Hi-Def LCD TVs

Review Roundup: Compared with plasmas and conventional CRTs, LCD TVs pack in a lot more pixels per square inch. Knowing when you should spend a little extra, and what for, often means the difference between long-term satisfaction and simmering regr

LCD TV Basics

As with any HDTV purchase, the first thing you need to consider is screen size. For LCD HDTVs, 50 inches (measured diagonally) is a good upper limit to keep in mind. Above that size, LCD prices skyrocket; Sharps 57-inch and 65-inch models command five-digit price tags! The few 32-inch LCDs that were approaching the $1,000 mark a year ago have morphed into a growing crowd poised to dip below $800, and prices for some models will go even lower before years end. And now LCDs in the 40-inch range are starting to challenge similarly sized plasma panels in terms of pricing.

Generally speaking, the more you spend, the better the resulting picture quality will be. A low price doesnt just magically happen. The inexpensive HDTVs often sacrifice something, be it image quality, integrated features, or even included accessories or customer support. Dont expect perfection from the cheapest LCDs, but if youre willing to sacrifice a little bit here and there, you can save a lot of money.

Liquid crystal TVs offer two distinct advantages over plasma displays: high resolution and a bright picture. LCD TVs offer more pixels per given screen size than plasma displays. And because LCDs pack pixels more closely together, a person can sit closer to the screen before noticing the individual dots that make up the picture. LCD HDTVs with at least 720p resolution (1,280 by 720 pixels progressive) are available in screen sizes starting at just over 20 inches. By comparison, the smallest plasma TVs that offer 720p resolution start at 50 inches and use larger pixels spaced further apart, thus increasing the optimal viewing distance. Hence in a small room, LCDs have an edge.

Resolution is often used as an HDTV selling point, but factors like image contrast and color quality are more critical to the quality of a viewing experience than the number of pixels a particular display offers. I also consider video-processing features, such as noise reduction, to be very important for LCD HDTVs. For example, the WinBook 32M0 delivered impressive color quality for a value-priced LCD, but its lack of effective video-noise reduction magnified the film grain of some movies to the point of distraction. If you want to get the best possible picture from your HDTV, make sure the vendor didnt skimp on the video processing.

The ideal viewing environment for watching video is a very dark room. Once acclimated to a dimly lit environment, the eyes perception of image contrast increases dramatically, enhancing a persons ability to see dark details that would otherwise appear indistinct from a black background or from the bars of a letterboxed movie. Some LCD TVs provide a "movie" mode that reduces light output to eye-comfortable levels, but a better solution is a backlight control that enables the viewer to tailor the displays overall light output to ambient lighting conditions. The Sharp LC-32D40U, for example, provides a good manual backlight control whose lowest setting was ideal for a completely dark environment, while its maximum level delivered well-contrasted imagery in a brightly lit room.

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