Buying a TV can be quite intimidating. When clients ask me what to get, here’s what I usually recommend.
Go to a big box store (Costco, Sams) since they have an excellent return policy, good prices, and they don’t try to give you terrible upsells and warranties. If you want the best value, look at Vizios. If you want the best TV and picture look at Samsungs. They cost more, but are the best displays for most people’s needs.
If you want a big TV and you have good light control in the room, meaning that you can make it dark, consider getting a front projector. You can get an excellent projector that will give you a 100+ inch screen for $1400. This takes a little more work since you need to position the projector, get a screen, and focus the projector. But it’s the only cost effective way to get a screen over 75 inches.
The Vizios and Samsungs mentioned above are LCDs. If you are big into sports and you appreciate the more active (slightly less ghosty) look, consider getting a plasma TV over LCD. Modern LCDs are great and have largely done away with the ghosting problems. Most people never notice any image issues. But many video professionals still prefer the look of plasmas. Plasma images are dimmer so they aren’t as good in well lit areas as LCDs. They are thicker and heavier than LCDs.
Panasonic makes the best plasmas. A couple of years ago Pioneer’s Kurio was the best, but Pioneer stopped making it and sold the technology to Panasonic.
Don’t Fall for the Upsell
Remember that TVs are warrantied by the manufacturer so you don’t need to buy an extended warranty. And you can get great HDMI and other cables at reasonable prices from monoprice.com.
Cartoon from The Oatmeal depicting why people torrent content illegally.
It’s clear why people torrent. But it took me a while to figure out why HBO does not offer HBO GO, their internet video streaming service, as a stand-alone option outside of cable, even for a high fee like $40/month. HBO’s co-president Eric Kessler said that they would never offer HBO GO for sale to non-cable subscribers.
The reason is that HBO is owned by Time Warner Cable. They want to keep the existing cable TV model going. Time Warner doesn’t want to become a “dumb pipe” for TV programming streamed from others.
An independent HBO would clearly find that it makes business sense to offer HBO GO for sale and bypass the cable/satellite providers. So Time Warner created a content/distribution cabal that unfortunately limits the options to consumers. Comcast purchased NBC for the same reason.
See Freepress’s ownership charts showing all the vertically integrated media organizations.
The Consumer Electronics Shows (CES) just wrapped up in Las Vegas and one of the main themes was 3D video coming to home televisions. Along with this, the big movie Avatar is being shown in many locations in 3D.
While 3D adoption will grow, there are some problems such as having to wear silly glasses and the “depth of field”.
Depth of Field Problem
About 20% of the people I know who saw Avatar in 3D said that they felt nauseous or got a headache. This is primary due to a “depth of field” problem.
When you look at a close up object in the real world, you focus on it and things in the background are out of focus. You then look at something far away and then can focus on that clearly.
In 2D movies, the camera focuses on what is important and other items are out of focus, especially when there is a wide depth of field.
In 3D movies, our eyes expect to be able to look at an out-of-focus area and have it come into focus, just like in real life. But if it was shot out of focus, this is impossible. Further, the shallower the depth of field (meaning the more that the foreground and background are both in focus) the more cartoonish a video can look. This is a reason that cartoons, because they have no depth of field, work great with 3D.
An article at Shadow Locked explains How to avoid getting a 3D headache while watching Avatar. You have to look at what is in focus. See picture:
3D Does Work in Many Cases
For cartoons and sports, we do not expect to see a depth of field. And typically James Cameron shot Avatar with little depth of field. But, to the extent that depth of field is an important tool for movies, it will limit adoption of 3D movies for many people.
Why you should buy a home theater projector
Screen size. For the ultimate large screen (100+ inch) theater experience, a front projector is the only solution under $80,000. There are large LCD, Plasma, and rear-projector televisions, but none over 100 inches that can practically be purchased or fit through your door.
Why you should not buy a projector
- Lighting. Ambient light from windows and lamps immediately washes out a projector’s colors and dark details. To have a proper picture with correct colors and darks, you need to be able to completely control the light in that room, for example, by having heavy drapes on the windows. This creates a theater environment but can be impractical for casual viewing.
- Installation. Projectors need to be mounted properly and focused so that there are no distortions. A screen also needs to be installed for best picture quality.
- Maintenance. Projector bulbs need to be replaced every year or two, depending on usage and bulb life. Some projectors also need to be vacuumed for dust periodically.
- Noise. Fan noise can be loud and irritating on some models.
Researching a projector
- ProjectorReviews.com by Art Feierman. Art has by far the most in-depth reviews of home theater projectors. People in forums anxiously await his reviews and refer to him when making arguments for projectors. Manufacturers sometimes send him test units prior to producing projectors. His daughter helps with the photographs and his friend Mike helps with calibrations.
- AVS Forum’s Projector’s Under $3000 page. As with other home theater gear, AVS Forum has intelligent discussions of projectors by shoppers and owners of the equipment. They also have forums on projector screens and making your own DIY screens to save money.
- Projector Central. Not as detailed as ProjectorReviews.com, but another resource for reviews.
Some things to consider
- 1080P versus 720P resolution. Three years ago, 720P resolution was much cheaper than 1080P. But as with LCD TVs, projector manufacturers are putting all their effort into 1080P which can be purchased now for $1000.
- Brightness. Ambient light in the room can be somewhat compensated for by a brighter projector.
- Noise. If you are sitting close to the projector, you will want one that is relatively quiet, below 30db.
- Bulb replacement. Look at replacement bulb costs as well as how many hours of life you can expect for a bulb.
My current favorite
A TV is a personal choice depending on your needs, room environment, and budget. My favorite at the moment is the Epson Home Cinema 8100 (see a review at ProjectorReviews.com) because it has:
- Brightness while maintaining good colors. Many other projector’s brightest mode will create much poorer colors.
- Shadow detail better than cheaper 1080P projectors.
- Quietness. 27db or less. Cheaper 1080P projectors such as the Optima HD20 and Vivitek 1800 are significantly louder. Panasonic makes quieter projectors, but they are not as bright as this Epson.
- Good warranty and long bulb life. Epson is easy to work with if you need a repair.
I also recommend the Mitsubishi HC3800. It uses DLP technology instead of the Epson’s LCD, which leads to these trade-off’s: Pros: great colors, smaller body. Cons: louder fan, minor rainbow effect which some people notice and some don’t (caused by the DLP’s spinning color wheel).
Where to buy
As with other electronics, there are better deals if you shop online instead of going to Best Buy. I usually start at Amazon, but there are many online stores that will provide competitive pricing.
Over-the-air (OTA) high definition television is great. It provides free high definition programming that is higher bitrate (meaning higher quality) than high definition TV from cable, fios, or satellite.
But it can be tricky to get antenna placement correct.
I use a spreadsheet that I create from antennaweb.org data for installing HD OTA TV for DC Metro area clients.
This allows you to write down signal strength numbers on all your channels using different configurations:
- different antennas
- different locations
- amplification on/off
Generally a higher placement for the antenna is best. For the Washington D.C. channel lineup, I have found the Winegard SS-3000 Amplified Indoor UHF/VHF Antenna to work best in most situations, at least when located close to the city. Amplification can help for areas with weaker signals but should not be done if you already have a strong signal.
There is typically a trade-off in choosing the best configuration. A particular setup might favor one channel and hurt another because channels use various tower locations and frequencies.