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Archive for Wednesday, February 15, 2006

HDTV guide: How to get best picture, price

February 15, 2006

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If the holiday deals on high-definition TVs and the hoopla surrounding HD broadcasts of the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics piqued your interest, the arrival of new sets with bigger screens and lower prices may have you pumped about buying an HDTV.

But which type should you get? Choosing a television without understanding the differences is like trying on corrective lenses without knowing your prescription. To help bring things in focus, we've compiled this guide:

¢ Plasma. These flat panels are thin and can be mounted on the wall, but they're not light - even the smallest weigh 100 pounds. The best plasma TVs have excellent picture quality, with good brightness and contrast when viewed from any angle. However, a plasma TV's shiny surface can produce reflections, and static images displayed for a long time can burn in. Costs range from $2,500 to $3,000 for a 42-inch "integrated" HDTV model to about $4,000 for a 50-inch set.

¢ LCD flat panel. These are the thinnest, lightest TVs available, with common screen sizes ranging from 23 to 45 inches. The best LCD TVs display very good, bright HD images, and the antireflective surface minimizes the glare that often plagues plasma screens. But LCD TVs haven't caught up with plasma TVs for viewing angle and color accuracy. Also, fast motion may blur. Expect to pay from $1,000 to $1,500 for a 26-inch-wide "HD ready" set.

¢ Rear projection. This is a good choice if you want a big-screen TV that costs less than a plasma set. Micro-display projection sets using LCD, DLP, or LCoS technology have stolen the spotlight from older, cathode-raytube sets. Typically about 15 to 19 inches deep, micro displays are slimmer than CRT-based models, but much bulkier than plasma TVs. The best offer excellent picture quality, yet lack the deep black and unlimited viewing angle of a plasma set. A 51-inch CRT-based HD-ready model will run you about $1,000. A 50-inch LCD- or DLP-based set will cost from $2,200 to $3,000.

¢ Front projector. A front-projector setup comes closest to giving you a theater-like experience. Although the projector itself is small, the screen you buy separately, typically measures from 70 to 200 inches diagonally and can cost several hundred dollars. (You'll probably pay $1,100 and up for an HD projector.) The best front projectors can produce excellent images, but they're most useful in a dark room, which may limit their utility.

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