New HD TV

April 21, 2010 at 8:32 am | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment
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I finally took the dive and purchased my first high definition TV.

If anyone read the “About Dave (long version)” tab here and didn’t fall asleep before the end, you’d know that I’m a television producer.  That means I spend a lot of time in front of TV monitors and that I have a very critical eye for image quality.  When the first round of low priced HD TV’s hit the market a few years ago, I could see no reason to purchase a TV just because it was wide-screen.   The image quality didn’t approach the clarity of any of the cheap analog tube televisions I own.

The problem with HD television is that the digital signals are compressed.  The most common form of compression, used by DVD, Satellite, cable and FIOS is called MPEG-2.  MPEG-2 compression is a 20 year old technology and very noisy.  If you want to see what I mean, play a standard DVD on any television, sit a few inches in front of the screen, and look at the black portion of the picture.  You’ll see an array of about 20 different shades of dancing black and grey boxes.  From a distance, those artifacts kind of melt into a black background.

I’m going to grossly over-simplify one of the problems:  if you look at the Contrast ratios advertised with most HD TV’s, you’ll see numbers ranging from 800:1 for cheap computer monitors to 30,000:1 for some of the more expensive widescreen TVs.  Did you ever read the specs for your digital camera?  Digital cameras typically capture 24 million colors.   Most of those 24 million are variations of each other.  In other words, there are several hundred thousand shades of red, blue, green, yellow …. get the picture?  So, if your image has 100,000 shades of red and your TV has an 800:1 contrast ratio, somethings going to give.  That’s why you see that blockiness in many “HD” TV’s.  There simply isn’t enough space to store a hundred thousand variations of red, so the MPEG compression might save only the 400 most commonly used shades of red it finds.

So what’s the ideal contrast ratio for viewing TV?   The answer depends on how far away from the screen you sit when you view the TV, how good your eyes are, how good the broadcast signal is, and how dark the room is.  Defining a good TV image is extremely subjective.

Yesterday, I found the correct ratio of picture and price that answered the question for me.  It’s name is “Panasonic Viera TCL32C22,”   a 32″ wide screen TV that I was able to purchase for $349 locally.  The monitor is in my bedroom, on a TV stand that places it at a ten foot viewing distance if I watch TV in bed.  For the record, it professes an 18,000:1 contrast ratio.

After hooking it up to my FIOS HD box using an HDMI cable, the first channel I put on was YES network, because I know that NY Yankees games are broadcast in high definition.  I was extremely impressed with the image clarity and the color.  There was no visible artifacting, even when sitting a few inches from the screen.  I could even see blades of grass in one camera view.

Excited, I surfed through the high-def channels and found varying degrees of images.  Some channels just stretch the picture and slap an “HD” logo on it, so you really need to look at a high-def broadcast to judge it.

My next step was to connect a DVD player.  I have a Toshiba DVD-Recorder that says “1080p upconversion” on the box, so I connected it to the TV using a set of analog component cables.  I chose two DVD’s:  the BBC “Planet Earth” series because of the wonderful photography it includes, and the Hollywood movie “There will be Blood,” for both the photography and sound.  Plus, I like the movie.

“Planet Earth” displayed in widescreen mode on the TV combination without me setting anything.   From ten feet, the pictures were gorgeous.  The color was rich and vibrant.  At screen-side, black blockiness was apparent; but when I sat a few feet away the MPEG-2 artifacting disappeared.

I loaded “There will be Blood” into the DVD player.  First of all, the movie is not 16:9, it’s in 2.35:1 Anamorphic format.  That means that when viewed on a widescreen TV, there are still letter-boxes on the top and bottom of the screen.  I’ll have to get a little more familiar with the monitor, but the combination of DVD/TV seemed to default to show the image in its “Full” mode.  The Panasonic Viera allows for four different screen zoom modes:  I think “Full” mode fits the picture horizontally, as it would have been seen in the theater.  In the case of “There Will be Blood,” that meant I got the letterboxes, and a very, very wide screen picture.  This is my preference.  You could set the TV to “Justify” or “Zoom” which will use the entire screen, however some type of image processing is used, either stretching, crushing or leaving off edges.  I’d rather see the whole picture then use the whole screen.

The picture looked great and the sound was remarkably good.

Let me just point out that I was watching standard DVDs, upsampled to an HD television.  Upsampling does nothing for image quality, it’s just an image manipulation to allow the use of HD monitors with standard signals from a DVD.  In fact, upsampling adds some artifacts to the picture, although I wasn’t aware of any.  Maybe it was because it was already midnight and I was getting a bit tired.

One of these days, I’ll pick up a Blu-Ray DVD player to see what the Panasonic Viera is capable of.

When I hear “LCD TV,”  I usually think of Samsung, LG, Vizio or Sony.  I never thought of Panasonic for LCD TV’s.  Plasma’s yes, but not LCD’s.  When I first saw a Panasonic Viera last fall, I was pretty impressed with the image.  When I saw it on sale in this Sunday’s newspaper, I ran out to the store the first chance I had.

The Panasonic TCL32C22 is a 720p display.  The general rule is that 1080p is a better image quality, but many reviewers write that the difference  is only apparent on larger LCD monitors.  The general opinion seems to be that for a 32″ TV, 720p is sufficient.  My final buying decision is based on my only reliable test instrument:  my eyes.  If my eye’s are happy, than I’m happy.  For $349, the price to performance ratio is perfect and the image is great.

One final note:  You can take the SD chip out of your digital camera and put it into the side of the Panasonic Viera and look at your images on screen.  My digital camera, a Canon digital Elf, shoots images that are 4:3 image size, so they only fill up about half of the Panasonic Viera’s screen, with large black strips on the left and right side.

I’d love to hear from others who are using HD Televisions and hear your impressions.  Feel free to comment.

Hi Elayne,
Thanks for keeping me up to date.  When you and/or Michelle are ready, I’ll be here.
Regards,
Dave

——————————————————-
Dave Felder
Ryan Video Productions Inc.
5 Hibernia Road
Rockaway, NJ  07866
Office: 973-625-5804
Cell:    973-219-0426
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