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My Journey To Consumer Hell

I'm about to embark on a maddening journey, one that I've not attempted for 6 long years. Ahead of me lies great heartache and many difficult choices. It's a journey most men approach with great trepidation, as the effects of one wrong move can linger for many years.

As part of the great basement finishing project of 2006 (well underway), I find myself with an empty new media room. Yes I'm in the market for a home theater system, mostly just the TV portion of said system.

Could there be a more confusing time in which to attempt to make a major technology purchase?

Of course I wondered exactly the same thing 6 years ago when I skipped the pricey HDTV models hitting the market and went for a solid Phillips 60 inch rear projection big screen TV.

Somehow I suspect I will be even more angst filled this time around as the choices have multiplied in the interim...


Comments (18)

Among HDTVs, the DLP techno... (Below threshold)

Among HDTVs, the DLP technology seems to me to be the best price-performance group. I have a Samsung 62" unit that I'd happily recommend to anyone. Good resolution and brightness, lots of inputs, a sensible remote control, modest cost, and a much better MTTF than the plasma and LCD units.

I just bought a Denon S101 home theater system to accompany the Samsung, and couldn't be happier. It uses synthesized surround sound, which means no rear speakers to wire. It also plays music CDs, including CDs full of MP3s, and has a special connection for an iPod if you're into that sort of thing. Cost: $800. Set-up time: about 20 minutes. You might want to consider it.

We've put off buying the TV... (Below threshold)

We've put off buying the TV for now, but we did get ourselves a Bose Lifestyle for Christmas for our sound. My ears still thank me every time I turn it on. Oddly, the picture on our 32" seems better too.

The lcd and dlp projection ... (Below threshold)
Jimbo:

The lcd and dlp projection tv,s, all have expensive $300 and up lamps, that require replacement every 1,000 to 2,000 hours, depending on your luck and viewing habits. The crt projection units dont have this, but are suseptiple to screen burn from staic images and the brightness fades over time. Plasma's are still iffy in the longevity dept. If you can darken thr room to watch it, and dont mind the unit hanging from your celing a small dlp or lcd projector with a 90" or better screen is bliss. But you will run into the same lamp replacment problem as with the boxed units.

Kevin,First, check... (Below threshold)
Tyrtle:

Kevin,

First, check www.avsforum.com . That is where the fanatics hang out.

For rear projection, there is crt rear projection, lcd rear projection, and dlp rear projection. Your Philips is a crt RP set. CRT RP can burn in, are heavy, and are generally unreliable (so much so that Consumer Reports recommends buying an extended warranty- and they generally call such waranties a rip off).

LCD and DLP RP cannot burn in but use bulbs that must be replaced. DLP can also cause headaches for some people as well as having rainbowing effects. Spend some time viewing them before deciding to go with one.

LCD RP do not generally have as a good black levels as DLP RP but are not subject to raibows and headaches. LCOS is a varient used mainly by JVC.

Plasma CAN burn in but has very good image quality. Direct view LCD cannot burn in but does not have as good black level and contrast levels.

If you are going to play console games or hook up a computer, go with DLP/LCD/LCOS RP or LCD direct view.

Keep in mind that the electornics in the set matter quite a bit. The built in scaler in particular can be important. When you hear people talking about upscaling DVD players making a big difference, its usually because the scaler is better than the one in their TV.

Also, HD is actually multiple resolutions. Generally, CRT and CRT RP use 1920 by 1080i (interlaced). Most LCD/DLP/LCOS use 1280 by 720. However, sets are now coming out that use 1920 by 1080p (progressive rather than interlaced). As you can see, sets must be able to scale from one resolution to their native resolution hence electronics matter. For a example, must HD signals are 1920 by 1080i. Therefore, 1280 by 720 sets must scale them and 1920 by 1080p sets must deinterlace them. This is NOT trivial and can introduce various forms of artifacts. Not to mention that 720 by 480i (interlaced) or 720 by 480p (deinterlaced) signals from dvd players must be scaled if you dont get one that scales itself. To make matters works, some LCD direct view sets use odd native resolutions such as 1366 by 768 and so must scale everything- even 1280 by 720 signals. As a general rule, Faroudja (look for a DCDi logo) makes some of the best chips.

If you are looking for a good middle of the road solution, I recommend the Sony LCD rear projection sets- especially the new SRX line. They have good electronics, can be used for gaming without fear of burn in, bulbs are easy to find when you need them, and picture quality is a decent compromise. Of course, if you dont care about gaming and want high contrast and wide viewing angles, look at the Panasonic plasma sets. I would suggest avoiding ED (extended definition) plasma sets. These are just 720 by 480 resolution and so down-res's HD signals to DVD resolution. As a person who has a problem viewing DLP sets, I hesitate to recommend them for fear that you or someone else might have similar issues. However, this isnt as much of a problem with newer sets. The LCOS JVC sets might also be worth a look. They use 3 chips instead of a one chip + spinning prism set up like early Philips sets did and so do not suffer from rainbow problems.

These are just general rules of thumb for average people. Videophiles have more nuances than John Kerry. Undoubtedly, they would have a great deal more to add and tend to be "enthusiastic" in their advocacy of the "one true technology" (depending on what they just bought). In truth, there are many good options and products now on the market (including ones I have not mentioned).

Good luck and be sure to consider return policies in case you find a solution not to be adequate when you get it home. The run up to the Super Bowl generally have some of the best sales of the year on TVs.

Bulbs for LCD and DLP RP se... (Below threshold)
Tyrtle:

Bulbs for LCD and DLP RP sets last around 6,000 hrs, NOT 1,000 to 2,000 hours. There were defective bulbs early on that may have failed early but that is definitely NOT the norm (long, long story- see AVSForum). Just check the respective product manuals to find the exact rated life for any given product.

Fair warning- many (but not all) extended warranties exclude bulbs.

DLP is the way to go.... (Below threshold)
taz:

DLP is the way to go.
Surround sound depends on if you want in wall speakers or not.
I used the people at Tweeter last year; best installation & answer questions for free forever.
But they add about 10% for their services. They'll come & visit your room to help you design the TV/Surround/Theater too, well worth every penny.

>Could there be a more conf... (Below threshold)
Paul:

>Could there be a more confusing time in which to attempt to make a major technology purchase?

No.

Actually, it is not as confusing as it is annoying.

I'm sure many people will discuss DLP v Plasma v LCD... But that is 1/10 the issue.

The bigger issue is standards. If you have the time to wait, HDMI 1.2 is cool. -- (IMO,) Don't bother get anything that does not support HDMI.

Then there is the resolution factor. The difference between 720p and 1080p is visually stunning. (To my eyes, but admittedly, I'm a photographer so I am pickier.) It is tough to get 1080p in a plasma. If you want that much res, you almost are stuck with DLP. (Unless you robbed a bank and didn't blog it.)

If you don't mind waiting a bit... OLED is going to rock the house in less than 48 months.

Then you have to figure out what you are going to let do your up-conversion, that is BIG. I have a customer who has a 1080p set. It is ABSOLUTELY stunning if you feed it 1080p. Feed it anything else and it is pure D crap. And I do mean crap. This is more important than most people realize. Some units are better at it than others.

And BTW- How are you going to get your signal? You could get a Winegard Square Shooter for ATSC. DirecTV (I'm sure) has HD locals in your area but obviously that means a new HD DirecTivo (Which I'll tell you voice how you can get one CHEAP. (Like a dumbass I passed on one for $100.))

I know you like DirecTV but Dish is winning the HD battle. (sorta, they had some delays but that is another issue.)

With MPEG4 coming down the pike, I'd wait on the PVR for about 90 days. That area is Sooooo convoluted right now.

Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

OK I changed my mind, it is both confusing AND annoying.

The buzzwords for me this y... (Below threshold)
DJ:

The buzzwords for me this year are 1080p, 7.1, HDMI, upconvert, and timbre matched speakers.

I think I got a great deal on my TV last year (60" XBR Sony projection LCD). Even during a trip to Magnolia Hi-Fi last night it still had one of the best pictures in the store.

More than just picture, sound is what gives you the impact for home theater. I have Definitive speakers for every channel, with the most impressive being the supercube reference subwoofer. There is nothing like watching 'Saving Private Ryan' at mid-volume, the sub gives the beach landing scene so much impact (literally) that it feels like the bombs are going off in the room.

There are two main variatio... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

There are two main variations of DLP units. One type uses a single DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) and a spinning color wheel, while the other type uses three DMD’s. The spinning color wheel is needed with the single DMD to produce the three primary color channels. It's this spinning color wheel that creates the rainbow effect that some viewers see when bright objects move over a dark background. DLP units using three DMD's have no rainbow effect and the number of possible colors is greater than that of film. JVC did produce some triple DMD units, but I don't know their current product line.

The DMD was invented by Dr. Larry Hornbeck of Texas Instruments in 1987. Way to go Larry!

You may have noticed that H... (Below threshold)
George:

You may have noticed that HDTV actually encompasses
many formats with varying widths and heights of
720 or 1080 lines. In many cases, you have to
really dig to get the native display format of the
TV. Again, in many cases, you will find that the
TVs are only 720 pixels high and downconvert the
1080 signals. Just because a TV says it can
display 1080 signals doesn't mean you'll be
seeing 1080 lines. Get a real 1080 display.

By the way, some funky HDTV models aren't
even 1080 OR 720; they are some other oddball height
and perform a conversion to display the standard
signals. Definitely stay away from these.

I opted for a Panasonic LCD... (Below threshold)
JBrickley:

I opted for a Panasonic LCD projection TV with 1080p and DVI input. Small depth profile and lightweight. I am in an apartment on the third floor and can't hang a plasma on the wall. Newer models have CableCard slots.

A cablecard looks like a PCMCIA/PC-Card and is basically a mini-cablebox decoder. You get the card from the cable company (Comcast, Cox, etc.) and you won't need a cable box. They can even do HD. Unfortunately, it won't give you an interactive guide or DVR. TiVo demo'd a Series3 TiVo at CES and that should be available soon. It has support for 2 cablecards and that means 2 tuners! Supposed to support HD as well. The cable company will probably whack you a rental fee for each cablecard but it should be cheaper then renting a regular cable box.

Most new TV's have cablecards. Comcast states they will support more advanced cablecards when they come out that will include interactive guide ability, etc. However, if you go with a TiVo you won't need a guide as the TiVo gives you an excellent guide. You can network multiple TiVo's on a home ethernet or wireless network to stream video from say your basement to your bedroom. If on a network, you don't need a phone line for guide updates and you even program your TiVo over a web page from say your place of employment.

I prefer an LCD projection because it's better on screen ghosting then plasma (looks like screen burn but really isn't). It's better to replace a projection light bulb then to buy a service contract to have the Plasma recharged every 3-4 years.

If you have the space, consider a full wall projector mounted on the ceiling with a powered roll down screen. You just need to get the room dark enough and a basement would be ideal for that. You could have a 10' screen! You can buy projectors (expensive) and you can even build one yourself DIY Projector instructions can be found here: http://www.lumenlab.com/ It all depends on how handy you are!

Recommend waiting a few months, there is a ton of stuff coming very very soon. New cablecard technologies, rumors of Apple getting into DVR and possibly home theater.

http://www.voom.com/vhdo/index.jsp has the best and most HDTV content via satellite. Cable companies have ABC, NBC, CBS, ESPNHD, a couple of demo channels like INHD/2, and pay premium channels like HBOHD, SHOWHD, etc. Voom has just about everything in HD all the time. Voom is now part of Dish Network. Probably not cheap to buy though...

Look for a highend DVD player that can upscale to HD and you will get better picture quality on your regular DVD's.

I've owned a sony 42'' rear... (Below threshold)
Brian:

I've owned a sony 42'' rear-projection LCD for over a year now, and have been very happy with it.

The price of a comparable set is around $2000 now, before any special sales.

I don't know what your budg... (Below threshold)

I don't know what your budget is, of course, but we priced all the usual suspects, and finally bought an Optoma projector ($599 with a $150 rebate, 1800 lumens, hi-def), and a roll of primed artists canvas($99) that we made a 10w x 7h foot screen. Screen paint $89) for the canvas provides a sharp, clear picture with outstanding color resolution. Great for gaming, awesome for movies of course. The bulb is allegedly good for 10,000 hours. We'll see.

We looked at lumenlab.com, but we caught this projector on sale and it turned out to be cheaper (and smaller, easier to manage) than building our own. We haven't bought the surround sound setup yet.

I'm in the high-end A/V bus... (Below threshold)

I'm in the high-end A/V business (conventions and such), and the two things I saw here that need repeating:

DLP good (three chip, if you can get it).

Plasma bad (I don't know _any_ pro video guys who went for plasma sets, except one guy who won one in a contest).

After those considerations, keep 1080p #1 on your list.

Kevin:Go with an o... (Below threshold)
machs:

Kevin:

Go with an old tube AM/FM/SW radio. Old-time sound with good pick-up on incoming storms. Might as well add an old tube MacIntosh as well.

Laura,For home I am ... (Below threshold)
brettp:

Laura,
For home I am looking for a projector and I saw your post. Which model Optoma did you purchase?

Thanks,
brett

I assume you have a defined... (Below threshold)
JohnW:

I assume you have a defined budget, and a fixed amount of space the TV will fit into. Obviously, selections have to fall within acceptable ranges for these 2 parameters.

I'd spend less time on what technology is involved and more on two important factors:

(1) Will it fulfill your current & expected needs for the next 5-7 years? The various tech specs, inputs available, all that techie stuff come into play here. You won't be happy if the next ultra-HD DVD thingamabob in 2008 won't interface properly, but that's the problem with computers; things change so fast, gadgets become obsolete long before they become nonfunctional!

(2) MOST important: totally subjective - does it have the "best" image? Not the "best" image according to some review, test lab, etc., but to YOU! Make sure that when comparing in a store, the same input is being provided to the sets yo're comparing. Take into account lighting diffreences between store & home (hard to allow for, sometimes).

We'll assume that no matter what, you'll probably want to replace it in 7 years, maybe less.

2 years ago, I found that the picture quality on a Hitachi 65" CRT rear-projection was my "best" choice among brands I was evaluating. Inputs and PIP functions also were a positive. Sound was good, but I rely on my external audio Dolby system & turn the TV's speakers down to "0" anyway. We only watch it for special events (Super Bowl, etc., ) & movies (cable/DVD). Other routine TV programming (mostly cable news & History channel on all day long in background while we work on our PC's) runs on cheap 21" tube in the corner, as we're really just listening to the talking heads & not looking at the picture at all!

Samsung LE-26R41B 26 in. <b... (Below threshold)
lewis cong:

Samsung LE-26R41B 26 in.
HDTV-Ready LCD Televisios,
£250


Pioneer PDP-436XDE 43 in.
Plasma, 43 inch Display, HDTV-Ready, Resolution: 1024 x 768 pixels, 1100 cd/m² Brightness, 3,000:1 Contrast Ratio See full specs
£1600
FOR ANY ENQUIRY KINDLY CONTACT EAMIL [email protected]
CUSTOMER SERVICE................234+29260963.




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