The following article is the latest in the 2008 HDTV Buyers Guide series. Other articles in this series are as follows:
The following topics are covered in this segment:
Decision to Go with HDTV
Confirm that now is your time for an HDTV, and that your family is ready for the change if the set is for everyone to use.
Identify the major pieces of equipment you plan to acquire. Maybe you need only the HDTV, maybe you need also a progressive DVD player, or a Hi-Def DVD player, a STB for satellite, an HD-DVR, etc.
Would you need any audio upgrades/purchases if the HDTV set would be connected to an external audio system?
Set a preliminary itemized budget based on the initial target above, and include an estimate for the cost of cables, mounting hardware, delivery, installation, etc.
Review HDTV concepts and exchanges from online forums and magazines and be patient while learning terminology that seems confusing first (progressive, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, scaling, DVI, HDMI, etc).
Visit knowledgeable HDTV stores and do not be surprised if you get more confused with verbal explanations that seem to contradict what you might have read already from reliable sources, many HDTV salespeople are still in training, take your time in reconciling the inputs.
Many early adopters did not have the benefit of all the HDTV information available today. If you have the time, you have now at your feet many sources to inform yourself and research in order to make an intelligent purchase. Do not make the mistake of using the approach of buying a 13'' TV for the kitchen.
Learn how to identify the differences in technology (DLP, Plasma, LCD, LCoS, etc). Confirm your understanding of the differences by actually viewing some sets representing each technology in various sizes, distances, angles, and lighting conditions. Not all technologies would be as effective for all room conditions, some are perfect for a beach apartment but they emit too much light for a dark room, some require a totally dark room.
The HDTV for Your Viewing Objectives
Once you comprehend the differences and capabilities of DTV technologies, you would have to concentrate on how they could apply to your viewing objectives. Evaluate if you would need a 42" plasma panel suitable for a studio or a 120" front projection screen for a home-theater in the basement.
Does your viewing room have uncovered windows all the time? This could be too much light for a front projection TV or a plasma panel. Do you have enough depth on the room to allow for approximately 1-2 feet of depth of a rear projection TV cabinet, and still have enough distance between the screen and yourself to adjust your viewing position?
Appraise your "preferred" viewing distance and screen size for your viewing objectives (SD or HD). Identify also the absolute minimum and maximum of the viewing distance range that your room would physically permit and still give you a pleasant viewing experience. You would need to use these limits while testing the viewing positions at the store, but many national-wide electronic stores demo DTV panels on narrow corridors with TV stands on both sides, not giving enough viewing depth to fully put that in practice.
Due to the higher resolution of HDTV images they would permit you to sit much closer to the screen than what you are accustomed with regular analog TV, but remember that you might have to use the same set to also view a lot of non-HDTV material, which does not have enough resolution to sit as close as an HD image would allow.
Identify the cable/satellite/over-the-air HD reception services available on your area. Ask for their HD plans on the near future, the adoption of HDTV by the cable industry is growing every year but it might not be the case for your area.
Consider some factors that you might not be able to control, for example, a satellite dish's line of sight might be blocked by tree lines that can not be trimmed, UHF antennas might be a problem for your terrain/location/house/surrounding city buildings, etc.
Inform yourself of the FCC's antenna regulations on their web site if your Home Owners Association (HOA) is rejecting the installation of your exterior antenna, the FCC is on your side and has authority over HOA's neighborhood regulations, like the small dish regulations a few years ago.
Anticipate how much of non-HDTV 4x3 content you would still watch on your new HDTV set over the next few years. Although many new channels of cable and satellite are in HDTV, many are, and still could be for long, in digital 480i 4x3. Evaluate if your viewing will primarily be for 4x3 SD or for HDTV content or HD pre-recorded Hi-Def DVD movies.
Review the equipment plan that you identified initially. Confirm if the HDTV would be used either as a stand-alone set, or as the centerpiece of a home-theater audio/video multi-channel system. If so, confirm also the need for any changes or upgrades of your current audio setup, such as replacing a limited A/V receiver by one with multi-channel audio for movies, and additional speakers, and with possibly hi-bit audio decoders for Hi-Def DVD soundtracks, such as DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD, and HDMI 1.3 to allow for that, etc.
Your Consumer Electronic Habits
HDTV is still haunted by many issues that are still evolving, such as digital connectivity, copy protection, recording ability, specs that are growing, updates that require hardware replacement rather than firmware updates, etc., those have the potential to make your purchase and upgrade path more confusing and frustrating.
Some people replace TV sets only after they expire, others like to upgrade often to been able to experience new versions, these usually have their wallets regularly dominated by minor technology changes. The cost of owing HDTV/s within a 10-year period would be different for each case, identify which is your case and how that affects your budget and/or selection now and in the long term.
The HDTV technology evolves constantly and you need to be tolerant if you get surprises of discontinued products two months after you bought the set. Some manufacturers replace their lines 2 to 3 times per year just to add some minor features.
If you are planning to upgrade your new HDTV in a couple of years anyway maybe it is not that important to select a first one that has absolutely all of the future-proof features for long term performance and compatibility, or to wait for those features to become available in the set you like, such as HDMI 1.3 digital connectivity for example (a set with other versions of HDMI, or even just DVI, might be all you need for now). By evaluating your consumer electronics habits and long term cost of ownership you may confirm the selection and features with more clarity.
Please stay tuned for the next article in the series: 2008 HDTV Buying Guide, Part 3
Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, February 7, 2008 9:25 AM
About Rodolfo La Maestra
Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines. In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.
Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities. Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers. After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.