Purchasing a Down-Spec Television

I've blogged before about my home audio/video setup. The confluence of big recession-fueled discounts and product ownership envy (my wife bought herself a new car) induced me to buy a new television this weekend.

You might expect, given all of my interest in A/V tinkering, that I'd buy a top-of-the-line set with the best specifications. I didn't, and I thought it might be interesting to explain why.

My plan is to replace a Sony KV-30HS420 30 inch widescreen CRT television with a larger flat-screen set. The very best 40 inch LCD televisions are in the $1200-1400 range. We're talking 1080p resolution, 120Hz refresh, 10000:1 contrast ratio.

Those high-def sets sure do look fantastic on the showroom floor, but I don't think they make sense for me. I currently have no high-def content. I have no plan of moving to Blu-ray or getting HD cable in the near future. A 1080p television just doesn't seem warranted.

Most of the video I watch is 480p (progressive-scan DVD) quality (or worse). The only high-def content I have is my computer display, which running at a 1024x768 resolution only needs 720p. A 1080p television would be unnecessary for me.

Thus, it made sense for me to drop a whole tier down from 1080p to 720p televisions. Doing so easily knocks a third off the price of the set, making it much more affordable.

The television I settled on is the Samsung LN40A450 40 inch 720p LCD HDTV. NewEgg currently has it on sale at a good price.

I see one possible risk in choosing the lower resolution. As a television screen gets larger and larger, 480p video looks increasingly worse. The solution is to "upscale" the image, synthesizing a higher resolution for the larger screen. My DVD player will do this, and I plan to use it to upscale from 480p to 720p. The question is, would the image look significantly better if I could upscale all the way to 1080p? While it would on a very large screen, I'm betting that it won't on a 40 inch display.

My current set, the wide-screen Trinitron, lasted about three years. It may have been the very last CRT model Sony made. I'm not the least bit sorry that I bought that and waited a few more years for LCD products to mature. I hope that a few years from I'll be able to look back at my decision to hold off from 1080p and be just as satisfied.

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I've been thinking about

I've been thinking about getting a new TV for a long while, and every so often try to re-educate myself on what's out there, what features are worth getting and what aren't.

On a recent trip to Fry's, I was impressed by the difference between 60 Hz and 120 Hz refresh (which frankly struck me as voodoo when I first read about it). It's entirely likely the demo they were using was tweaked to bias my perceptions, if not downright unethical, but the difference did seem clear.

In terms of resolution, I've been wondering about that. Any TV I get is going to be pressed into service for casual computer use, and 720p seems a kind of low-res. Then again, if you're sitting on the couch across the room, the high-res alternative could be more of a hindrance than a help.

size matters

You didn't mention screen size, and that makes a big difference in deciding how much resolution you want.

I didn't say this in the original article, but I experimented with the upscaling DVD player on my 30" TV, and I wasn't able to see any difference between native 480p and upscaled 720p. I'll be curious to try this again on the new 40" set.

The other issue is how big a computer desktop you want. I figure 1026x768 (or its widescreen equivalent) will be sufficient for my needs, which 720p will provide. If you want a larger desktop, then that would be another reason to go to 1080p.

I made a similar upgrade

... but moments before heading off the Best Buy, I decided to take one last look at Craigslist to see if I could find any deals. And I did!

Some gentleman had received a 42" Toshiba REGZA as a christmas gift from an in-law, but decided that finishing renovations on his guest bathroom before his vacation ended was of higher priority to him than watching movies in HD. I walked away with a brand new TV, unopened in the original box (gift receipt and all) for about $700.

Yes, I am a lucky bastard.