The current kings in TV technology are LCD and Plasma. The current crop of high end Plasma and LCD both have excellent picture quality with most of the down sides having been dealt with in the last couple of years. Plasma does still have a price advantage over LCD.
The first rule when buying a TV is always buy the biggest set your budget can afford, no matter what technology your preference may be. Until TVs can cover a whole wall or won’t fit through your living room doorway then this rule is still relevant.
So how do we choose the right technology and panel ? It’s all about the money. Your budget will dictate the size and quality of the panel you can choose from. LCD and Plasma picture quality are close enough now that it’s more of a personal preference, have a look at high end sets and see which picture you find most pleasing. Then find the largest set with the highest frame rate you can afford.
LCD technology is based on a white light shinning through a panel that alters the light to create the picture. The problem with this technique is a lot of light is lost passing through the LCD panel. The latest innovations for LCD has been the shift to LED back lighting. LED actually makes very little real word difference to the overall picture quality. The most important technology to look at when buying an LCD is the frame rate. The latest generation LCD TV’s have 200hz or above refresh rates, this has the effect of smoothing out the flow of moving scenes. Since most of the TV we watch has movement – unless your watching photos on tv – the smoothness of the display is important. Colour reproduction is the current weakness for LCD’s so when you are checking out various TV’s check the colours are pleasing to you eye. Also check the shading has a nice graduation to it. Viewing angle can be an issue on LCD panels so when your checking out TV’s always have a look from the side and check the angle the picture starts to loose details, if it’s a problem keep looking.
Plama Display Panels PDP are LCD’s main competition. The technology behind a PDP is actually pretty cool. Each pixel on a PDP is sort of like a mini fluro light, when a charge is put through it the gas in the cell lights up, three cells work together to make the required colour. With each cell generating its own light there is no need for a backlight. Again the frame rate of a PDP panel is paramount – Panasonic 600hz Panels are super smooth – but you also need to check the resolution of the panel. Many Plasma displays will say they are High def compatible but are in fact a low resolution panel that has chips to scale a high def picture down to its low resolution. Some of the down sides for Plasma are high power usage, excess heat and the picture when being used as a computer monitor isn’t as good as an LCD. Plasma panels have had a price advantage over LCD for a long time as well.
Laser DLP was the follow up to DLP rear projection TV’s. The last of the big box TV’s.Rear projection TV’s were bulky and required the halogen lamp to be replaced every few years. In my case I burnt my first bulb out in 9months but that was an exceptional case. Traditionally rear projection was much cheaper than LCD or Plasma for ridiculously large sized TV’s. Laser DLP uses 3 solid state lasers – similar to very focused LED lights – to replace the old colour wheel and halogen bulb. The laser sends exactly the right amount of light to the Motorola DLP processor chip. The DLP chip is an incredible piece of technology in itself. It consists of millions of tiny mirrors that can change position to turn the light on or off. Each of the mirror elements can switch thousands of times a second giving it the ability to sustain extreme frame rates. The Mitsubishi Laser DLP TV’s produce the best 3D images because of the speed of the DLP chip.
3D or Not 3D. Currently the best TV’s for 3D are the Panasonic Plasma and Mitsubishi Laser DLP. The Panasonic is one of the only flat panel displays capable of doing 3D without any ghosting effects. The ghosting effects will limit the amount of time you can watch 3D, personally the ghosting gives me a head ache. The unknown challenger for 3D is the Mitsubishi Laser DLP TV, which have the best 3D picture of any kind of TV due to its extreme frame rate capabilities.
OLED – Organic Light Emitting Diodes – or Firefly TV’s use similar chemicals to firefly’s. Light is produced via the same electro-chemical effect of a firefly. OLED is still about 5 years away from becoming a mainstream technology but it will be worth the weight. The displays are best described as WOW, off the charts wow factor. With the panel itself being only millimeters thick, bright colours and fast frame rates they are amazing to behold. The technology is widely used by Samsung in their mobile phones, hopefully you’ve seen AM-OLED branding all over the place by now, I say hopefully as it means the technology is becoming well enough established to become its own brand. There are two main downsides to OLED displays at the moment, Price and longevity. The current OLED panels have relatively short life span of 20,000 hours and the price is high enough that sales people have been heard to say if you have to ask you can’t afford it. Both of these issues will take time to address but you can count on it.
SED was the great white hope of TV technology. First rumored about 5 years ago the technology seemed to be quite mature when it become entangled in a licensing drama between Canon and Nano-Proprietary. The technology was similar to a Plasma screen crossed with an old school CRT. Like a CRT it used electron emitters to fire electrons at a phosphor coating, illuminating it. With SED each pixel has its own emitters and coating – CRT has one electron gun that scanned all pixels. The colour reproduction and brightness was said to be better than LCD and Plasma. The panels were also very thin and long life, with no maintenance. I think there is very little chance of SED making it to market sadly, the technology it is competing against has advanced while it stood still locked in corporate bitch fight.
Just when you’d finished upgrading all of you’re A/V gear to 1080p High Def guess what, it’s all out of date. Well not quite but the next picture standard has already appeared. The Quad HD – 4k – picture standard defines a picture with a resolution of 3840 by 2160 or 4 times the pixel count of 1080p. There are already a number of professional camera’s – love the Red gear – and projectors that support this resolution but it will be a long time before this level of quality reaches the consumer market, hopefully anyways cause I just finished upgrading my kit.
The Internet TV revolution is more of a software or content revolution than hardware. It is about doing more with your tv than just flicking through 90 channels of crap. There has been a lot of advancement in the last few years but until everyone has YouTube TV the revolution is incomplete. The apple TV will be interesting, even the most fervent apple hater has to admit they do easy to use software. Google has had a first try at TV with its Google TV product but I don’t think it went so well as Google has gone back to the drawing boards on that one.
For the next few years we will have to content with a content revolution. Besides OLED there’s no new technology on the radar. Not to say there’s nothing interesting going on, with the changes in standards and content delivery we will still be upgrading hardware every 5 to 10 years – seems like every year in my case.