Guidelines To Buying An HDTV

Question: My wife has approved the purchase of a big TV to watch the World Cup next summer. Reading S+V has proven invaluable in the search. What guidelines can you offer when shopping for a 50-inch HDTV that will produce a decent (not soft-looking) picture when watching standard-def channels on Comcast cable? Will the cursed Motorola DCT2000 set-top box provided by Comcast help at all? | Bill Holloway | Alameda, CA

Answer: Different TVs all have varying levels of success upconverting standard-def cable TV signals for display on their high-def screens, but I wouldn’t expect any one model to work miracles in this regard. (The same situation applies to cable set-top boxes.) The truth is that SDTV tends to look soft when compared with HDTV, and no amount of video processing wizardry can fully get around that fact. One relevant feature that you can compare when set-shopping is noise reduction. Along with looking soft, SD signals tend to be full of video noise.

A TV with good video processing should be able to suppress some of this noise without further softening the picture. (Noise-reduction performance is something that we regularly comment on in our TV test reports.) Sitting too close to the screen can also make gnarly-looking SD programs appear even more so. For a 50-inch, 1080p-rez TV, you should plan on sitting about 7 feet away — a distance that will not only prevent you from being overwhelmed by imperfections in upconverted SD programs but also let you enjoy the full detail level in 1080i and 1080p-format high-def ones.

-- Al Griffin

Have a question about audio, video, or home theater? Send an e-mail to: (put “Q&A” in the subject line) or join a discussion in our Forums.