How to Select the Best HDTV
How to Select the Best HDTV
With the bulkier CRTs long gone, and HDTVs with rear projection becoming a dying breed, the current market offers the buyer with three display technology selections –
- LCD CCFL-backlit
- LCD LED-backlit
However, which is the best technology, is a question that is left unanswered for a long time.
In the starting, flat-panel technology was dominated with plasma, and it seemed to be the hot favorite of videophiles, especially because of its excellent picture quality and pitch black screen. Subsequently CCFL-backlit LCDs gained popularity, as the screens were thinner, and the set was more energy efficient and available at lesser cost. During this cycle of HDTVs, the competition kept wavering between LCD and plasma, as each provided various visual and economic benefits, and it largely depended on the model and its price. However, with the coming of better LED backlighting technology in the past two years, we seem to have arrived at a winner. The LCD with a LED base seems to be the best technology for flat panel HDTV, with its unsurpassed energy efficiency. However, regrettably it is more expensive of the lot, although the margin has lessened in the past few years. Hence, if it falls within your budget then LED-backlit HDTV should be your clear choice.
What is Different between Plasma, LED, and LCD Technologies?
There is a considerable difference between these three technologies, when you consider how the screens are lit. In HDTVs with plasma technology, the image is created with phosphors that are self-lit, which means there is no requirement for backlighting. On the other hand, HDTVs with LCD technology, the screen requires a light source, as the liquid crystal display is not self-illuminating. When you consider the illumination aspect, the differences in LCD screens become apparent between CCFL backlit and LED backlit. The traditional LCD HDTV uses CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Light) for screen illumination. The CCFL produces light with a charged gas, and is quite similar to the usual fluorescent lights you may come across in overhead fixtures and certain lamps. As the name suggests LED screens uses LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) for illuminating the screen. In the past few years, LED backlighting has grown more popular and you will find CCFL backlighting, now only on some of the budget models of HDTV.
Several aspects of HDTV will be influenced by your display selection. The most prominent aspects would be price, energy efficiency, darkness, brightness, and thickness of the screen. Ideally, people would select an HDTV that had paper-thin screen, could match brightness to the face of the sun, get as dark as a black hole, consume the least wattage, and be very affordable. All this may not be possible right now; however, the LCD LED-backlit HDTV comes very close compared to the other technologies.
Due to these advantages, the LED HDTV is the premium model amongst HDTV manufacturers. The HDTV with LED backlighting will usually cost more than the HDTV with CCFL backlighting of the same size. However, LED backlighting has become a standard feature for high-end and midrange models, as CCFL backlighting has been bumped to budget models. The saving in costs will however result in thicker screen and more power consumption; nevertheless, the picture quality will be as good as any LED backlit model.
Quality of Image
The whole point of going in for HDTV is the picture quality, and therefore it is the most important aspect to consider, especially when you are a movie fanatic or a videophile. The image detail will particularly be determined by the peak black and peak white levels. If the white levels are poor, then you can end up with a bright screen where the details are washed out. On the other hand, pathetic black levels will result in parts of your picture being swallowed up by shadows, particularly in darker scenes. When there is a wide range of light to dark, the HDTV will be able to reveal the smallest detail, irrespective of the darkness or brightness in the movie. We used a Chroma meter to test the black and white levels by measuring the luminance. The average HDTV model might produce 0.05 to 0.07 cd per meter square of black levels, whereas superior model would give 0.01 to 0.03 cd per meter square levels. In the past, plasma HDTV was known for producing excellent black levels, particularly the Pioneer Kuro brand, which is now discontinued. The screen of the Kuro could get intensely dark, and hence it remained the preferred model for enthusiasts even after the production was stopped by Pioneer. However, in this aspect, the plasma domination is now over. Currently we would recommend the choice of our editors, the Sharp Pro-60X5FD Elite, which is LED-based and provides an amazing 0.01 cd/m2. This shows that the LCD LED-backlit technology has progressed immensely to get such dark levels.
The white levels are not so important, as the screen finds it more difficult to present finer details in shadows, and backlighting makes it easier to crank up the brightness in whites. However, this aspect still matters, and LED backlighting is a winner again. The favorite Sharp Elite reached an impressive white level of 382.62 cd/m2, and when you consider the combination with a black level of 0.01 cd/m2, you have a fantastic contrast ratio of 38,262:1. These figures totally outshine the plasma HDTV Panasonic TC-P55ST50 available at PriceBreak.com for $1,799.95. This Panasonic model is only able to deliver peak white of 85.45 cd/m2, and black level of 0.03 cd/m2, which results in a measly contrast ratio of 2,848:1. Plasma screens dominated the color and contrast aspects, but with the arrival of Sharp Elite models, they have overthrown the dominance of Pioneer Kuro plasma models of yesteryears that were considered as having the best standards in HDTV. It is however true that the cheaper LED HDTVs do not match up to the performance of Sharp Elite models, but they still have quite a bit to offer. The plasma models do not produce higher brightness, but the back levels and colors make up for the deficiency. This may not be so noticeable in stores, since HDTVs are adjusted to higher brightness to attract attention, but the colors are not at all accurate.
Power and Size
Even though the thickness of screen is not a major aspect of HDTV, it is definitely an aspect that is noticeable. An extremely thin HDTV is quite visually appealing. Such a TV can be easily installed on a wall, and you could just as easily display, conceal, or arrange it with other components of your home theater system. When you consider thinness, LED screens are the clear winners, and plasmas comes a close second. LCD screens with CCFL backlighting are quite thick compared to LED backlighting. Secondly, LEDs, apart from being quite thin, they can be very bright as well, since the LED array on the LCD screen edge can provide brighter light and make backlighting moot. Such a configuration is called “edge lighting”. However, the thinness provided by backlighting is good enough and it may not face stiff completion from edge lighting.
The weight of a plasma HDTV is also much more than a LCD HDTV with LED backlighting. For instance, the Samsung UN46ES8000F, which is LED based, having a 60 inch screen, weighs 45 pounds, whereas the plasma Panasonic TC-P55ST50 that has a 55 inch screen weight 62 pounds.
Another important aspect to consider is the energy efficiency amongst HDTV models. Amongst the three technologies, HDTVs with LED backlighting provide the best efficiency. For instance, a 55-inch LED HDTV will consume around a maximum of 80 watts, whereas plasma would consume double or even thrice as much. In our tests, the LG 55LW9800 55-inch LED model consumed 89 watts, whereas the Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma model consumed tremendous power of 305 watts.
HDTVs with LED backlighting are the clear choice if you can afford them. They cost more because you can get a great picture, and they are energy efficient and quite thin. However, if you have a lower budget, select a good plasma model. The downside is double or triple power consumption; however, you get a fantastic viewing experience. If your budget is still lower then CCFL backlit HDTV would be your choice; however do not expect the features or screen size that are available in plasma and LED backlit HDTVs.