New TV for Super Bowl XLVI

I need a new big-screen TV for the big game. I can afford between $2000 and $2500. I was told that plasma is way better than LCD, so I have spent about three weeks researching my options. I finally narrowed it down to either the Samsung PN64D7000 or Panasonic TC-P65ST30.

I promptly went to BrandsMart just to look at the two and finally decide which one. Of course, BrandsMart had neither model, but then the salesman tried to sell me on LED, which I had not researched before. He said plasma technology is on its way out and LED was the wave of the future, and that the Sharp LC-70LE735U was what I needed. What's your take on this?

Also, does it make sense to buy the same brand of TV, sound system, and Blu-ray player? Lastly, not being a techie, is it really hard to connect all three?

Rich Mickiewicz

I completely disagree with the salesman that plasma is on its way out, though it is true that plasma represents a relatively small percentage of the flat-panel market. Overall, LCD TVs (which include those labeled as "LED TVs") use various tricks to overcome problems that plasma doesn't suffer from in the first place—for example, frame interpolation to sharpen motion detail and local dimming of LEDs to improve blacks and contrast. Plasma will give you sharper detail in fast-moving objects without frame interpolation—which also makes the image look somewhat unnatural—so it's usually the better choice for sports fans.

Another factor is viewing angle. With a plasma, people can be far off center and still see a good-looking image, whereas virtually all LCD TVs look washed out if you're more than 30 degrees or so off axis. Thus, a plasma is much better for a large crowd. On the other hand, LCDs typically produce much more light than plasmas, so they do better in lots of ambient light.

The Sharp LC-70LE735U uses LEDs in an array behind the LCD panel, which is better than using LEDs along the edges of the screen as most LED-LCD TVs do. However, that model does not offer local dimming, in which the LEDs behind dark portions of the image are dimmed while the LEDs behind bright portions are brightened. As a result, the contrast is likely to be not that great, though we haven't reviewed this set.

Of the two plasmas you mention, we've reviewed the Panasonic ST30, which is a great performer. We haven't reviewed the Samsung D7000 plasma, but we did review the step-up D8000, which is also superb. The list price of the PN64D7000 is $400 more than that of the TC-P65ST30, which could be a deciding factor. For more TV shopping tips before the big game, click here.

Buying the same brand of TV and Blu-ray player might provide better integration of their operation—the remote for either one will probably control them both. On the other hand, both will probably include online-streaming apps, which will be the same if they are from the same company. That's why I generally prefer to get a Blu-ray player from a different company, which will offer a different set of apps, giving you a wider selection across the two devices and a choice of which one is better in this regard.

In my view, it's not important to buy the sound system from the same manufacturer as the TV. You want the best sound quality you can get for your budget, and that doesn't necessarily come from the big TV companies. I suggest a good audio/video receiver (AVR) and 5.1 speaker system; see our Top Picks for AVRs here, compact speaker systems here, and floorstanding speaker systems here.

If you're not a techie person, a home theater in a box (HTiB) offers a simpler alternative, with everything you need in one box (except a TV), including color-coded wires to make connections easier. Many HTiBs also include a Blu-ray or DVD player. However, these systems are not very expandable, and we haven't found an HTiB with high enough sound quality to recommend lately.

Connecting a system with a TV, Blu-ray player, AVR, and speakers isn't difficult. Connect the HDMI output from the Blu-ray player to one of the HDMI inputs on the AVR (which might have an input labeled "BD" or "Blu-ray"), connect the HDMI output from the AVR to one of the HDMI inputs on the TV, and connect the speaker outputs from the AVR to the corresponding speakers (front left, center, front right, surround left, surround right). The AVR should also have a subwoofer or LFE output that uses an RCA jack; connect that to the RCA input on the subwoofer.

Then, assuming you have a subwoofer, go into the AVR's menu and specify all main speakers as "small" and the crossover at 80Hz (which it might be by default). Alternatively, if the AVR has an auto-setup system such as Audyssey, that will set up the speaker configuration automatically.

Finally, sit back and enjoy the game!

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askhometheater@gmail.com.

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COMMENTS
AVtheaterguy's picture

Scott,

I find it slightly misguiding when you say "LCD TVs use various tricks to overcome problems that plasma doesn't suffer from in the first place". Why call them tricks when they are actual technology? Your choice of words puts a negative connotation on LCD/LED, just in the same way that many people put negativity towards our favorite display technology, Plasma, because they don't know any better.

Local Dimming is hardly a trick when it comes to display technology, and in fact is probably one of the leading advances in display technology today. Frame interpolation/motion technology/120/240/480hz etc. is also not really a trick but advancement in panel technology and is all part of achieving a better picture.

In terms of how well these different TECHNOLOGIES work is obviously model to model and brand to brand, but they are not TRICKS so much as advanced technology, and I believe should be represented so.

And with that I think Mr. Rich Mickiewicz should definitely go for the PN64D7000, which is my favorite TV overall for the year, Picture to $$ value.

K.Reid's picture

First let me point out that everything Scott W. said is 100% accurate.

Regarding AVtheaterguy's comments, LCD has used a variety of technologies to help cure its inherent weaknesses/deficiencies. Whether one characterizes them as "tricks" or "band-aids", the point is that without the technologies LCD would not present good picture quality. Even the Elite flatscreen by Sharp (excellent as they are) still suffer with off axis viewing issues due the lack of in plane switching (IPS) - another band aid/trick. See Tom Norton's review.

If I am not mistaken, on one of Scott's Podcasts I think Steve Guttenberg even commented that LCD is flawed technology forcing manufacturers to find solutions (band-aids) to its problems.

I think Scott's choice of words is fine and certainly true. It's not placing LCD/LED in negative light, it's just telling it like it is. Having walked Las Vegas Convention Center central hall at CES and seeing the OLED flat panels from Samsung and LG, I am hopeful that they accelerate bringing these sets to market as first impressions of picture quality are very good.

wstruth's picture

I completely concur with Scott's and K Reid's comments on LCD displays. The innovations to compensate for their intrinsic characteristics are certainly worthy for commendation - but that does not alleviate baseline flaws, especially to the point that does not recognize the technical advantages of other display types.

virsodhi's picture

Let's call a spade a spade. LCD technology was never intended to be used as a television display. Static displays, like calculators, car navigation systems, etc. were the original intention. LCD technology has been playing catchup with Plasma technology since its inception. "Band-aid's" is a more civil term, but regardless, these are technologies to improve shortcomings, not taking a good feature and making it better. To market them as "features" in an advantageous light vs. plasma technology, a technology that doesn't require the features in the first place is misleading.

K. Reid's comments on the Sharp Elite LED panel are spot on.
As a proud owner of the last Pioneer Elite model, I envy the deeper blacks of the new Sharp Elite, but the viewing angle and almost comical "home video" look in my eyes still weigh a heavy burden. Commend LCD manufacturers for their marketing prowess, not their technological prowess. That honour is to be saved for plasma technology.

Anyone looking for a home theatre experience that centers around picture quality should be buying a plasma. LCD should not even be mentioned in the conversation (save for the Sharp Elite). Any salesperson who says otherwise is motivated by other forces than giving accurate advice.

mailiang's picture

You make a good point. LCD's were originally designed for static displays like computer screens. TV's on the the other hand produce moving images, that on modern sets are progressively displayed. For this reason, Television should be more compatible with emissive technologies like plasma. This 'self lighting' technology has the ability to refresh and handle motion as well as CRT televisions, which have been recognized as the 'standard' when it comes to the performance of video displays.

Ian

cawgijoe1's picture

I don't agree with calling them tricks. LCD sets with full array LED backlighting and local dimming are very highly rated by this magazine as well as other trade journals and even CR. These sets put out great PQ and burn very little energy. They are not without their faults of course, but no display technology is including plasma.

To say that the Sharp Elite is the only LCD worth buying is laughable. Other full array sets from Sony, LG, and Vizio have received excellent reviews for less money.

I think both technologies have their place and depending upon placement and room lighting one can be a better choice than the other.

I own both.

virsodhi's picture

The sets you refer to as being highly rated on this magazine and others has more to do with needing to appease sponsors and advertisements than it does with the actual reflection of the sets displayed. Most, if not all of the reviewers, at least on this website, have made subtle inferences to their preference of plasma over LCD, in virtually every scenario. They do so in a very cordial manner, without slighting a large portion of the manufacturers that help fill their advertising budget. They also need to appease many people who either cannot afford top of the line, or don't care/notice any benefit.

Sony, and Samsung is one case in which good models can be found for increasingly competitive pricing. But Vizio? Any company that markets "Where vision meets value" is something any prudent consumer should stay away from. For something that one uses for several hours daily for the better part of a decade, it would be wise to stay away from Chinese build quality.

I too own both display's. 2 LCD's and 1 plasma. We made the mistake of buying into the "ambient light" selling point, as our condo is floor to ceiling windows. Now, I do what any logical thinking person does when watching either TV, and draw the curtains. I was sure to save up and get the Pioneer Elite Pro-111FD, and I haven't looked back. To this day, every night I turn it on, it impresses.

What I find upsetting is the manipulative marketing tactics used by LCD manufacturers to sell their products. Part of the reason why legendary sets like the Kuro were forced out of production were economics, but part of it was consumer foolishness. Colleagues of mine have purchased a top of the line XBR over the now defunct Kuro, when the Kuro is marginally cheaper, and without question a better set.

When a friend asks what kind of TV they should get, providing it's larger than 42", I say plasma. When they ask why, I don't need to use gimmicks or buzz words to sell it. I say, "because it's better".

cawgijoe1's picture

virsodhi.....so now what you are saying is that Home Theater Magazine's reviews are essentially tainted and we can't use or rely on them because the magazine takes advertisements. I'm sorry, I don't buy it.

There is nothing wrong with the Vizio set I mentioned and to knock the Chinese is wrong. Shoot, I know some folks that would never buy anything made in Korea! I know several people with the Vizio 553 that are extremely happy with it.

I'm not going to get into a brand loyalty fight because that doesn't solve anything, I would just say that I keep an open mind when I do my research before buying a set.

The Kuro's were awesome. No denying that. The newer Panasonic, LG , and Samsung plasmas are also very good depending on model. But I would also venture to say that the Sharp Elites, Sony HX9** series, and Vizio 553/554's are also excellent sets.

If you are a plasma fan, that's fine....good for you.....in fact the deals these days are amazing....a Panasonic 60 inch for $997? Wow!

I would definitely direct someone looking for good value in a TV these days to a plasma, but I would ask them to check out others before choosing. Thats reallty the wise way to shop.

virsodhi's picture

I am certainly not saying the reviews are tainted. Not in the least. I often direct prospective buyers of any HT gear to this website, because I have found for several year their reviews to be comprehensive and unbiased. In fact, it's unfortunate buyers take their advice from a part time employee at Best Buy rather than reviewers who live and breathe this industry (and offer their advice for free online - kudos!).

On the same note, I think more seasoned and experienced individuals can read between the lines on certain elements of the review. The editors are cordial and polite even when reviewing some unflattering elements of gear which I value and I think speaks to their professionalism. But it certainly also means that as readers, we should acknowledge shortcomings of the gear being reviewed (specifically in the HT measures section which this magazine even released an article with tips to comprehend).

Not sure who would prefer Chinese build quality over Korean, or any other manufacturer. I don't knock the "Chinese", but in terms of the quality of electronics made in China, their competition to the east is almost always better (at a price). It's largely impossible to avoid in many respects, but something that consumers should be made aware of.

You're 100% right that consumers should be checking out all their options, especially recently since LCD/LED options are getting very attractive.

Certainly no disrespect to Scott or the folks at HT Mag. You will always have a place on my Bookmarks bar!

Scott Wilkinson's picture
"The sets you refer to as being highly rated on this magazine and others has more to do with needing to appease sponsors and advertisements than it does with the actual reflection of the sets displayed." Absolutely false! We call 'em as we see 'em, we do NOT write reviews to appease advertisers. While I do generally prefer plasma—and I say so directly without "subtle inferences"—some LCDs, such as the Sharp Elite, Sony HX929, and some Samsungs and LGs, are excellent performers. Vizio sets may not be in the top performance tier, but some do offer good performance for the money, making them a good value for budget-conscious buyers.
cawgijoe1's picture

I agree with Mr. Wilkinson on his latest comments except I want to remind him that the Vizio XVT553SV was (reviewed by Thomas J. Norton) chosen a Top Pick by this magazine. I would call that better than just good performance for the money.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
You're right, the XVT553SV is an excellent performer, better than "just good." I stand corrected.
njmurph's picture

I purchased the XVT553SV based on Mr. Norton's review and an in-store viewing (Sam's Club, $1,200!) I am completely satisfied with the set, and with the image attained using Mr. Norton's settings, with one caveat: Mr. Norton's settings as provided online do not identify his recommended Color Temperature.

I'd really appreciate it if either you or Mr. Norton could dig that info up and let me know.

Sackrat's picture

There were a few years where plasma fell behind in sales and predictably several manufacturers stoped building them. However, in the last year or two the plasma scene has gain in popularity and market share. Ask any salesman at a higher end home theater store. The 120 to 240 hertz refresh rate of LCD/LED is good. However the "plasma sub field drive frequency" is close to 600 hertz, hence great motion viewing. It is great to have choices.

jnemesh's picture

Be VERY careful here! The refresh rate of the panel is talking about how many frames of video are displayed per second. So a 120hz refresh rate is displaying 120 frames every second. Since broadcast video is either 30 frames per second or 60 FIELDS per second (interlaced video), this is then processed by the TVs video processor to 120 frames per second. This can happen in two ways.

The first (and in most people's opinion, best) way to do this is to simply display the same information twice. This keeps motion blur to a minimum, but also maintains the original look of what was actually broadcast. This is what happens when you turn "Active Motion" (also named "smooth motion" or other things, depending on what brand you are using) OFF.

Turning "Active Motion" on will add additional video processing. The TV's processor will look at 2 frames of video and "guess" what a frame of video in between these two images should be, then insert this interpolated frame in between the two frames which contain the information that was originally broadcast. This makes motion look smoother, with less judder, but also makes everything look weird and unnatural. I call it "the Mexican Soap Opera Effect", because it makes everything, including film, look like it was shot on cheap video cameras. These processing modes can also add undesirable video artifacts to your picture as well (when the processor "guesses" wrong!). Some people actually like this abomination of a feature...I prefer to see things as they were actually meant to be seen.

As for plasma, they are always refreshing at 60hz. The 600Hz "sub field drive" makes for great marketing, but it is confusing to the average customer. The 600Hz sub field drive means that the TV is capable of reproducing all 1080 lines of resolution, even with fast motion. Older (or cheaper) televisions would often give you 1080 lines of resolution only when the image was stationary...any time there was any movement, you would see only 540 lines of actual resolution, doubled up to 1080. Most, if not all, plasma sets now have a 600hz sub field drive.

In case you are wondering why you don't see 120hz or 240hz plasma screens...THEY DONT NEED IT! The higher refresh rates on LCD sets are because of the native downside to LCD technology. You have a "latency" on LCD pixels...the time it takes for a pixel to return to it's rest state after power to that pixel has been removed. Usually LCD panel latency is measured in milliseconds...most computer monitors have a latency of 4ms to 8ms, but you RARELY see TVs listing this specification. This latency is what is responsible for the blurring of the image during fast motion...the pixels just can't keep up with the speed of the changing picture! THIS is the reason that you have seen 120hz and 240hz sets pop up all over the place, and on an LCD or "LED" (backlit) set, this does make a difference! Plamas have latency ratings too! But here you see them with a .08ms latency or some other ridiculously low level. Since plasma TVs have no issue with latency and fast motion, there is no need to have them refresh at a higher rate than the standard 60hz.

Hope this helps!

P.S. I agree with Scott on this article...they are indeed "tricks"

mailiang's picture

As jnemesh commented, all plasma's have a refresh rate of 60hz. (Although 3D PDP's will refresh 3D at 120. (1080/60 X 2, one for each eye) Specifically speaking, for each frame displayed on the TV, the subfield drive flashes the pixels at least 10 times per second. 10X60 = 600. The faster the flashes, the smoother the motion. Therefore, plasmas with 600Hz sub field drive, reproduce most of the resolution that they are capable of, even with fast motion.

Ian

akak's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that the subfield drive in plasma sets actually controls the brightness of the picture (in effect making plasma a digital technology) -- for those 10 flashes for every frame, fully bright subpixels will be on all 10 flashes, moderately bright pixels 5 or 6 flashes and fully dim subpixels no flashes.

As far as LCD sets using "tricks" to improve picture quality, it must be acknowledged that video (and film, for that matter) involves tricking the eye into believing that it is seeing a moving image when all it is actually seeing is a series of still pictures; the gamma curve is also a bit of trickery, as is any video or audio codec. The only time a "trick" should matter is when it leaves artifacts that detract from the viewing experience (e.g., the "soap opera" look or haloing).

While I prefer the plasma picture to LCD, I also recognize that its picture quality, and that of LCD as well, may well be surpassed by OLED in the near future, and that should excite those of us who care about picture quality -- the technology should always matter less than the final result.

mailiang's picture

Since an LCD receives continuous back lighting, pixels can be turned on or off at any time. However, with PDP's, each pixel generates its own light and can only do so for a brief period of time. In order for these pixels to remain lit, electronic pulses need to be sent at a very fast rate. Therefore, the subfield drive determines how often these pulses are sent. The more pulses that are sent each time the frame is refreshed, the better, due to the fact that the pixel brightness won't fade as fast each time the frame is being changed or displayed. AFAIK, PDP's use Pulse Code Modulation. Simply stated, PCM is a coded algorithm that divides the pulses into several subfields, each with a different pulse width. This modulation occurs several thousand times per second, and controls the intensity of each color.

Ian

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