Plasma HDTV Shopping Tips – An Unbiased Guide
Buy the Latest Model
Plasma TV technology is getting better every year. Each manufacturer has consistently improved picture quality year after year. There’s no good reason to buy last year’s model, if the new models are already out.
Learn Which Models Are New
This can be tricky. Crazy model numbers don’t make this easy. Most manufacturers announce their new product lines for the year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January. Various other announcements are released throughout the year. So check eCoustics.com for the latest plasma news and plasma reviews.
New models (as of Aug. 2006)
|Brand||42-inch||50-inch||55-inch||58-inch||60-inch and above|
|Hitachi||42HDS69 42HDT79 42HDX99||-||55HDS69 55HDT79 55HDX99||-||-|
|LG||42PC1DA 42PC3D 42PC3DV||50PC1DR 50PY2DR 50PB2DR||-||-||60PB2DR MW-71PY10|
|Maxent||MX-42EPM20 MX-42HPM20 MX-42HPM30||MX-5020HPM||-||-||-|
|Panasonic||TH-42PD60U TH-42PX60U TH-42PX600U||TH-50PX60U TH-50PX600U||-||TH-58PX60U TH-58PX600U||TH-65PX600U TH-103PZ600U|
|Samsung||HP-S4253 HP-S4273||HP-S5033 HP-S5053 HP-S5073||-||-||HP-S6373|
Choose a Size Based on Viewing Distance
Measure from the wall or the proposed plasma placement location to your seat.
|Viewing Distance||Recommended Screen Size|
Don’t Get Blinded By Brands
Very good models are to be had across all brands. Even within a brand you’ll find variances in performance. New models are released all the time with improved technology and features, often displacing old favorites. Historically, Pioneer Elite plasmas have been considered by many industry professionals to be the reference standard. Panasonic and Hitachi are usually rated among the best plasmas. Followed closely by Samsung, Philips, and LG (in no particular order). The budget brands include HP, Dell, Maxent, V inc. (Vizio), and AOC.
|Ranking||Brand||Market Share (Q1 ’06)|
Source: DisplaySearch – June 2006
Understand the TV Formats
|1080p||1920×1080||1080 progressive||HDTV||The Best|
|1080i||1920×1080||1080 interlaced||HDTV||Very Good|
|720p||1280×720||720 progressive||HDTV||Very Good|
|480p||720×480||480 progressive||DVD Quality or EDTV||Good|
|480i||720×480||480 interlaced||Regular TV||Average|
As noted above, the “p” stands for progressive, and “i” for interlaced. Just remember the higher the numbers the better, and “p” is better than “i”. Need a technical explanation? Click here.
Know What Specs Are Important
|Spec||Typical Value||What to look for|
|Contrast Ratio||10,000:1||The higher the first number the better. Manufacturers use different methods to arrive at their measurements. Since there is no industry standard, these values are somewhat useless for comparison.|
|CableCARD||Yes/No||Most consumers are not using this feature because it lacks the full capabilities of a cable box.|
|DCR||Yes/No||DCR = Digital Cable Ready. All plasma TV’s can be hooked to digital cable. It’s a confusing term used in conjunction with the CableCARD.|
|Panel Life||60,000 hours||With average viewing of six hours per day, that’s over 27 years.|
|Inputs||2 or 3 HDMI||HDMI is emerging as the new standard for digital connectivity. It combines high definition video and multi-channel surround sound into one cable for easy installation.|
|Integrated HDTV Tuner||Yes/No||This feature is useful for people who want to use an external antenna to receive local (free) HDTV stations. If you get local stations via cable or satellite, then you won’t need this feature.|
|Resolution||1366×768||The higher the numbers the better. 1920x1080p is ideal, but only a few plasmas are available at that resolution.|
|Viewing Angle||160 degrees||A non-issue. All current plasmas look good from any viewing position|
|Warranty||1 year parts & labor||One year is the industry standard. LG is the only company offering 2 years parts & labor. I don’t recommend buying extended service plans|
Beware of Marketing Terms
Each term listed below is specific to each manufacturer. You really don’t need to understand them, but be aware each company made up the name to help convince you their technology makes the picture better.
|Hitachi||PictureMaster Video Processor|
|Pioneer||Pure Drive Signal Processing|
Check the Resolution
|Type||Resolution||Available Sizes||Price Range||Value||Availability|
|HDTV||1920×1080||One 50 inch or 65+ inch models||$10,000+||very expensive||few models, high-end|
|HDTV||1366×768||Most 50-63 inch models||$2,000-$10,000||exceptional to good value||many models ,very popular|
|HDTV||1024×768||42-inch models only||$1,400-$5,000||exceptional value||many models, very popular|
|EDTV||852×480||42-inch models only||$1,100-$3,000||budget value||few models, being phased out|
Unique Features to Know
Each feature listed below is only available from that brand. If its important to you, consider models from that manufacturer.
|Brand||Unique Feature||What is it?||Our Thoughts|
|Hitachi||Power Swivel Base||Easily angle your TV towards any seat||Why didn’t you sit in the center seat?|
|Philips||Ambilight||Casts a backlight corresponding to the current image across each side or around the TV — expanding the viewing experience. Supposedly eases eye strain||Great for parties and to show-off to your friends.|
|LG||Integrated DVR||Pause live TV or Record TV shows to an internal Hard-drive||Less wires and one less box to worry about, but the same functionality is available via cable or satellite set-top boxes|
Does it Include Speakers?
This used to be a no-brainer, but not all plasma TVs come with speakers. If you don’t have a home theater speaker system, make sure speakers are included. If the plasma display is labeled a “monitor”, it may not include speakers.
Try to Narrow Down to a Few Models
Once you have a few models in mind you can begin to read the editorial reviews and consumer ratings. Enter each model number into the eCoustics.com search box to locate reviews and deals.
Compare the Bottom-line Price
Don’t be fooled by to-good-to-be-true offers online. When comparing deals make sure you compare the total price delivered to your door. Shipping charges can add-on $100-$300, and state taxes can add another few hundred dollars to the price.
Consider Buying Online to Save Tax / Shipping
Amazon.com currently has many new models discounted 20% off with free shipping and no tax! You’ll have to add them to your cart to view the price. Also make sure it says, “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.” But Amazon doesn’t carry every plasma brand and model (at least not yet). Check eCoustics.com’s plasma price comparison section. Other reputable online stores to consider include OneCall or Crutchfield.
Place Your Order!
You’ve done your research, you’ve chosen a model that suits your needs, and you located a great deal online. Add to cart… click… buy… done… enjoy!
Founder & CEO
Editorial Disclosure: Philips is a current advertiser on eCoustics.com. No other manufacturer discussed in this article has purchased advertising.