Screen saver

Tips and tricks on buy­ing your next TV

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - FRIK ELS

THERE IS AN AD­VER­TISE­MENT cur­rently be­ing shown on television that quotes science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke: “Any suf­fi­ciently ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy is in­dis­tin­guish­able from magic.” It’s an ad for tyres. Fin­week be­lieves Clarke’s fa­mous line con­cern­ing the na­ture of ex­trater­res­trial civil­i­sa­tions is far more ap­pli­ca­ble to high-def­i­ni­tion flat screen TVs.

The technobabble as­so­ci­ated with to­day’s tele­vi­sions has long since sur­passed that of per­sonal com­put­ers. It’s easy to see the ben­e­fits or disad­van­tages of an 80GB hard drive ver­sus one of 250GB; or a 384Kbps In­ter­net con­nec­tion vs one of 8Mbps. With the latest gen­er­a­tion of flat panel tele­vi­sions, mak­ing sense of the dif­fer­ent fea­tures is de­cid­edly more dif­fi­cult.

Apart from the fact that there are two com­pet­ing prod­ucts in the mar­ket – LCD and plasma (with a third called Or­ganic LED on the way) – the widely vary­ing prices be­tween brands and tech­nolo­gies make pur­chase de­ci­sions highly frus­trat­ing.

Don’t ex­pect too much help from staff at the out­lets that sell flat screens. For what could be a house­hold’s third big­gest ex­pense af­ter a house and a car, and one that will take up on av­er­age four hours of your day, good ad­vice is hard to come by. And for­get about an in-store test drive: re­mote con­trols are off lim­its, even for those ready to make a R40 000 in­vest­ment.

So how do you de­cide be­tween a 42” plasma from brand A go­ing for R12 000 ver­sus a sim­i­lar look­ing 40” LCD from brand B that’s at least dou­ble that?

Plas­mas come in big­ger sizes than LCDs for much less dosh. If you’re putting down this amount of money you may as well go big. Re­mem­ber that ex­tra 2” is mea­sured di­ag­o­nally and the in­crease of the view­able area is no­tice­able. You’ll prob­a­bly also be watch­ing a fair amount of reg­u­lar television broad­casts, which means un­less you want to turn all the soapie stars into short fat­ties, you’ll have to ad­just the set to a box shape, los­ing even more of the pic­ture. Only a very lim­ited num­ber of widescreen broad­casts are avail­able in SA. The latest plas­mas also of­fer slim and sleek de­signs and even a 50” when wall mounted won’t dom­i­nate a small­ish liv­ing room.

If you’re mostly go­ing to use the television for reg­u­lar broad­casts, plasma’s ren­der­ing of colour also counts in its favour. Com­pared to LCDs, colours on plas­mas are more nat­u­ral. On LCDs red of­ten ap­pears too warm and green syn­thetic. If you’re a film buff and want to see ev­ery last shade and de­tail in a dark cin­e­matic scene, then plasma’s high con­trast and true ren­der­ing of black pro­duce a su­pe­rior pic­ture to LCD, which be­cause it’s back­lit turns blacks into dark greys. Lastly, for sports and fast mov­ing ac­tion, plasma’s quicker re­fresh rate gives it the edge.

That’s where the good news on plasma ends, es­pe­cially for Jo’burg­ers. Plas­mas don’t per­form well over 2000m above sea level and can emit a buzzing sound as a re­sult. Jo’burg is 1800m above sea level so it shouldn’t re­ally be a prob­lem, but the panel’s life­span could be short­ened. The latest plas­mas and LCDs will last longer than con­ven­tional TVs and af­ter more than a decade of use, you’d want to re­place the set with the latest tech­nol­ogy any­way.

Al­though the latest screens suf­fer far less from burn-in, this re­mains plasma’s big­gest draw­back. Burn-in hap­pens when static images are burnt on to the screen to leave a ghost im­age. All of plasma’s other ben­e­fits may seem in­signif­i­cant if you have the CNBC logo per­ma­nently dis­played in the cor­ner of your screen. Anti-burn-in tech­nol­ogy like white­wash could shorten your plasma’s life­span. Plas­mas are gen­er­ally more frag­ile than LCDs and most man­u­fac­turer and store guar­an­tees don’t go be­yond three years. LCD pix­els can also go dead or stay lit, but you may not even no­tice it. LCDs have wider view­ing an­gles, but it’s hardly a fac­tor as no one would want to sit at a 170 de­gree an­gle to any screen.

LCDs first saw the light as mon­i­tors, so they are best if you’re hook­ing up a lap­top to the TV or play­ing games. LCDs screens are brighter and don’t re­flect light, but the main fac­tor here is that LCDs have bet­ter res­o­lu­tion than plasma. And higher res­o­lu­tion is prob­a­bly what will swing de­ci­sions in favour of LCD. High def­i­ni­tion broad­casts will be in SA be­fore 2010. LCDs are HD ready, but only the top end plas­mas are high-def­i­ni­tion, which di­min­ishes plasma’s price ad­van­tage.

All man­u­fac­tur­ers tout their im­age en­gines and spe­cial fil­ter tech­nolo­gies. Sony’s got Bravia, Sam­sung has DNie, Philips chose Pixel Plus, LG calls theirs XD and Pana­sonic has a range in­clud­ing a Mach En­hancer. When com­par­ing th­ese at a tech­ni­cal level it soon turns into hair split­ting. How many bil­lion colours do you re­ally need? Rather look for use­ful fea­tures such as Philips’s am­bi­ent light­ing and built-in USB and me­mory card read­ers to look at pho­tos and lis­ten to MP3s, or LG’s built in hard-drive recorder that lets you pause live TV, skip ads and record 40 hours of television.

In short: if you want a big TV to watch nor­mal broad­casts, get a plasma. If you’re reg­u­larly hook­ing up a PC, game con­sole or other high def­i­ni­tion source, get an LCD.

What you see is what you get.

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