Ten HDTV Myths

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"The higher the screen resolution, the better the image quality of an HDTV."

"The bigger your HDTV set, the better it will look."
Photograph: Chip Simons
Most HDTV sets today are 720p displays, but a few vendors are beginning to offer 1080p sets--either LCDs or rear-projection micro-display (LCD, LCoS, DLP) models. As yet, no 1080p plasmas are available (though some have been announced in very large sizes). These sets will clearly do the best job of handling 1080p content--when it arrives. But today's HDTV shows are shown in either 720p or 1080i format: nobody broadcasts in 1080p because of bandwidth issues. Movies may someday be available in 1080p on optical media, but Hollywood hasn't settled on the next-generation hardware standard (Blu-ray or HD-DVD), much less chosen a content format.

Lack of 1080p content is one reason some vendors are holding off on introducing 1080p sets. But those that are selling 1080p sets point out that some HDTV is broadcast in 1080i, and that such content arguably looks better on a 1080p set because less scaling is involved. (On the other hand, 720p content has to be scaled up for a 1080p set.) Here again, though, the capabilities of the human eye come into play: You'll probably notice the superior resolution of 1080p only if you sit very close to the set--or have an extremely large set.

"You have to relinquish the fluid motion of a CRT screen when you move up to HDTV."

Not at all. You can purchase a high-definition CRT set--and you'll save a lot of money if you do, because they cost less than LCD and plasma-screen televisions of similar size. But in doing so you'll lose the sleek flat-panel chic of a plasma or LCD set. If you want that slim profile, however, be aware that LCDs have trouble rendering fluid motion, as a result of their somewhat pedestrian response times. Plasma and DLP screens aren't susceptible to this technological weakness.

"Burn-in will wreck your plasma HDTV within a year."

The plasma display has advanced since the days when most of us saw plasmas only at airports, where constantly switched-on screens showing formatted flight information suffered from burn-in--ghost images that linger on screen despite no longer being transmitted.

Today, vendors rate the life expectancy of high-quality plasma TVs at 60,000 hours. That works out to more than 20 years of use if you watch 8 hours a day, 365 days a year; it's also about the same lifetime claimed for LCDs and CRTs (the latter are similarly prone to burn-in because, like plasma TVs, they depend on phosphor-based displays).

What changed? Phosphors and gas mixtures in the new plasma panels greatly reduce the risk of burn-in, and some sets use burn-in prevention software. "If you're not worried about burn-in for your CRT, you shouldn't worry about it for your plasma TV," says the Society for Information Display's Larry Weber.

"Bright LCDs look beautiful everywhere, and they use much less power than plasma or CRT sets do."

It's true that LCDs are bright, which makes them a good choice if you watch TV in a brightly lit room. But if you're inclined to turn down the lights for your rendezvous with Entourage or Medium, you probably don't want the brightest set on the block, and plasmas and CRTs offer superior color capabilities without introducing the response-time (and associated motion artifacting) issues that have long plagued LCDs.

As for power consumption, a study by Japan's Green Purchasing Network--an organization dedicated to promoting environmentally friendly purchasing by consumers, business, and government--concluded that the power consumption of similar-size plasma, CRT, and traditional LCD displays in real-world viewing situations is practically the same. However, the coming generation of LCDs that use LED backlighting, while expected to deliver significantly better color, will consume roughly twice as much power as traditional LCDs of the same size.

"These pricey TVs look so great out of the box that it's a waste to pay a small fortune to have a professional calibrate your set."

That's a double-whammy myth. It's well known in the TV business that vendors usually ship sets turned to their highest possible brightness level, since brightness draws customers on the showroom floor. At home, however, many people watch TV under low lighting conditions in which an overly bright set can look jarring. In addition, the TV may arrive with less-than-accurate color settings. Consequently, almost any set will benefit from calibration. A professional calibrator has tools that can access settings most of us can't reach--and shouldn't, since we wouldn't know what to do with them. But the pros do charge a few hundred dollars for their services, and you can achieve reasonably good results on your own with software such as the $40 DVD Essentials.

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