Saturday, February 03, 2007

The High Definition Experience

Just before Christmas of last year, I made the plunge and bought a HDTV. I have been wanting to write about the buying experience and the HDTV experience so far for a while and here goes:

Buying Experience:

I did my research on and offline on what is the best value for money deal out there. I had a 27" Sony Trinitron TV that I wanted to replace and my living room isnt that big to hold a huge size TVs. So I settled on either a 32" or a 37" and I wasnt ready to spend more than $750 (Yes, I know that's not very much for a HDTV). Ofcourse, there were a lot of acronyms to get through - RPTV, DLP, LCD, HDMI. But it basically came down to Plasma v LCD. From talking to friends and seeing plasma in action at friends' places, I knew Plasmas had the "burn-in" issues although they have been improved tremendously over the last year or so. LCDs on the other side have lag issues where fast action sequences produce "lagging" effects -- that means you need a LCD TV with a fast response time.

Within my budget, the choices were limited to few unknown brands - Syntax Olevia, Westinghouse, Magnavox and Vizio. In the past, I have been a very brand-loyal customer and used to treat Sonys and Panasonics as the standards. But after looking and reading a lot about these no-name manufacturers and how they are giving big guns a run for their money, I decided to pick up a Vizio. Why Vizio? Simple: It has gotten the best reviews of the unknown brands. All its LCD HDTVs come with two HDMI inputs which reduces the cable clutter (I have a Cable box on HDMI 1 and an Upconverting Oppo DVD Player on HDMI 2 - two cables is all u need). I like their Black Piano-look and Silver finish for the speakers. Even though I'd have liked the speakers to be on the side rather than the bottom. The decision was made simpler by the fact that the Vizio 32" (VX32L) was just refreshed and was available at Costco for $699 and with tax that met my budget to the dot. And Costco's generous return policy meant worry-free shopping.

HDTV Experience:

For the first few days, while I did not have the HDMI cable, we were watching the 480i signal and we were amazed by that. But when the HDMI cable arrived and we found out the hidden menu in the Cable box to turn on HD output (1080i), the picture quality was amazing. For the first week or so, we werent following the programs but were wondering how we can read things we could never read before and how that Amanda Peet looks really old in HD than on SD.

Overall, watching HD programs on the HDTV has been amazing. But not all programs are broadcast in HD - in fact about 50% of all the TV I watch is in SDTV which is letter-boxed with black bars on both sides. Some channels dont broadcast in HD at all. Of the hundreds of channels, we have, only the following are HD-capable: CBSHD, NBCHD, FOXHD, ABCHD, HBOHD, SHOHD, ESPNHD, ESPN2HD, INHD, UHD, TNTHD, DHD. Even in these channels, only about 20 to 30% programs are broadcast in HD. Some of my favorite programs (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Scrubs etc) are not HD. Watching Sports on HD is probably the most rewarding experience. Particularly the NFL games on HD look amazing and you get to see the extra-wide view of the field.

Sometimes, I felt it was annoying to see the switches between the HD and SD programs. I'd say that's probably the biggest disadvantage of having a HDTV. Since you are so used (read: spoiled) to watching HD programs, when you go to a friends' place, you cant stand to watch SDTVs. Another con is that you end up watching channels that you never used to just because they are on HD - like INHD and Discovery HD. Even on those programs that are broadcast on HD, the commercials may or may not be on HD - which is what irks me the most. How hard (or expensive) would it be for the networks to make sure that the experience is smoother to the viewers. I kinda feel that the whole HDTV experience isnt ready for "primetime" although I dont see people waiting for it to become ready - thanks to the free-falling HDTV prices and the push by TV networks and studios.

It's a great ice-breaker and conversational piece when you have guests over at your house. Overall, it has changed my TV viewing experience like how DVR had changed it a couple of years ago.

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