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Mos High Def

posted by DL Byron on August 23, 2007

samsung.jpg 4 years ago it was time for a new TV, to build a home theater, and HDTV was finally arriving (4 channels on cable). I purchased a 30-inch, Costco-special Phillips CRT (tube) for $799.00. That was the TV that for months everyone said, “wow.” I’d never watched so much Discovery Channel just to see bugs on wet leaves, or football to watch sweat, grass, and muscles, or whatever PBS was broadcasting in HD.

When I bought the TV, which was incredible that it was a CRT in HD, I noticed the high prices on LCDs from Samsung, Sony, and the like. The LCD pictures still weren’t that great, lots of debates about plasma v. LCD, and there was also Vizio … a curious off-brand, with bright boxes stacked on pallets in Costco and selling HDTVs at much lower prices.

Fast forward to this week and I cycled out older TVs, bought new ones, added a bigger screen for the theater, and purchased a Vizio 37 inch LCD HDTV for the kid’s play room. That TV’s primary purpose is video games and I was ok getting the budget brand and that brand has outsold everyone else this quarter. I wouldn’t have thought that’d happen 4 years ago, or that prices would’ve dropped so low, but Vizio did it with a relentless discounting drive and offering technical features customers want.

For the home theater, I purchased the stylish Samsung. As with most products in a global economy, there are only so many factories producing large LCD panels, and it comes down to the finish, features, and functions. Samsung is elegant, has a rich picture, and easy-to-access component panel and very adjustable settings. Comparing the Samsung and Vizio, the Vizio is a lot like a Hyundai or Kia car brand. It works well, gets the job done, but the fit and finish just isn’t the same. From the ugly menus, to the component panel under the TV, it’s just not as polished, but it was $749.00 I kept telling myself. That’s 50 dollars less, 4 years later, and about 30% more TV than the Phillips.

My unscientific HDTV qualifier is that it looks fantastic on HD channels, great with a DVD, and ok with regular channels. After being calibrated, the Samsung does it all, but the Vizio doesn’t. The Vizio is good on HD, ok with a DVD, and not good on regular channels. It also took much more work to calibrate the picture. It’ll work, just like a budget car getting from point a to b, but for the more luxurious home theater experience, it’s the Samsung.


I took the Vizio back. The HD picture quality was good, as noted above but for me, the Vizio quality/value wasn’t there. On regular cable channels (SD: standard definition) the picture looked like a rear-projector from 12 years ago. I noticed this over a few days, as I watched different channels.

When I took the Vizio back, I discovered that Coscto lowered the price on Sony’s Bravia S3000 series to $1399.00 — that’s $600.00 off Sony’s MSRP, 100.00 off Costco’s online price, and the price dropped in the few days it took me to realize how poorly the Vizio performed.

The Costco version is KDL40SL130, it’s the 720P (more on 720p below). If that’s in budget for you, it’s a remarkable value.

The Sony is priced the same as Costco 40-inch Samsung now and Sony, at that size, offers 18 months in home service. Vizio and other bargain brand pricing has forced other manufactures to lower their prices and, according to the NYTimes, profit margins are plummeting, even forcing some retailers to drop entry-level sets. I’d think carefully about a cheap LCD.

HDTV Choices

We opted for LCDs, as the best for our viewing room, (lit with lots of angles), but the HDTV deals right now are rear-based projectors as consumer demand is turning to LCDs — projectors are mostly good (limited viewing angles, need to be in dark rooms), but realizing that they’ll need to replace a bulb every 2 years, consumers are saying nope. They’re also still big in set size, when compared to LCDs.

HDTVs have a high return rate for a reason, it’s very confusing, and even more confusing with all the talk about HD resolution and the DVD format wars. Customers get their TV home, plug it in, and wonder where the HD is or why regular TV looks terrible. That’s why you see the big warnings about needing an HDTV signal on the boxes and to add to the confusion, manufacturers are differentiating themselves now with 1080P.

We’re never going to see 1080p on cable natively until they rewire into your house (let’s say in the year 2525). So to get 1080p, it’s all upconversion (upconverting the signal from native 480p to 720p or 1080p) and the new HD-DVDs and Blu-rays are 1080p (2nd generation HD-DVDs); problem is they’re still fighting over the format, so I decided to opt-out of 1080p for this cycle. Note that your old DVD player, which is 480p, is going to look incredible as is on an HDTV. And why 720ps are such a value right now, like the Sony we bought. Also remember that the native resolution of the TV is what you’ll watch HD or a DVD in. See the CNET article for an explanation of all the resolutions, but put simply, if you have an HDTV that’s 720p, the TV will always scale to 720p (up or down), no matter what the source. Unless you’re in a lab, you’re not going notice the difference, just enjoy the picture.

Buying Guide

For the Fall TV buying season, 1080p is the “buzz tech” and that means, 720ps represent the value and good for you and me, cause we’re smart enough to know that 720p is all we really need for now.

Tech note, that if you’re buying a new DVD and there’s a deal on an upconverting DVD or Playstation 3, great, but there’s really no rush on it. Let the manufactures fight over the formats, and I’ll buy again in another 4 years.

Sony’s struggles are well known, but now with price cuts the Sony premium is much less and they’re offering some incredible HDTVs. Straight up, watching the Sony, I haven’t needed to calibrate it, like the Samsung and sucky Vizio. Out of the box, the Sony works exceptionally well on HDTV, DVD, and regular cable.


  • Check Discovery’s HD guide and, the HD Guru blog (both refer to themselves as gurus, but they’re not the same publlisher)
  • Use a THX DVD to calibrate your HDTV (titles like Pirates of the Caribbean are THX-certified and come with the THX calibration tool), turn off all the TV’s auto-picture functions and just work with brightness, contrast, and color. That’ll baseline the picture, then tweak from there, with the TV’s “My-color” settings, or advanced settings.
  • Don’t buy a TV based on how it looks in the wall of TVs in a warehouse or sales-floor — get it on features, price, and finish. Then bring it home and calibrate it.
  • Of the three technologies, which are all good, I choose LCD because I wanted the most viewing area and brightest picture. Living in Seattle, where it’s mostly grey, I don’t want to set up a theater cave. We’re viewing HDTV in lit rooms, with sunlight whenever possible.

Comments (2)
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Aug 23  |  Cory said:

THX Optimizer is a great “first step” in bringing your high end HD set into the NTS world, but the Avia DVD is the one that rocks. More test patterns and a much easier way to dial in sharpness which is the one setting that most people screw up on.

The forum on the AV Science website: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/forumdisplay.php?s=&daysprune=&f=139 has all the info anyone could want to dial into this and really get the most out of their hard earned money’s purchase.

Aug 23  |  -b- said:

Agreed Cory and I’ve poured over the AVS forums, but definitely wouldn’t expect anyone but the geeks to read through all of those posts. I also used the AVS forums to baseline the Samsung calibration.

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