to throw out a few notes of advice re: purchase. The 360's failure rate is ludicrously high for the early models -- overheating causes the GPU's solder to melt and warps the board to which it's attached.. Theory is that it was rushed to market to beat the PS3.

Anyway, it's got a great game catalogue, is well worth buying and will look fine on an SD set. You should do all you can to purchase a unit with the most recent hardware though -- they've redesigned the heat sinks for the GPU and reduced the size of the CPU to 65nm from 85. Much better heat management and less overall heat generation. Here's a link to a thread that has some good info to help you get the most recent chipset in your box.

I'll be mailing mine back for the third time in a few days. It's a pain in the ass. The specific hardware failure that's most common is covered by warranty for three years, at least.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2008

The most useful link from that thread:

I'd get a 16:9 set over a 4:3 -- lots of games are being designed with that in mind and the extra acreage is nice.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 8:41 AM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, definitely getting the most recent revision. Supposedly the newest premium (or whatever they're calling it) has the latest chipset/heat sink.

(Oh no, I just found a pretty nice deal on a 42" Panasonic plasma. Somebody help me say $800 worth of no to this!)
posted by uncleozzy at 8:57 AM on April 10, 2008

The experience is significantly better with an HDTV. I've played with friends who still have SD sets and it's difficult to go back. 360 games played in SD certainly don't look bad, but they don't have the pop and sheen of HD.

Also you'll be better at multiplayer games if you have a big, detailed HD set opposed to a small SD set.
posted by aerotive at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2008

A lot of people complained about the small text in Dead Rising, but I initially played it on a 27 inch SD and I had no problems with it. Depending on your eyesight, your mileage may vary. As for everything else: it looked good though it's not as drastic a change as you'd see going from PS1-era hardware to PS2-era hardware. To get that experience you have to go HD, as I did at the start of this year.
posted by mkn at 9:24 AM on April 10, 2008

Just as an aside, GTA IV is also coming out on the PS3, which includes a blu-ray player, and there is no fee for any online play like there is with the Xbox360. Obviously you don't need a bluray player at the moment, but if you think you may eventually get an HDTV, it might be an option worth considering. For $50 more on the most basic unit of each system (and not having to pay anything for online play, which will more than cover that $50 initial price difference) it really is a pretty attractive option.
posted by Grither at 9:25 AM on April 10, 2008

i've got a 10 year old 36" tv hooked up to my xbox360 and it's fine. i haven't hooked it up yet to the 20" tv for when there are the inevitable "i want to play games/i want to watch movies" disagreement between my sweetie and i.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:26 AM on April 10, 2008

Adding my voice to the chorus that most games will look okay on an SD television, but it will vary by game-by-game basis (the zombie apocalypse Dead Rising is the one off the top of my head that's widely known for being unreadable on most SDTVs). The best thing to do would mainly be to put together a list of your 'must-have' games, so GTA4 as mentioned and whatever else if there is anything else for you, and ask about them specifically. Give GTA awhile after release, and plenty of people will have discovered if it's in the subset of games with nigh-unreadable fonts in SD (or if it has other issues unrelated to television, for that matter).

Tangentially related, I'd recommend buying the actual console from a retailer with a good extended store warranty--the 360's hardware reliability issues have been such that it's one of the cases where that usually-wasted additional expense is worth it. The manufacturer's warranty is only 3 years for one specific (though the most famous and common) form of hardware failure, but only 1 year for all others, so if the optical drive stops reading discs (or starts scratching them up), or if it begins locking up without the infamous "red ring of death" after a year, you'd get charged to have Microsoft take care of it.
posted by Drastic at 9:29 AM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Well, everybody I know's got a 360, so the PS3 is sort of out on that count. Plus I don't really watch movies at home anyhow. Or much of anything. Which is why the HDTV is a low-priority, indulgent purchase. It would be almost strictly for playing games. I don't really need to see Alex Trebek in HD.

Point taken, though, about warranty concerns.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:48 AM on April 10, 2008

Dead Rising is just about unplayable without an HDTV. On my 27", the text was completely unreadable.

Beyond that, I think, more and more, developers are assuming people playing there games have HDTVs. I couldn't imagine playing games like Call of Duty 4 or Burnout Paradise on a standard definition tv. So much of those games require that you either spot another player hiding among bushes and trees before he spots you, or seeing that turnoff in the distance while driving insanely fast. Both, I guess, are doable, but you'll clearly be at a disadvantage.

p.s. I realize that previous Burnout games were very similar, but with added detail in the environment, it can be hard to tell a turnoff from a fence.
posted by SAC at 11:10 AM on April 10, 2008

Does your tv have component in? I found the picture quality rises dramatically when its doing 480p.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:28 AM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Oh man, I forgot how much I enjoy Burnout. I'm thinking I'll just get the XBox and GTA, and if it's really heinous, just get the TV. Because I'm gonna do it eventually. Good to hear that it's not entirely unworkable; it's not as if I'm a hardcore gamer (obviously, or else this wouldn't be a question).
posted by uncleozzy at 11:30 AM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: (And yeah, I've got component in, and I plan on using it.)
posted by uncleozzy at 11:30 AM on April 10, 2008

You will be fine. 480i to 480p is a 200% jump in resolution. 480p to 720p is 150% Things look ok.
posted by OldReliable at 1:06 PM on April 10, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, I'm a sucker; I went for the plasma. It was too good a deal to pass up (on my birthday, no less). Thanks anyhow to helpful folks!
posted by uncleozzy at 1:21 PM on April 11, 2008

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