Dave’s Dilemma: New HDTV


Since moving about two years ago, I haven’t bothered replacing my projector. However, we just gave away our last SDTV (32″ JVC) and moved the 30″ CRT HDTV into the bedroom. So we’re looking at 40″ – 46″ LCDs for the living area. (New projector or larger higher-end set is on hold until the next move.) And I’ve got to say despite the bulk, I much prefer the picture quality of tube televisions. But they’re a dying breed (“microdisplay” projection sets will soon follow) and no one makes larger HDTV tubes anymore. LCDs just don’t handle fast motion (or black levels) like a CRT… and given our usage patterns (potential burn-in issues) a plasma is out of the question. The new Sony XBR4/5 and the Samsung 71/81 LCDs offer double the refresh rate (120Hz, versus 60), but it’s yet to be seen it this is a hack or a genuine improvement. Regardless, I can’t justify $3k on a 40″ screen. I’m most seriously looking at the 42/53 (720p) and 61/65/66 (1080p) Samsungs at the moment, but can’t say I feel great about watching sports on any of them. LCD quality just isn’t there yet. At least not at prices I’m comfortable with.

By the way, what’s the consensus on 720p versus 1080p on a 40″ LCD from 8′ away? The higher-end Samsungs do have a better video processor (10 bit), but I wonder if the higher screen resolution would be noticeable at that distance. Broadcast stuff is 720p or 1080i which I find equivalent, so the the question is – would there be a noticeable difference with 1080p content originating from my Xbox or high-def DVD player (which I don’t own yet). I’m leaning towards the 720p sets to save a few bucks, knowing that this will ultimately become the bedroom TV.

29 thoughts on “Dave’s Dilemma: New HDTV”

  1. Dave – I’ve got a 42″ DLP (not LCD) and am very pleased with it. I got it for cheap last November for the exact same reasons as you are considering. I primarily watch baseball, basketball and football on it (via Cox’s HD Service) and have no complaints. Discover HD Theater’s “Planet Earth” series was probably the best ever content I have seen in HD and it was remarkable even at 720p.

  2. Dave, I’ve gotten the impression that the image burn in issue with current plasma’s has been overblown. Now personally, I’m looking at LCDs just because of brightness since it’ll be in a bright room with a view we don’t want to block off just to watch TV. So a Plasma just won’t cut it.

    There are 120 kHz TVs, though as you say I haven’t seen any reviews that mentioned they had solved the fast motion problem. And somewhat ridiculously, some of them can’t take a 24fps input from a DVD/HD-DVD/BluRay player. Stupid.

    I will say that looking at 1080p displays at a Best Buy, it seemed to me like the extra resolution was relatively obvious from 5-6 feet away… but if you’re not living with this thing in the living room for that long, save yourself the money…

  3. 42 inch panasonic plasma is your best bet, since plasmas are better than lcds in general, it suffers from none of the issues of the LCD and is quite cheap, I am a very satisfied owner of one.

  4. Dave,

    I know how you feel. So many choices, yet no clear winner. It was much better in the old days of CRTs – my 40″ Sony XBR tube is just fantastically great, but no one makes a 40″ tube anymore. No wonder – it weighs 300 lbs!

    To my eyes, the current LCDs look great in a bright environment (like, say, an electronics store) but look terribly washed out in a proper environment, and it gets worse as screen sizes get bigger. Plasma still looks “weird” to me. I’d go with a DLP rear-projection set at this point, since it’s least bad at a cheap price. Or wait for better LCDs.

    Why worry about resolution and refresh when the screen looks like washed-out hell on a still picture? :)

  5. I went with the 720p model on mine and have always regretted it. It’s hard to really know if that little bit really makes a difference, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I might be missing out.

  6. Since 1080p models are now generally little more expensive than their 720p counterparts, I would get the 1080p model. I just bought the newer Samsung 40″ 1080p set (LN-T4061F) and am pretty happy with it. The contrast ratio has finally gotten to a point that I’m happy with the TV in a dark room. The 40″ 720p Samsung would have been all of $150 cheaper, so I don’t really see the point. The thing is that people now seem to realize that they want 1080p (even though half of them don’t know what it is or why they want it) and so those sets are the hot sellers. And we all know that as long as there’s a decent supply, the hottest sellers will have the most price competition and you’ll get the best buy on them. From a value proposition point, the mass market Samsung (LN-Txx61) or Sharp (LC-xxD62U) 40/42 and 46 inch TVs will offer you the best bang for your buck.

  7. I don’t feel comfortable recommending 720p over 1080p, as I’ve seen my share of HD sets and am not convinced that the difference in resolution justifies the added cost. I’d put more weight into glare and viewing angle.

  8. Dave, Dave, Dave,

    Burn-in problems on Plasmas bother you, but not CRTs? That doesn’t make any sense.

    Burn-in is way over-blown, and if you never noticed it with your CRTs you’ll probably never notice it with a Plasma, the only real fear is if you watch 90% SD material, non stretched.

    With the new Pioneer Kuro line out, there is no doubt that the best 42″ TV right now is the Pioneer plasma, you aren’t going to be able to perceive 1080p from 8′ away on a 42″ TV, so the new 4280 would work perfect for you.

    LCDs are a no-brainer under 42″, but anything higher they just don’t cut it yet.

  9. Glenn, Ben: I agree plasma burn-in issues are overblown. On the other hand, I know we have and we will end up leaving the Xbox Dashboard or TiVo menu screen up all night or all day while we’re out. We get distracted by phone calls, projects, etc or just fall asleep. And that worries me.

    Wizzy: I just measured. Distance is ~6′ at the closest and ~8′ at the furthest. Going from 10′ wide projected to 30″ diagonal was hard. Going from 30″ to 40″-46″ doesn’t concern me. And when the living situation is better (layout, light), we’ll invest in a larger display.

    Michael: Good point on the price difference. For $150, may as well just suck it up.

    I’m wondering what sort of Labor Day discounts we’ll see this weekend. And Ben, that Kuro line is most likely outside of my budget (we bought two cars this month), so give me a cheaper alternative.

  10. dlp for the main room, lcd for the bed room. i have 46″ samsung dlp and im working on a 32″ samsung lcd for the bedroom

  11. Ben’s really got me thinking plasma. Looks like most sets have a timer to turn off and I guess a lot of the (overblown) burn-in issues are related to letterboxing or pillar bars which we wouldn’t see via whatever stretch mode.

    Best Buy has a 42″ Panasonic (720p) for $1250 which seems reasonable. The Pioneer he suggested is about $1k more.

    Vman, do you have a current model? If so, which?

  12. What ever you choose make sure you get a return guarantee. You can’t trust or see your sources in the store with lighting.
    My vote is for plasma.

  13. I have a 56″ Samsung DLP with LED light engine (as opposed to color wheel and traditional bulb) and it’s beautiful. Standard DVDs on my 480p Sony DVD player look gorgeous, not to mention my xbox 360 (1080p over component!) and HDTV. Anyway, the only significant disadvantage to DLP is depth, but if you’re not wall-mounting your flat-panel, you’re pretty much giving up the one advantage you have. If you go with a plasma, you’ll have a significantly better viewing angle, but you can get a 50″+ 1080p microdisplay for the cost of a 46″ LED.

  14. razor, We would like a larger screen but with our current setup (l-shaped couch, small living area with ambient light, and corner tv stand) 40″ 46″ is about all we can do. And college football starts Thursday night (we won’t move by then).

    Ben, Best Buy has the 42″ Panasonic 75U plasma for $1250. But Circuit City has the 77U with anti-glare coating and side-mounted speakers (does it matter) for $1299. I’m thinking 77U since we do have some ambient light during the day that can’t be blocked.

  15. Seems logical, but if you’ll spend $1300, then why not try to find a 4271 for $1400? I really think it’s worth it, but doesn’t have the same anti-glare coating that the 4280 (8th gen) has.

  16. I’m told that you don’t notice a ton of difference with a 1080p native TV below 46″, but I don’t know firsthand. Just remember LCDs are more akin to computer monitors than traditional TVs. In fact, you should grab one with a VGA or DVI-A port and get a vga adapter for your xbox360, that way you can rock out Halo 3 in your TV’s native resolution. Also, I believe the 360 upscales DVDs over VGA, but I haven’t gotten one yet to check.

  17. As with anything, how you’ll use it should determine what screen will serv your needs.

    If you’re going to do a lot of gaming, the slow refresh rate (8ms)on a LCD will drive you mad.

    I tend to agree with most of the posters that burn-in issues with plasmas are a thing of the past. Some sets have timers that will turn off the set if it sits idle (no command input) for a preset time. My Pioneer screen does that.

    As for 1080p or 720p, resolution of the human eye should be the deciding factor.

    I have 720p 50″ plasma and sit 10 feet away. At that distance a pixel subtends less than 1 arc minute, which is below the eye’s resolution, which is 1.6 arcmin in good light with normal vision.

    So for a 40″ screen, your eye will begin resolving individual pixels if you sit closer than about 5 feet. If you think you may sit closer than that while gaming, you might want to consider a 1080p set.

  18. Thanks for all the great feedback. After reviewing it all (and additional conversations with Ben and scouring AVS) plus studying the sets in the stores (given unrealistic lighting conditions, unfamiliar sources, uncalibrated settings), I ended up buying the 42″ 720P Panasonic plasma (77U) for $1229. Circuit City didn’t have it in stock so, if everything goes according to plan, it should arrive Friday.

    Unfortunately I’m going out of town for the weekend, but I’ll be ready for FSU/Clemson Monday night. If I’m lucky, Bioshock (via Gamefly) should also arrive by then.

    After I’ve lived with the set for awhile, of course I’ll blog my thoughts and experiences. Which hopefully won’t involve any returns.

  19. Panasonic has a 75U for $100 less than 77U. It seems it lacks the anti-glare. (I would put this in a bedroom that has less light that the living room.) Other than that it seems to be the same as 77U. Anyone know of any other issues with it?

  20. Brian, the only two differences I’m aware of on the 77U are the side mounted speakers (instead of bottom) and that anti-glare coating (which seems to come recommended).

    As it turns out Circuit City sold me the 77U for less than the 75U after I bitched that their extended service plan costs significantly more than Best Buy’s. List for the 77U is $1600 and they had it on sale for $1300 but I ended up paying $1230 ($20 less than the 75U’s sale price). They also waived the delivery fee ($60) since they didn’t have it in stock. (I noticed Sears.com has both the 75U and 77U for about $1200. I assume the prices are dropping because Panasonic announced new TVs today.)

    Hopefully it’ll show up tomorrow! Though I would have preferred it tonight given all the football.

  21. Thanks for your help. Sears has the 77U for 1199 and a $150 rebate if you use a sears card. I will have to swing by there and check it out.


  22. Dave, this is late in coming, but you made a good choice. You can throw the $1200 TV in the trash, errrrr… I mean move it to the bedroom when you realize you need a 60″ screen and 30″ does nothing for your life in the bedroom; all the while prices will be coming down and tech will be heading up.

    Anyway, that’s about my plan with the 40″ XBR2 LCD which will replace the cheapo 30″ BR CRT once I get a 60″ SXRD XBR.

  23. Hi Dave,

    My name is Christopher Lawton. I am a reporter for the Wall Street Journal based in San Francisco, Calif. I am writing a story about the latest flat panel TVs on the market for the holidays and I came across your blog post about your new 720p plasma TV. I was wondering if you would be interested in interviewing with me about the purchase for my article. It wouldn’t take too much of your time. I just wanted to ask a couple questions about what types of TVs you looked at, how you found the plasma you ended up getting. If you are interested, please let me know. I can be reached via email. Hope to hear from you.


    Christopher Lawton

    (Sorry to post this directly to your blog, but I couldn’t find an email address for you.)

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