The Definitive 2010 HDTV Buyer's Guide 
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Written by Thomas Spurlin   
Monday, 01 February 2010

Around this time of year, we get an “itch” – not just tech heads or sports nuts, but a large chunk of the populace – to start looking at a potential purchase of a television.  It’s for two different reasons; one, a big game’s coming up pretty soon.  Watching the Super Bowl on a big screen (along with a few pizzas, dip trays, and assorted fizzy beverages) is just enough of a motivator to shove slightly interested parties over the edge into an investment. 

However, this time right before the game also coincides with another big event: April 15th, dreaded tax time or, more importantly, income tax return time.  It doesn’t matter if you’re into watching the biggest sports even out there or more of a cinema aficionado; it’s hard to ignore the appeal of a brand-spankin’ new set that’s just begging to eat up that well-deserved kick back after a year’s worth of hard work.  Audio Video Revolution is here to offer a few points to consider in 2010 for purchases, as well as a few of the more heavily-lauded models on the market currently.

Proceed with Caution:

Viewing distanceNowadays, the process of purchasing a television is oftentimes not really an exercise in immediate wine and roses – especially in the age of online shopping. Listings on sites like Amazon and other electronics-supporting sites like NewEgg and Crutchfield are often well-detailed, yet there’s always the potential for a) misleading product descriptions, or b) a lack of clarity involving the product spec. The key idea with purchasing a television is to dive at least a layer or two deeper with the research than you deem fit; even if the product specifications list an important item to your individual buying decision, dig a few layers deeper and make absolute certain that it performs properly or, even, whether it’s included at all.  Be prepared to return the television if things aren’t going as planned, but also be ready to verify the reasons behind why the television doesn’t meet your needs when discussing a return.  Put simply, do your research, then research again for what’s important to you.

Here are a few quick, seemingly obvious points to remember/consider when looking at a purchase:

  • What’s the height and weight of the television set, both without and WITH the base?

As odd as it may seem, television stands don’t really follow much of a standard when it comes to their included (or optional) support base.  Sure, home theaters are getting to a point where in-wall mounting is more nomenclature than a luxury, but some people simply don’t have the same trust in levitating their thousand-plus dollar investment in the air.  Due to that, it’s worth taking a look at the overall weight of the panel being considered and whether it’ll be supported by your current television stand – or, more importantly, whether the width is too deep for some low-riding stands.  For instance, LG’s 55LH40 is a great, relatively streamlined panel, yet the base is a bit of an outstretching mammoth at 16 3/4” deep. Since sizes for flat-panel stands range from high 14” to upwards of 20”+, that’s a point to verify before making a purchase.

  • Does the TV REALLY support 24fps, and will it be satisfying to my eyes?

Operating Blu-ray technology at 24 frames per second has slowly integrated into the home theater world as the standard because, well, most movies are shot in that fashion.  However, it takes a bit of adjustment for some enthusiasts to get used to the “true film” look after they’ve gotten accustomed to traditional 60hz refresh rate motion.  Blu-ray technology is internally encoded at this native 24 frames per second; when it’s communicated to a television that doesn’t support that native cinema flow, it duplicates frames to catch up to the 60 figure and attempts to have a crisper, more fluid image -- which brings up the oft-discussed 2:2 and 3:2 pulldown jutter issues. 

This creates a different look to film material than movie theaters operating at a natural film flow, which might appear “odd” too some when outside of the cinema context, even though it’s the “correct” way to view the material.  It’s worth keeping an eye out for televisions that claim to support 24fps motion yet don’t do it to a direct degree, such as Samsung’s LN52B550 – which drops to a different hertz level (48hz) to showcase the material, thus creating a problematic, shimmering effect due to the off-kilter flicker rate.

  • So, what’s with this new 120hz – 240hz “motion” technology?

Speaking of refresh and frame rates, let’s talk about the new-fangled, growingly-popular “true motion” for a second.  Again, what happens with this is that the image sprints ahead to keep up with the heightened hertz refresh rate, thus duplicating frames in the source and adding to a smoother feel.  Where this primarily helps is with live broadcasts, sporting events, and gaming; adding that heightened smoothness retains a realistic flow about those sources, making HD (and standard-definition) videogames more vividly fluid and offering a much tighter range of motion during high-impact sporting events – such as, ahem, the Super Bowl. 

However, the application of this technology to movies and television programming has a different effect, being that it effectively changes the hertz / refresh rate of the source to something unintended by the artistic talents behind the production.  It effectively strips away from intended frames-per-second look and adds a range of motion that looks more “realistic”, yet not inherently natural to the source – giving it a forced (and, to these eyes, a pseudo fast-forward looking) feel that’s simply unlike what was envisioned from its creators.  Also bear in mind, however, that 120hz sets have the added plus of being able to communicate 24fps material at an even, smooth 5:5 ratio (24 x 5 = 120).  

60hz / 240hz comparison


Along with those inquiries, it’s worth remembering a few other points:

  • What distance away will the viewing point be from the television?
  • How many HDMI ports are really needed if an A/V receiver is in use?
  • Will the television’s internal speakers be in use?
  • Will this panel be used as a PC monitor, hooked up via VGA?
  • How much glare will reflect off the panel from light sources in the space?
  • Will the internal HD tuner and digital audio out available on the television be used, or a cable box?
Continue on to read our picks for Super Bowl Sunday HDTV's, High-Def Sets for Movie Buffs and displays for All Around usage.

For the Sports / TV Fanatic:

Over the past few years, Samsung have really come out of the gate and grabbed the bull by the horns with precision in the LCD flat-panel department.  This quality has carried over into LED territory (essentially an enhanced varietal of LCD), prominently with this particular 55” set.  The UN55B8500 comes with 240hz technology integrated in the mix for enhanced motion quality, along with the spectacular LED panel’s capacity for rich black levels – a dynamic contrast ratio upwards of a staggering 7,000,000:1 – and 2-millisecond response time.  On top of that, it also integrated DLNA device communication, internet integration with Media 2.0 and Amazon OnDemand, as well as a hefty amount of aesthetic appeal with its ultra-slim 1.2” width.  It requires a meaty investment, but the quality back it up.

Samsung UN55B8500

Far be it for Sharp to allow the LED/LCD market to progress without their foot in the door, resulting in this 60” entry into the market.  Sporting 120hz motion control and 4-millisecond response time within Sharp’s exquisite Advanced TFT Panel, this larger-scaped LCD panel relies on the company’s legacy of fine craftsmanship under to hood to speak for itself – with little in the way of bells and whistles, aside from a PC input to the rear. Though it doesn’t carry the same 240hz tech made available in other pricier panels, the size and build more than make up for that meager boost for sports material.

Sharp Aquos LC60E77UN

Surprisingly, LG’s entry into the backlit LED tech, the 240hz 55LH90, barrels out of the pack as one of the sleeker, higher-quality entries of the bunch.  The value that quickly comes to light when you look at its product specs is an astonishing 2.7-millisecond response time, that atop its rather striking DeepColor capacity and exquisite 2,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio.  This series of panels, which also includes the lower-tier 42LH90 and 47LH90, impressed with their quality at CEDIA 2009 – and continue to do so on retail shelves.



For the Movie Lover:

 

  • Toshiba REGZA 55SV670U 55” Backlit LED  (Amazon Link)

This entry into Toshiba’s REGZA Cinema Series is a beast, meant in the gentlest way possible. It’s an techsavvy backlit LED, sporting a 10-Bit panel with 5G PixelPure processing and 240hz ClearScan, yet its 3:2 pulldown Cinema Processing, Cinespeed reaction time, and TheaterWide components ensure that it’s geared towards a full film-centric experience in the home.  Adding to that is the unit’s FocalLight mechanisms, which tailor brightness in the LocalDimming aspects for the tight amount of pop in under the right conditions. On top of that, it also comes with quite a few other bells and whistles, including USB / SD card support and a PC input for access to external media files.

Toshiba 55SV670U

LG’s panel is probably the biggest surprise encountered from last year’s models.  Essentially a little sibling to the 55LH90, this 120hz LCD packs a much meaner punch as a movie display than it appears. Just like its 240hz counterpart, it sports a 2.7-millisecond response time, 5:5 RealCinema 24p processing, and a splendid array of input/image tailoring features.  The contrast is a bit lower at 70,000:1, while those interested in the motion enhancement will only receive a boost to 120hz; however, the overall prowess behind its processing doesn’t misstep in the slightest.   Moreover, the display itself is rather sexy in its own right, with a slick power indicator and a glassy bezel that’s highly appealing.  This is truly one of the better values on the flat-panel market today.  

LG 55LH40 55" LCD
  • Panasonic VIERA S1 TC-P65S1 65” Plasma  (Amazon Link)

Plasma televisions might be jogging behind the front-running LCD and LED technology, but their quality in specific areas is still unparalleled – especially when it comes to their prowess as cinema displays.  Panasonic’s remained at the front of the pack for plasma tech for quite a while, and their S1 Series models shows exactly why.  Sporting 2,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio for those signature “plasma blacks” powering behind their NeoPDP (Plasma Display Panel), as well as both Deep Color and x.v. Color, this cinema-inclined series of plasmas really deliver quite a punch.  It lacks the “Digital Cinema Playback” 24p motion and the specific Cinema Color function available on their other V1-series model, but it does allow standard 24p motion and a few other film-centric tweaks.  The TV also comes in smaller models – 58” (TC-58PS14), 54” (TC-54PS14), 50” (TC-50PS14), and lower – and you’re going to find the same quality across each of them. 



For the Budget-Minded, Well-Rounded Enthusiast:

Though two LG panels have already made it onto our round-up, it’s worth noting that they’ve also got a pleasing 50” plasma as well – at an incredibly affordable price.  Sporting a 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 600hz Subfield driving, 3:2 pulldown and THX certification, all the goods are crammed into this rather streamlined, chic unit.  And, pleasantly surprising, the size and weight fight admirably with an LCD of the same size – roughly 80 lbs and about 14” wide including the stand.  Considering its competition, this is a very healthy unit.   LG doesn’t deal very much in plasmas, but they also offer an affordable 60” model (60PS60).  

LG 50PS60

Though there’s a lot of hype, hoopla, and shenanigans flying about regarding the 120hz / 240hz technology, there’s still plenty of room for affordable, standard LCD sets – and this Samsung towers over those with might.  It’s an entry from the company’s Touch of Color design, an aesthetic that adorns the outer ridge of the frame with a dark maroon-stained acrylic material for aesthetic appeal.  Though the design is pleasing, also taking into account the sleek clear acrylic and very streamlined appeal, it’s no slouch in the performance arena; a 6-millisecond response time, blistering capacity for black levels with its 70,000:1 contrast ratio, and Samsung’s impressive color gamut (along with a pleasing array of adjustment options), it’s an impressive set.  Bear in mind that the RealCinema 24p isn’t quite up to snuff, however, as it only performs 2:2 at 48hz, but outside of that it’s an incredible satisfying set.  

  • Panasonic G10 Series TC-P50G10 50” Plasma  (Amazon Link)

Naturally, one of Panasonic’s plasmas almost always finds its way into a “budget-minded” round-up, and this entry’s no exception.  Plain and simple, their panels are always reliable, which carries over into the TC-P50G10 50” model – a 600hz subfield, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio panel that offers some of the better black levels and color accuracy on the market.  What’s improved greatly over the years (noticeable for the past two) is the panel’s ability to fight image retention “burn-in”, especially during long videogame sessions, by scrambling the image at precise moments.  Moreover, these things are THX-certified, offer wide viewing angles, and connection to all Panasonic products.  Now, you’re still going to have to fight a bit of rainbow effect, which has also grown noticeably over the years, and battle against energy consumption, though these panels are Energy Star verified.  These panels are well worth it.






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