The average consumer who sets out to buy a TV has questions. The scene at the average electronics store, with its rows upon rows of TV sets all displaying identical flickering content, often leads to more questions. Since buying a TV can be overwhelming for anyone, Information Display asked a knowledgeable retailer for answers to some of the most common TV buying questions. In addition, we highlight the kinds of products consumers can expect to see in stores right now.
by Jenny Donelan
AN UNCERTAIN ECONOMY has been affecting manufacturers, retailers, and consumers alike, but if you do happen to be looking for a TV this holiday season, you are in luck. It is a buyer's market, with both plasma and LCD models packing more features for lower prices than ever before. It is true that November and December are not the best time to find the very latest TVs in stores. Most of the top TV makers introduce their new models at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and those do not usually ship until the Spring. The flip side of this is that what's available now tends be mature and market-tested.
Information Display recently caught up with Robert Zohn, president of Value Electronics, an audio–video retailer located in Scarsdale, NY. Value Electronics is serious about TV technology, conducting an annual "shoot-out" in which flagship flat-panel HDTVs from different manufacturers are compared both out of box and after calibration. A panel of approximately 70 invited enthusiasts and experts vote for the winners.
The company has both a storefront and an Internet business. Its customers range from "regular" types, to well-informed and passionate videophiles, to ultra-wealthy residents of the area who, Zohn says, want the very best, but usually do not want to know about the details. Across the board, he says, the following are the most common questions that customers ask.
1. Can you explain the difference between LCD and plasma? According to Zohn, who sells both varieties, plasma provides a better picture for the money for most people. It has better off-axis viewing and better contrast. (Although be sure to see the results of his store's seventh annual shoot-out at the end of this story.) The LCDs, both the CCFL- and the LED-backlit variety, are definitely brighter. "LCD is gaining in popularity every year. People are drawn to that bright image in the store," says Zohn. "They definitely like the 'punchy' look of an LCD." They do not always like it as much when they get home, he notes. The newer LED-backlit LCD TVs with local dimming have better blacks than they used to, but they also have problems such as "blooming," with halo effects around some text and imagery. For a more detailed answer to this question, see the article "Why Should I Choose a Plasma TV?" in this issue.
2. What TV is better for what viewing environment? Plasma works best in darker environments, whereas LCD handles ambient light better. For a sunny room, where plasma's reflective attributes will make the picture harder to see, LCDs are great. In general, though, for a better overall TV viewing experience that includes plasma, "We recommend window treatments," says Zohn.
3. How can I mount this TV? "People have a lot of challenges with wall mountings," says Zohn. This has become increasingly frequent with the new, larger flat panels. "We've certainly tackled some unique custom mounting jobs – on the ceiling, in the corner,etc.," he says, adding that there is usually a way to do what the customer wants.
4. What's the difference between models as you step up the prices? People often want to know what they do and do not need to pay for. According to Zohn, your money buys you a step-up from CCFL backlighting to LED backlighting for LCDs, then increased frame rates, from 60 to 120Hz and to 240 Hz, and also smart TV and wireless capabilities.
5. Do I really need 3-D if I'm not interested? Customers often hope to save money by dispensing with a feature they do not think they want, says Zohn, but most mid-range TVs are 3-D ready anyway. He's a strong believer in the technology "Most people are not into it but when they see it, they realize it's great." Zohn believes that active-glasses technology is the way to go for most consumers. "The off-angle viewing is much better [than passive], plus the price for the glasses has gone down a lot, from $180 a pair to $30–80 a pair." The second-generation active-shutter glasses are also much lighter, weighting less than 1 ounce. "You do not even know you are wearing them."
6. What about smart TVs? "People want to know what they can do with it," says Zohn. This feature seems to be a stronger selling point than 3-D.
One feature customers tend not to ask about is energy efficiency. "I would say 25–30% of customers have a modest concern," says Zohn, adding that TVs are becoming so energy efficient that there is not a great deal of difference between them anyway.
Surprise Results at the Shoot-Out
Value Electronics has been conducting its flat-panel shoot-outs for 7 years now. Every year, plasmas have won the top honors – until the most recent shoot-out, conducted in October of 2011. "This is the very first year that the LCD has won," says Zohn. The winner was a Sharp Elite LED-backlit TV with 300 zones of local dimming. Even the off-axis viewing, says Zohn, was very impressive. However, the 70-in. version retails for $8000 and the 60-in. for $5499, so this one may not find its way into everyone's Christmas stocking. To find out more about the shoot-out, visit Value Elec-tronics' Web site at www.valueelectronics.com.
The following are some of the latest models you can expect to see in stores.
Samsung is currently promoting three lines: LED-backlit LCDs, which it simply calls "LED TVs," CCFL-backlit LCDs, and plasma units. One LED-backlit LCD product line features ultra-slim TVs with ultra-slim bezels, as seen in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1: Samsung's 55-in. LED Series 8000 ultra-slim-bezel Smart LCD TV.
Sony's Bravia series, introduced at last year's CES, represents the flagship LCD line for the company. The 2011 BRAVIA LCD HDTV series (Fig. 2) includes 16 3-D-capable models and 22 Internet-connected models, ranging in screen size from 22 to 65 in.
Fig. 2: Sony's Bravia EX520.
LG Electronics is promoting the LW980S (Fig. 3), a top-of-the-line LED-backlit LCD TV that combines LG's CINEMA 3-D technology and smart-TV functions.
Fig. 3: LG's LW980S backlit TV.
For the 2011 Viera Full-HD 3-D line-up (Fig. 4), Panasonic extended immersive 3-D technology to its LED-LCD units, with two models, the 37-in. TC-L37DT30 and the 32-in. TC-L32DT30.
Fig. 4: Panasonic's Viera with 3-D capability.
Sharp announced the return of the Elite brand with full-array LED-backlit LCD panels in 60- and 70-in. models (Fig. 5). •
Fig. 5: Sharp's 60-in. PRO-60X5FD.