Televisions – getting below the hype

I’m sure you have noticed that TV’s have got significantly thinner and wider over the last few years. The old glass cathode ray tube has now (almost) entirely been replaced by flat screen TV’s and there are actually three different categories of flat screen available.

The first ones that became popular were the plasma screens. These are glass screens filled with a gas that glows when energized (ie the gas goes to the next physical state called plasma). These screens are very bright, and are excellent when placed opposite a window. The issue with plasma screens is that they are really heavy, and use a lot of power. Early plasma TV’s used to suffer from an issue called burn-in, and this meant that if a stationary image was displayed in the screen for an excessive amount of time, it could be burnt into the screen, meaning you would see that image as a ghost image even when the TV was turned off, or showing other images. Burn-in is mostly an issue of the past, but people still worry about it.

A lighter option is the LCD TV, and this uses a matrix of dots that can be transparent or opaque allowing them to display an image. Rather than transmitting light the dots actually block the light, so LCD TV’s have a bright even light source placed behind them. This makes them a little thicker, and not quite as bright as plasma. But they are much lighter and use a lot less power. Some people say that the speed of refresh of LCD isn’t as good as plasma, and you can sometimes see a blurry image when there is fast movement on the screen. This issue has been resolved in modern LCD TV’s and the refresh rate is many times the refresh rate of even the most whizzy movies, so it’s not really an issue for most people.

Some people prefer LCD and some prefer plasma. The colors displayed can look a bit vivid on LCD, and a little bright for some on plasma. But most TV’s have so many configuration settings that you can normally resolve any image to the conditions of your viewing room and personal preference.

A new version of LCD is called LED, and this used an array of light emitting diodes (LED’s) as the light source. This is much thinner than the light source used in TV’s called LCD. This means that LED TV’s that are mounted on the wall can be as thin as a picture frame. LED TV’s definitely are the cool option for those who are style conscious.

There is another choice on TV’s, and that is 3D. 3D TV’s come in a number of different standards. Technically they all work the same way, presenting 2 different images, one that is sent to the left eye and one that is sent to the right eye. In my opinion every available 3D TV option is total rubbish. There are several reasons why they are all useless.

Firstly they all require special glasses, none of these glasses work terribly well. The quality of the resulting 3D image is very low, and is very dependent on the viewer sitting very still.

Secondly movies made in 3D all suffer from two key issues; they fail when the action exits the screen and the frame rate is too low to avoid flickering.

The third issue is a technical issue with camera technology. Cameras require a point of focus, so when you look at the screen, you need to look exactly where the director planned for you to look, as everything else is in soft focus, this is okay for 2D, but is very unnatural for 3D.

So overall 3D TV’s are a technology looking for an application that has been taken up my marketing people to create a reason to charge more. The technology lags the marketing to the point of being stupid.

If you love the idea of 3D go to a full size Imax viewing, and watch a pure CGI (computer generated image) movie. These seem to be the only movies and the only environment that does the technology justice.

And the last thing I’m going to mention is apps. In theory apps should be awesome, allowing you to do many internety things directly on your TV. But there are too many issues today. Every app enabled TV seems to have different apps. The TV remote is not the perfect way to control internety things. And rather than the cost of an app enabled TV, you can consider a roku or apple tv box (each about the same price as adding app functionality to a TV), these seem a lot better as they allow you to upgrade to a different one in a year when the technology is more stable. While having a TV with all this built in means you are relying on the likes of Sony or Samsung to get their act together. It’s like having a HD DVD player built-in , just as Blu-ray wins the standards war.

My choice is a LED TV without 3D or Apps, and add a roku or apple TV along with your cable or satellite box. And much to the chagrin of every bestbuy or pc richards sales person I know that the cheapest HDMI cable gives you a perfect picture.

HDMI is a digital standard, what this means is the cable is used to send a very low power, low voltage signal. Technically this means that resistance, impedance and capacitance can be right at the edge of the specifications tolerance and cause no issue at all. As long as the cable is wired correctly from one end to the other every cable will work. I use a 45 foot HDMI cable from a no-name company and send a signal at 1080p and at 120Hz to the TV with perfect results. Your local TV retailer will stock a wide range of cables ranging in price from a few dollars all the way up to several hundred dollars. And they have been trained to sell you the most expensive ones they can. They will tell you about pure copper cores, oxygen free, gold contacts and many other cool sounding technical features, when you hear them, image that salesman standing on the back of a cart pitching you a special oil made from a snake that will cure all known illnesses…. It’s the same story.

If you buy a cable and it ends up not working, it’s because it was a faulty cable or you have some source of interference in the path of the cable. 99% of the time the lowest cost cable (even the one that came for free with you cable box) will work perfectly. Not just work well, but work perfectly.

And lets not even get started on the extended warranty. Tech is designed to last well beyond even the extended warranty period, and for a box your sticking on the wall and will never physically touch the chance of a failure is small, very small.

So that’s modern TV’s!


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