20 TV Questions

Richard McGready recently wrote to me with several TV questions:

I'm thinking about buying a Sony XBR5 LCD TV, but I heard that Sony is coming out with a newer top-of-the-line model in a couple of months. Do you know anything about it? What new features, if any, does it have? Is it better than the XBR5? I've contacted Sony and they won't tell me anything.

I've heard rumors that Sony is coming out with a TV with 240Hz instead of 120Hz. Do you know anything about that?

I've also heard that Samsung is coming out with a 3D TV. Is that true and, if so, is it any good?

What 50- to 60-inch plasma or LCD TV do you think is the best?

Okay, so that's not 20 questions, but it's more than I usually get in a single e-mail. To start with, Sony did announce several new lines at the recent CEDIA show, including XBR6, XBR7, and XBR8. Each line has its own hallmarks—for example, the XBR8 line, which will be available in 46- and 55-inch models, uses an array of red, green, and blue LEDs as the backlight instead of the conventional fluorescent lights. These LEDs can be independently dimmed or brightened behind dark and bright areas of the image, greatly increasing contrast without the visible "pumping" commonly seen with dynamic fluorescent backlights.

The large-screen XBR6 line, available in sizes of 40, 46, and 52 inches, has a new piano-black cabinet, but it's otherwise very similar to the previous XBRs in terms of features. Same for the XBR7 line, with one major exception—the KDL-52XBR7 (pictured above), which offers a refresh rate of 240Hz, twice the rate of the now-common 120Hz LCD TVs. Like 120Hz, the faster rate is supposed to improve motion detail; look for a review as soon as I can get one.

Samsung and Mitsubishi have both been making 3D-capable DLP rear-projection TVs for at least a year now. To see this effect, you must have content encoded for 3D—mostly games at this point—and some active LCD-shutter glasses that open and close each lens alternately in sync with an infrared signal from the TV. I've seen demos of these sets, and I must say it's not my cup of tea. Yes, the 3D effect is unequivocal, but I get a headache after more than about 10 minutes of it.

The best 50- or 60-inch plasma is easy—Pioneer's Kuro line, such as the PRO-111FD 50-incher. As for LCDs, I'd have to give the nod to Samsung—the LN52A750 is the best conventionally backlit LCD I've seen, and the new LN55A950 looks amazing with its LED backlighting; look for a review in a couple of weeks.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sourceinterlink.com.

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Bill's picture

perhaps it would have been useful if you clarified whether you preferred the pioneer plasma or the samsung LCD, not sure based on the way the question was asked whether he wanted the best plasma and the best lcd, or the best period from either technology. yes i understand each has strengths and weaknesses, but in the end they're both doing the same thing. also, 240hz now really? i will continue to laugh at people who buy into that technology. If you are sensitive to motion blur or watch lots of fast action stuff (e.g. sports) then LCD is not for you, if you haven't noticed plasma doesn't need stuff like that and neither did your CRT, there's an inherent issue with LCD technology that will never allow it to truly be motion blur free. hometheatermag wrote a nice gearworks article in july 07 about it in fact.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Good points, Bill. My preference for the Pioneer plasma or Samsung LCD depends in part on the situation. If it's in a dark room with good ambient light control

Colin Robertson's picture

As far as plasmas go, I for one, think they are plenty bright for a room with plenty of ambient light, certainly more so than the CRTs we used in bright rooms before flat panels became the norm. The only downside is that plasmas tend to have a very reflective glass surface that will reflect anything directly behind it. Better than the curved tubes of yesteryear, but not as good as LCD panels in that department. LCD panels are very good at diffusing reflections, so they are good with rooms with lots of windows for example. As well, plasmas are, by nature, very "fast", meaning their pixels respond in a small fraction of the time that LCD panels take to respond, so if you're into lots of fast motion based content like sports, action movies, and videogames, plasmas are a great choice; the resolution holds up better with motion. When I bought mine (a Pioneer Elite), I compared it directly with the best LCDs available at the time, and even though they were 1080p and my TV was 720, plasma won, for

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Yes, the shiny, reflective screens of plasmas is one big reason they have problems in lots of ambient light, especially with light sources (windows, lamps, etc.) directly opposite the screen. Interestingly, Samsung's LCD TVs have a shinier screen than most LCDs, which they claim helps lower the black level, another LCD bugaboo. It does seem to help in that department, but at the expense of a shiny screen. Another important factor with plasmas is that the more white there is in a scene (think snowy vistas such as the ice planet Hoth at the beginning of Star Wars V), the lower the peak light output. By contrast, LCDs output essentially the same amount of light no matter how much white there is on the screen, making it easier for them to overcome room light when such scenes are displayed. Another factor in the plasma vs. LCD decision is off-axis performance. Will you often have viewers off to the side? If so, LCD is not for you; plasmas have much better off-axis performance.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

In reading over my last comment, I see a statement that I should correct. I wrote, "LCDs output essentially the same amount of light no matter how much white there is on the screen..." What I meant to say was, "LCDs have essentially the same peak-white level no matter how much white there is on the screen..." Sorry for any confusion.

The Flap's picture

The general confusion I have seen in displays has been consumers looking for a technological plateau. Generally this was a point where technology really had no major improvements to offer, and prices then declined. I read the question being asked is, are we at a plateau? Problem is there is no plateau anymore. Manufactures continue to try to get first year numbers and not worry about next year. They would be most happy to sell you a new model EVERY YEAR, but who would do that? There is at issue a good sized segment of consumers that want that plateau, these being the tertiary technophobic, not wanting to adopt but are looking for industry guidance to "force" them into adopting technology. in essence guaranteeing the technology will be around. I read this fella kind of that way. I think Blu-Ray, HDMI, and even some segments of HDTV could benefit from marketing plateaus to let the technophobes catch up.

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