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Written around July of 2004.

Hi gang, I just replaced my TV (15 years old, 2 channels not working, broken for the 3rd and final time, low resolution, 19", etc) and as usual, I studied a bit before buying. So I thought I'd jot a few notes here, in case some of you will buy and would like to know what I learned.

I only looked at 27 and 32 inch TV's although many of my notes will apply to other sizes. I did not check into widescreen or HDTV because the cost is far too high for me right now.

Of highest importance to me was cost and picture quality from coaxial cable (antenna/cable) and from DVD. (The picture quality differs from those two sources because that from coaxial must go through a filter and some don't have a good filters). Much of what I learned was from visiting several retailers, comparing TV's and reading Consumer Reports (December, 2003). Once I narrowed it down, I actually adjusted the TV settings myself to detect differences.

Recommendations For No-Study Buying

If you only want bottom line recommendations, in general, I recommend Toshiba, and JVC. I will only give specific recommendations for 24-32 inch TV's because they are what I studied. There were several related 20 and 24 inch models that would likely be great sets too.

A note about Sony: While very good, Sony TV's (at least in these sizes) tend to be too expensive. However, if you find a Sony that has the features you want, and a price that is right for your budget, go for it. They are very good sets. To give a general idea of their cost/benefit, I'll say this: in the Consumer Reports article, the 27 inch Sony flat screen was more expensive and did not quite measure up to the flat units from Toshiba and JVC. In the 32 inch units, the Sony, the only flat model in the top three, did just as well as the top rated Toshiba, and had some good features that the Toshiba lacked (flat screen and PIP) but, the Sony was almost double the price. (The 32 inch JVC came in behind Toshiba and Sony). So I don't include Sony in my recommendations. If Sony's price were the same, the 32 inch Sony would receive my top rating for that size, but in the 27 inch size, I'd still buy Toshiba or JVC.

27 inch

Toshiba 27AF53

Toshiba's web site

The one I found was a bit expensive ($400 - Electronic Express). This has a flat screen and a very good filter. The picture is excellent. Disregarding price, this was my favorite 27" unit. It is supposed to be slightly easier to use than the JVC but the same quality. The Toshiba, like the JVC, had standard video hookups in front, but the Toshiba also offered an s-video connection from the front - a nice touch for someone like me who has a camcorder with an s-video connection. The 16:9 compression mode is very easy. Sound is very good.
Toshiba 27AF44 Great deal at Best Buy ($299), has a flat screen, very good filter and an excellent picture. The 16:9 compression mode is very easy. Sound should be very good. It has audio connections in front (but not s-video).
Toshiba 27A43 The screen is not quite flat, but it's fairly close, and it has a good filter. The picture is very good. Generally, these are on sale for VERY good prices and are hard to beat for the price/quality. I saw several for about $230 (Best Buy and Electronic Express). It has audio connections in front (but not s-video). Sound should be very good.
JVC AV-27F485 This is the one I bought because I found a decent deal ($299 - but generally, they will be a slight bit more - $320 Electronic Express). It has a flat screen, a very good filter and the picture quality is excellent. It has audio connections in front (but not s-video, unfortunately). The 16:9 compression mode is very easy. Sound is very good.

JVC AV-27FA44 or AV-27FA54

Flat screen, very good filter and excellent picture. I don't know about the sound. It might be very good. I did not study these as much, but I did adjust their settings and compare to the Toshiba 27AF44 and they have very comparable features.
32 inch
I didn't study flat screens in this size because of cost
Toshiba 32A43 Not a flat screen, but fairly close (in the 32 inch size the curve is more noticeable). This has a very good filter and an excellent picture. At Best Buy, it was $390 if I recall correctly. This has better sound than the 32A33.
Toshiba 32A33 Not a flat screen, but fairly close (in the 32 inch size the curve is more noticeable). This has a very good filter and an excellent picture. At Best Buy, it was a great deal at $350. The only drawback of this one, compared to the 32A43, is that the sound quality is not quite as good. But if you're using your stereo, it's less of an issue. This unit should be one of the best buys on the market for a 32 inch.
I did not check out other 32 inch units. Consumer Reports didn't rate any very highly except Toshiba and Sony, and the Sony was too high priced for me. So the above is all that I recommend. The picture looked great, as did Toshiba and Sony's flat 32" models. The Toshiba flat model was about $550.

Acronyms and Terms

Acronym / Term Definition
Antenna/Cable Connector See Coaxial
Coaxial connectors The type of connector that is very common, and is sometimes used to connect VCR's to TV's. Cable TV usually comes with this type of connector. The implication of this single line is that all signals are packed into the one cable so some unit must decode the signals, then use a filter to clean the signals. This process degrades the picture.
COMB filter

A TV input sometimes has all information mixed together in one signal (e.g. antenna or coaxial cable). The TV has to separate the signals for color, luminance, etc. and in this involved process, it must use the concept of a filter to clean up the signals once they are separated. The quality of a filter can make a huge difference in some cases.

In short, look for digital COMB filter. 3D is the best, but rarely seen on anything I can afford. 3 Line digital COMB filter may offer some advantages over some others (it's on my new set) but it should not be confused with 3D.

Component video connectors A three-wire connector that often has green, blue and red connectors/cables. These offer the highest quality picture because the signals are already separated, allowing your TV to bypass the filter circuitry, retaining the picture's original quality. This is the best way to connect a DVD to a TV, so use it if both of your units have it.
Composite video connectors This is very common on VCR's and typically has yellow, white and red connectors/cables. It is better than using Coaxial connectors, but the TV's filters will still be used. Therefore, it's not as high quality as s-video or component video connectors.
DVI connectors Digital Visual Interface (DVI) connectors are the best, but are rare and expensive. You won't likely be dealing with these unless you are spending far more than the average price of the units I'm discussing.
Filter see COMB filter
HD High Definition - or HDTV - High Definition Television. This is a new standard for widescreen, high resolution TV's that currently are fairly high priced, and are out of my price range, so I did not study them very much.
HDTV See HD.
PIP Picture in picture - this feature allows you to see a small window in the screen with another channel - good for those who want to check another channel without missing anything on the first channel, or track "the game" while they watch something else. It's a very nice feature that only comes on higher end sets.
S-video connectors This appears as a single cable, but is really several cables inside one shielded cable. This, like component video, keeps the signals separate and therefore preserves the original picture quality. In practice, this doesn't quite match up to component video connectors, but if you don't have component video, this is the next best thing.

Issues

Connections

Be sure your unit has composite video connections, and either an s-video or component video connectors. Having s-video AND component video is very nice. Component video looks the best (my wife, who is non-technical, could tell the difference!) But be sure that you get one that matches your DVD player (i.e. if your DVD has only s-video, be sure your TV has s-video). I would also be sure that it has composite video because most VCR's use this, and will provide a better picture than will an antenna/cable input.

This is important to understand ONLY if you want to understand what causes a good picture. An input to a TV can be comprised of one cable (e.g. antenna/cable input, usually done by a coaxial cable) that has all the signals grouped together (multiplexed), OR the signals can be separated on multiple cables (e.g. component video). (Note: while s-video is a single cable in once sense, it's really comprised of several cables inside one wrapping). The best is to have separated signals. If the signals are joined together, then the TV must separate them, then use a filter to try to clean up the resulting signals. The quality of the filter becomes very important. But with separated signals (e.g. composite video, s-video and component video) the filter is not necessary and the picture is not messed up by combining, then separating signals.

An antenna receives combined signals, so you have no choice here. The TV (or some receiving unit) must separate the signals. For analog cable this is also the case. See note about digital cable below. If you are playing from a VCR and you have composite video (separate video, usually on a yellow connector) and so does your TV, use it. If you have DVD and it has s-video or component video output and so does your TV, then use it. In those cases, your signal will stay separated all the way. If you use a coaxial cable from your VCR/DVD to your TV, then you are causing the signal to be joined, then separated, then go through your TV's filter. Those are needless steps that degrade the signal. See the links section below for articles online that will explain more.

Note About Digital Cable: digital cable might offer a way to deliver, via a box, a signal that has not been mixed, thus providing a better picture if your TV can accept inputs with separated signals. If your TV does NOT accept separated signals (i.e. it only has one type of coaxial connector) then a separated signal will not help. I will check into this when I call about cable TV in Durham. If you want to know the results, email me at the address below.

Filters

If you want to only remember one thing, look for Digital COMB filter.

If you watch only from DVD, using s-video or component video, then the filter is not important because you will be bypassing it, which is good. If the signal is coming from normal coaxial television reception or cable, it will go through the TV's filter (COMB filter); The filter is very important in these cases. If you have ever noticed color bleeding (especially on vertical lines) or small dancing dots or squares, it's because the filter isn't very good. There are levels of quality, but look for digital COMB filter. It's a great level of cost/benefit. For more information, see Cyber Theater's page on filters.

Note: many only say "COMB filter" when they are actually digital COMB filter. But don't count on it. Look on the manufacturers web site, or on the box (many stores can verify that for you, but see it in writing - sales people were saying many things to me that were wrong). Most sets do have digital filters, but I'm not familiar enough with TV's to know for sure that all do, so I made sure.

Sound

Some units do offer better sound. For some people, this won't matter so much because they will use their stereo instead of the TV speakers. Most have adequate sound except for watching a movie, when you may want to use a stereo.

Aspect Ratio

This is the relationship between the width and height of the screen. Most TV's are 4:3, meaning, for every 4 inches in width, there's 3 inches of height. The newer standard is 16:9 (which is closer to how the human eye sees). This is often referred to as widescreen. When you buy a movie in the widescreen format, it's in a 16:9 ratio. Unfortunately, TV sets with the 16:9 aspect ratio are generally very expensive.

Letterbox Mode (not as good as 16:9 Compression Mode)

This is what you will see when you are watching a widescreen movie on a TV with a 4:3 aspect ratio. There will be a black strip at the top and at the bottom. The middle part (where the movie is shown) is in a 16:9 aspect ration. The problem with this way of watching is that your TV wastes some of it's lines of resolution by actually "drawing" these black strips. For example, if your TV can show 500 lines of resolution, about 125 lines would be wasted on "drawing" the black strips (top and bottom) leaving you with only 375 lines to draw the widescreen picture. What a waste! Wouldn't it be good if we could use all 500 lines to provide a sharper picture? With some setups, you can, but it's not called letterbox; Read about 16:9 compression mode below.

16:9 Compression Mode (it's Better than Letterbox Mode)

To gain a 16:9 aspect ratio on a 4:3 TV, the best way is to squish the available lines of resolution into a 16:9 strip so that there is a black strip at the top and bottom. But in this case (as opposed to the letterbox mode described above) the black areas are simply "ignored" by the TV. All of the TV's available lines of resolution are compressed into the wide strip in the middle. For example, if you have a TV that can show 500 lines of resolution (left to right), all 500 are used to draw this 16:9 widescreen picture. None are used to "display" the black strips at the top and bottom.

To accomplish this, tell your DVD player that it's displaying to a 16:9 TV (which, on a 4:3 TV would normally make everything look artificially tall) then tell your TV to use widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) and you get a high resolution 16:9 widescreen display. It really looks much better this way. This is a valuable feature.

Flat vs. Curved Screen

Flat screens look great simply because they are different. But it goes a bit beyond that. Some sales people will tell you that you get a slightly larger picture, and that's true, but it's so small that I consider it to be insignificant. There is less glare on a flat TV, and I do find that to be a real benefit, but not a huge benefit.

The real advantage is that when a TV is viewed from an angle (even relatively small angles) the images are MUCH better. Curved screens distort images when viewed from an angle because the side of the screen that is closer to you is nearly normal, but the side farthest away is very abnormal. It's quite noticeable. On a flat screen, the entire screen is at the same angle. I compared them side by side and became convinced that I really wanted a flat screen. The problem is, the larger the TV, the larger the cost difference between curved and flat screens. A flat screen adds about $50 on a 27 inch screen (20% more). It adds about about $170 or more on a 32 inch screen (45% more). Since I was torn between a 27 and a 32 inch, this swayed me to go with a flat 27 inch.

Universal Remote

One of these came with my JVC and it controls my VCR and my DVD with the same remote. I really like having this capability. The only snag in this for me is that my DVD (a Toshiba) requires that I use "enter" to initially start a movie (rather than just "play"). The JVC universal remote doesn't have "enter" so I have to start a movie with the original remote. From then on, I can use only the one remote. It's very convenient, and is worth at least considering as a tipping factor if all else were equal between two sets. Look for this feature.

Links

Name
Link (URL)
Brands
JVC http://www.jvc.com/main.jsp
Look for the folder tab near the top that says "television" and pick the size in which you're interested.
Sony

Their URL is too long to make visible.

Toshiba www.tacp.toshiba.com/televisions
Miscellaneous
Cyber Theater - filters www.cybertheater.com/Tech_Reports/Comb_Filter_Tut/guide_comb_filters.html
has nice technical write-up on filters
Cyber Theater - signals www.cybertheater.com/Tech_Archive/YC_Comp_Format/yc_comp_format.html
has a nice technical write-up on signals and their formats

 

Contact Info© copyright - Mark W. Rice