Plasma and LCD TV supertest

The half-dozen new flat panel televisions gathered here show us where the TV industry is these days, with the short answer being “a very good place”. By Thomas Bartlett.

A few things are immediately obvious from the TVs reveiwed in the following pages. First, high definition is happening in a big way. Our six TVs range from middle-sized (80 cm) to large (117 cm), and from inexpensive ($2,099) to premium ($3,849). Yet all of them include a high definition digital TV tuner, and a full high definition display panel. Yes, even the 80cm unit manages the full 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution necessary to extract the best picture quality from Blu-ray, HDTV and some other high definition sources.

Second, LCD seems to be taking over. I for one am not entirely happy about that, however five of the six TVs used LCD technology, and only one used plasma. Part of the reason for that was the delay in developing and releasing true high definition plasma panels, something that seems to have been more easily realised with LCD.

Third, TVs are really getting much better with each passing year. Of these TVs I would be happy with the picture quality from any one them in my own home. These provide excellent colour, good enough (or better) black levels but, most of all, a smooth image. It is usually easier to cope with slightly skewed colours and inadequate black levels than it is to enjoy a TV which produces noticeable MPEG blocks in scenes with moving water, or where fine detail twinkles in and out of existence due to poor video processing.

Our brains have pretty competent video processors built in and they are used to adjusting for inaccurate colour and limited black levels. They do this daily (which is why a cat can look black in bright daylight, even though in absolute terms it is lighter than a white cat in a dark room). What they can’t do is correct for jaggies and flickering detail and pictures broken up into 16 pixel by 16 pixel blocks (used by MPEG2 video).

These TVs avoided all those issues, and so were a delight to watch.

Power saving

There was one other change. No less than four of these TVs, when switched on for the first time, asked the question: ‘Home or Shop’? I selected ‘Home’ of course, whereupon they continued on their merry way of automatically tuning themselves in to my local TV stations. But why would they ask this question?

Do you recall the fuss last year about how plasma TVs were going to be banned? For allegedly using too much power? This was overblown, of course, and now it looks like we will merely be getting a star rating scheme to help purchasers make an informed choice.

Well the reason many TVs scored badly in the tests leading to those alarmist headlines was because of the power measurement methodology used. The standards require that the energy consumption be measured based on the default out-of-the-box picture settings. Those were previously optimised for (often) a glaringly bright picture to help the TV stand out against the competition in a shop.

Those TVs with the Home or Shop question now default, if you choose the first option, to picture settings that provide a better, more balanced, image in the home. One that also happens to use a lot less power than that designed for the shop. It’s always fun to watch an industry adapt and adjust to new requirements.