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It has been known from the beginning of LCD, but not well informed by retailers to consumers, that LCD has an inherent viewing problem when the angle of view is off center, and depending on the LCD, the color, brightness, and contrast, drop considerably as the viewer moves from a center position (90 degree, straight to the panel) to angles that are typical of the sitting arrangements of most family rooms whereby viewers gather around the screen, and although they may still view an image, it is typically not of the same quality of the image perceived by the person viewing straight to the set.

This is more noticeable when the LCD is calibrated down from the torch mode stores like to show their TVs due to their ambient light, to a setting that would offer a more natural image at home, rather than seeing everything like a brilliant cartoon flashing at you.

This also means that because many of the LCDs at the store are demo at their extreme light output (to sell them easily) they may appear not to have a view angle weakness when comparing them to others that show a natural image that is less striking, the one you should prefer at home after calibration, so a movie film looks like the film the director intended, not like a cartoon.

For years LCD companies have claimed that their sets can be viewed all the way to 170+ degrees. That number would be like viewing the panel all the way to the side, almost parallel to the edge of the TV frame. Have you actually tried to do that with your set? Do you still see the same image quality if any image at all? Is the image still appealing to you, or you rather move back to the center?

Try moving gradually from the center passing the 20 degrees angle to the left or right and keep increasing the angle (20 degrees is about what your companion viewer may be seeing if sitting right by your side). This report (Viewing Angles section) covers more detail about the subject.

Now that you are aware of what kind of image your eyes see at various angles, do not blame me if you feel tempted not telling the other viewers why you want to sit right at center from now on.

Wouldn’t that be similar to what a retailer does to been able to sell more LCDs over plasmas, not telling the customer the whole story? Sadly, perhaps the salesperson does not even know after so many years of selling LCDs like water to uniformed consumers. So what stops manufacturers and retailers to continue cranking up the light output of LCD panels in torch mode if they know that the minute you enter the showroom that LCD would steer at you and steal your full attention, so you ask less questions, make less comparisons, and sign that check quickly.

But when you get home and, as everyone else should do, you adjust/calibrate the set down so you eyes would not suffer fatigue during prolonged viewing (or when viewing the set in a dark environment), and you may find the hard way that the image is not as appealing when viewed at angles, so what do you do? You crank it right up! This also uses more electricity, ruins overall picture quality, and ages the set faster.

LCD TV manufacturers keep throwing to consumers numbers of extreme angles of view while ironically at the same time keep introducing new technologies that claim to improve the same angle of view they say is already a fantastic 170+ degrees, and of course, you have to pay extra for the new model that claims such improved technology.

Why needing the new improved-angle-of-view technology if the LCD is already offering 170+ degrees of angle of view? Which one would you trust? Perhaps you should not trust either. Perhaps you should buy a plasma panel instead, and you will be happier with the image quality, and from many viewing angles maintain the color/contrast/brightness, that is if your viewing environment is not overly bright, such as a beach-apartment with all the windows open, where you may certainly need a bright image and torch mode may not even be enough.

I suggest that before you buy any TV ask your dealer to adjust the settings down to obtain a natural and pleasant image for prolonged viewing and simulate at the showroom what your experience at home would be. Once the set is adjusted, proceed with your own viewing tests according to your customary viewing requirements, angle, distance, etc., which may be as simple as viewing straight to the set if you are sitting on your office chair viewing the LCD across you desk, or as complicated as a large family room, viewing from various angles of a multi-unit-sofa around the panel, whereby the viewer at center can see from a perfect 90 degree angle but the one at the end of the sofa may add another 60 degree or more relative to the screen. Guess the image quality that viewer would see.

Companies like Panasonic, Sharp and others have implemented new technologies with new buzzwords that claim view-angle improvements on their sets, but one company have created a product that could be adopted by all TV manufacturers, that company is 3M.

3M has done an interesting research about the subject as follows:

LCD TVs and Wide-Angle Luminance: 3M’s Perspective

3M-commissioned research shows consumers value wide-angle viewing on their LCD TVs

And I quote from the article: “Studying nearly 600 consumers in three phases over a four-week period, the study found that 84 percent of respondents view their TVs from a variety of angles. Further, 69 percent of participants said wide-angle picture quality was very or extremely important. And yet, 44 percent initially were unaware of a difference in quality of many LCD screens when viewed from the side. Once they viewed two sets of varying quality side by side, however, 88 percent preferred the screen with better wide-angle luminance – a brighter, crisper screen at a variety of viewing angles.”

Make every seat the best seat in the house: Three simple steps to selecting a great LCD TV

And I quote from the article: “When you are in a retail store, stand to the side and glance down the row of TVs on display. Note which ones look the brightest. Of those standout TVs, view the screen both head-on and from the side. Dr. Lamb says: “While it may be intimidating to select a TV from an entire wall of screens, you can turn that to your advantage. When viewing a row of TVs from the side, the TVs with the best and brightest picture will jump out at you.”

This column written by Werner, who obviously was invited to the same private 3M demo I attended at CES 2012 at a hotel after the show, addresses the 3M effort as well, with an emphasis on energy consumption, while I am more concern with angle-of-view and consistent image quality for all viewers.

When I attended the 3M demo I was delighted to experience the improvement of image quality of a comparison made between a TV with and without the 3M product, and the next article covers the details of the technology and the comparison tests.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, May 24, 2012 7:45 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.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.