Replacing CRT RPTV with Flat Panel

I currently have a Sony KP-51HW40 51-inch CRT rear-projection HDTV. I find the picture quality stunning, with great contrast and solid blacks. Since it is a CRT-based display, I believe the black levels are better than most plasma sets. Is this correct? I ask because I'm thinking of upgrading to a 60-inch plasma, most likely the Panasonic TC-P60S30. I see from your review of the TC-P50S30 that it has what you call "reasonably good blacks" at 0.009fL. Is this black level much inferior (less black) compared with my Sony CRT? I am afraid of buying the Panasonic and having poorer blacks than what I am used to, because black level is very important to me. I am also curious about how the overall picture quality compares between both sets.

Daniel Hebert

You are absolutely correct that CRT-based displays have much deeper blacks than virtually all plasmas, except the late, lamented Pioneer Kuro. If black level is very important to you, you won't be happy with the Panasonic S30. Your best bet is an LED-illuminated LCD TV, which can achieve far better blacks because the LEDs can be dimmed.

Such TVs come in two varieties—backlit and edgelit. As these names imply, backlit sets have LEDs in an array behind the LCD panel, while edgelit sets have LEDs positioned along the edges of the screen. LED-edgelit sets are much more common because they are generally less expensive and can be made extremely thin, which is very popular with consumers. However, most suffer from uneven illumination in dark scenes, which I find very distracting.

LED-backlit sets are more expensive and not as thin, but they can offer a feature called local dimming, in which the LEDs behind dark portions of the image are dimmed while the LEDs behind bright portions are brightened. This greatly increases perceived contrast and lowers apparent black level, though it often causes halos to appear around very small bright objects on a dark background because the dimmable zones of LEDs are much larger than pixels.

The only LED-backlit LCD I know of that does not exhibit haloing is the Sharp Elite X5FD, but the 60-inch version lists for $6000, which is way more than the Panasonic TC-P60S30. (See our review of the PRO-60X5FD here.) Sharp also makes other, less-expensive LED-backlit LCDs, but they do not offer local dimming.

The best choice that comes closest to your price range—the TC-P60S30 lists for $1600—is the Vizio XVT553SV (shown above with your Sony RPTV), which lists for $2200. This set uses LED backlighting with local dimming, and it garnered Top Picks status in our review here. Vizio makes several other, less-expensive 55-inchers with local dimming, but we haven't reviewed them. Even with LED backlighting and local dimming, the XVT553SV probably won't achieve quite the black level of your Sony CRT-based RPTV on real-world material, but it will get much closer than the Panasonic S30.

As for picture quality, as long as the Sony RPTV is properly converged and calibrated, the picture quality is probably great, though it might exhibit some hot-spotting and not look as good off-axis. The picture quality of all LCDs suffers as you move farther off-axis, a problem that plasmas do not share. (The Vizio XVT553SV is better at this than most LCDs we've reviewed.) Finally, your Sony has no HDMI inputs, and high-def component outputs are disappearing from Blu-ray players, so that will be more of a problem as time goes on.

If you have an A/V question, please send it to

notabadname's picture

I would think the sharpness of the LED/LCD or Plasma would make up for the black-level as well. I always found geometry and convergence (a single point of white being viewable as 3 primary colors not perfectly overlapping) as you moved towards the outer 10-20 percent of the screen to be an issue on mine. That was the nicest thing about the DLP/LCoS/LCD RPT's when they came out. No alignment settings to tweak with seasonal temp/humidity changes. I found the old CRT based RPTs to be as fussy as keeping a piano tuned if you were really picky about convergence.

mailiang's picture

As far as LED/LCD's are concerned, if you like the look of a CRT, a plasma is probably a better choice for you. I agree LED back lit sets with local dimming have the best black levels, however, higher end plasmas offer better shadow detail, off axis viewing, smoother motion and a more CRT like picture quality. They also offer a better bang for the buck. If you decide you can shell out the extra money for for an LED/LCD, why not also take a closer look at the Panny VT series? Although they may not have the deepest blacks, I know a lot of HD CRT and Pioneer Kuro owners who are very happy with the performance of their new VT30's.

_thx1138_'s picture

All of a sudden these elite models from sharp are better than plasmas I wonder how much sharp is putting into the pockets of HT to say/recommend this..nothing beats a high end plasma even some entry level or mid range level plasmas on black level performance not to say led/LCD can't look good but to compare the two on black level performance is ridiculouse ..

mailiang's picture

I've heard of double scaling in the world of TV, but double posting? Lol. The Sharp Elite is a top notch set, but for it's price tag and off axis viewing, I'll put my money on the Panny VT30 instead.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I sometimes see comments posted twice, as this one was. I deleted one of them. I don't know why that happens.
shutyertrap's picture

I have a Pioneer Elite 510 RPTV, and I love it to pieces. I've held on to this belief that my TV is better than all the current flat panels. But then it struck me, that my picture isn't as good as it could be. I paid for calibration 10 years ago, but nothing since. When I investigated how much it would cost to bring it back up to speck, I was looking at nearly $1300 (we're talking optics cleaning, calibration for HD and SD inputs, resetting the black levels, and shim-mod do deal with the overscan problem inherent to HD RPTVs). All that money, with no HDMI, no chance of 3D TV, and the yearly or every other year tune-up needed to keep it at that level. There are very few calibrators out there even willing to touch an RPTV anymore, let alone do it right.

I thought it might be worth it, as CRT tech can last for years. The problem I've noticed though is all other home theater tech is moving way beyond it. Shoot, my receiver recently started showing problems, but when I started looking at new ones I noticed most don't even have Super Vid inputs anymore. Component is being eliminated completely from some in favor of more HDMI, and what happens when Blu-ray media decides to lock out Hi Def from anything but digital signal transfer?

I think just like there were things to get used to with going from a regular CRT to projection, there's gonna be things to get used to moving onto a flat panel. Learn to embrace what improvements there are with this tech, ignore some of the failings. There are seemingly enough options out there to at least cover what you care about most. I thought I cared about black levels, but those that truly do would mock me simply with where my TV is placed and how I'm washing out my blacks. I do care about pixely static images, something that I saw a Vizio skunk a Sharp Aquous in as they were right next to each other (and I was very surprised).

All I know is, the manufacturers are really making leaps and bounds improvements each year it seems, and if you can hold on for even maybe one more year, because of the introduction of the new Elite line, I'd bet you'll see more and more TVs with better blacks. Personally, I'm hoping for more passive glasses 3D TV's and the advancement of that.

Indydan's picture

Mr. Wilkinson, thank you for the very informative and helpful response to my questions! I will be keeping my CRT Sony for a while longer. I will wait a few years for the flat panels to improve and match CRT black levels, and come down in price, before I buy one.

The only option right now is the new Sharp Elite. But, the price is 4 times that of the Panasonic I was looking at!

D. Hébert

FarmerBob's picture

Why Flat Panel? I love my DLP. And with all the new Mitsubishi Laservues coming out . . .