Plasma and LCD TVs – the year ahead

The development of TVs continues apace, as does their diminishing in price. Which is all great news for us! Some of the ways that they are being improved include blacker blacks, thinner screens, and eliminating cabling.

For LCD TVs, making the blacks blacker mostly means cleverer technology for the ‘backlights’ – the lamps behind the LCD panels that shine through, creating the picture. The first stage of improving these was to have their brightness controlled by means of an electric eye built into the TV. As the room light dimmed, so did the backlight. You don’t need as bright a TV in a dark room, and having the backlight turned down supports those darker blacks.

But then came ‘dynamic’ contrast management. These TVs also paid attention to what was showing on the screen and turned down the brightness of the backlight when the scene was supposed to be dark.

However, many scenes on TV are mixed, with both dark and bright areas. And so the latest technology is LED backlighting, where a grid of lights is used. These can be turned up or down in different parts of the screen, producing consistently excellent blacks, regardless of the picture.

It has been some years since we were first dazzled by how thin TVs are now, compared to the huge blocks that they constituted back in the CRT days. But until recently they haven’t got any thinner, hovering at around 100 mm thick. That is starting to change now, with some (still rather expensive) models appearing which are less than 30 mm at the most, and less than one centimetre thick at the edges. From most angles, these just seem like magical panes of glass, producing glorious images.

Another aesthetic, rather than performance, advance that is just now appearing is wireless technology. Instead of having multiple wires – HDMI, aerial, and maybe some analogue signal cables – hanging from your otherwise artfully sited TV, some models are providing ‘breakout’ boxes – TV receivers and connection points in a separate unit. These then carry the signal the last part of the way wirelessly.

As we write, the best we’ve seen so far have used 1080i technology, which limits performance somewhat. But this is the way of the future. Later this year we expect to start seeing full 1080p versions.

And anything that reduces the number of visible cables in our rooms we will always welcome.

But don’t forget the ‘older’ considerations when you’re choosing a TV. Of course, virtually all these days come with high definition digital TV tuners, but make sure that you are getting all the pixels required to show these in all their detail. For the complete 1,920 by 1,080 pixel picture, look for ‘Full HD’ in the product description, or for that resolution to be explicitly specified.

And keep an eye out for star energy ratings as they increasingly appear. Most of the major brands are now committed to using them, and more stars mean less carbon emissions and a lower energy cost for you.