I love my new TV. Every morning, I watch Sunrise Earth on Discovery HD, and witness daybreak in a different corner of the world—no narration or music, just ambient sounds and scenery. It’s a very relaxing way to start the day.
It used to be that if you wanted a good TV, you went to a store, bought a Sony, and called it a day. That was then.
Now is another story. I recently got a new High Definition TV, and became aware of just how complicated it is to get it working the way it should. I’m sure you’ve seen the the ads: HDTV, plasma, LCD, 720p, 1080i, HDMI, progressive scan, DVR, upconverting, Blu-ray, 5.1. What does it all mean? What do you really need? I’ll share what I’ve learned.
First off: What’s HDTV? High Definition is television which contains much finer detail than traditional Standard Definition television, and which has a wider, movielike screen shape. It’s awesome. Rather than try to explain everything that can be explained, I’ll try to instead tell you what you will want and need when purchasing an HDTV. I will spare you the technical details, but if you want them, don’t hesitate to call, as I’d be more than happy to talk your ear off about them.
At minimum, you need three things: an HDTV, the right cable (or satellite) box, and the right cable to connect the two. More specifically:
1. HDTV: You want a flat panel TV that’s as large as your space and budget will allow. You won’t get the full benefit of HD on anything smaller than 37″. There are two major kinds of HDTV’s: LCD and plasma. There is fierce debate about which is superior. Plasma advocates say they have a richer, more intense picture, and plasma TV’s are more affordable and available than LCD in very large sizes. On the downside, they are very heavy and power-consuming, and use a very reflective screen with a lot of glare. LCD is available with better resolution (the image is composed of more dots, or pixels). LCD TV’s don’t have glare, and colors are brilliant though black tends to be dark grey. They’re easier to mount than plasma due to their lighter weight, and are much less power-consuming. I recommend a 1080p (best-resolution) LCD, but you should go to a store to see what you like best.
2. An HDTV-capable cable (or satellite) box. Your cable company will provide you with this, and there should be no additional charge. If you are upgrading from a standard TV and you have Time Warner Cable, as I do, you could also call (212-358-0900) and wait for a technician to come sometime between now and the next solar eclipse. The easier thing to do is just take your old box to their store on 23rd & Park in Manhattan or 5th Ave & 27th St in Brooklyn, and ask for an HD box. I’ve been to the Manhattan location a couple of times and it was surprisingly quick and hassle-free. I also strongly suggest that rather than a simple HD box, you get the HD DVR box instead. Like a TiVo, the DVR records your favorite shows every week and has them waiting for you when you feel like watching — I’ll write more about that in another newsletter. There’s a monthly fee for the DVR, but it’s so worth it. (If you have Cablevision, call 718-617-3500 for Bronx/Brooklyn.)
3. Getting the right cable(s) to connect your cable box and DVD player to your TV is essential, but unfortunately not easily explained given all the different models and configurations available. Your salesperson should — I hope — be able to recommend the right kind of cable, though you’ll almost certainly overpay for it. Retail cables can be priced over $100, but you can get a just-as-good cable online for $10. If you can’t get the advice you need — or just want to make sure you get the right advice — give me a call.
One last thing: you need to watch HD channels to get true HDTV! That means if you want to watch CBS, don’t watch channel 2 — watch 702. The HD channels offered by Time-Warner and Cablevision are all in the 700 range. You get all the networks, some cable channels, a few HD-only channels, and the pay networks for the usual premiums. There may be additional HD channels (such as ESPN) which are available as a single package for a monthly fee.
If you’re like us, you’ll find yourself watching all kinds of stuff you never otherwise would have just because it’s in HD.
If you already have an HDTV, it might or might not be hooked up in a way that gets you the best picture or is easiest to use. If you have any doubts, or would like me to check it out, please call.
Here’s what I got, and why:
I got a Westinghouse LVM-42w2, which is a 42″ LCD, and a very good value for a display that is in many ways more sophisticated than better-known brands. It is one of the first 1080p displays on the market, meaning it can display the best-resolution images likely to be available in the foreseeable future. It’s a little quirky, as indicated by its dinky remote control, cryptic manual, and that it doesn’t work without a cable box. However, the picture is fantastic, the price is right at $1500 or less, and it has several digital inputs, meaning a lot of flexibility for coming technologies. However, because this TV is geared towards the future, not the past, you can only connect one older device such as a VCR — if you also have an old game system or camcorder you’d like to use, you’ll either need a special receiver or a different TV.
I have Time Warner Cable, so I got the HD DVR. It works very well.
I got an HDMI cable for $10 online to connect the two. There is no difference in quality between a $10 HDMI cable and a $90 cable, because it is an all-digital signal — much the same way a $30 CD player doesn’t sound much different than a $300 one.
I love my new TV.
This is, of course, just scratching the surface — I wanted to give you enough information to significantly improve your TV-watching experience. But you can dive much more deeply into creating a true home theater, and I’d be more than happy to advise you. Surround sound, getting those seven remotes into one, choosing the right DVD player — give me a call. I love talking about this stuff.
If you’re off to Best Buy to go buy your new TV, print this out and take it with you!