Short story – I can’t find an HDTV that I like. Each model out there has both rave reviews and serious complaints. Also, I can’t trust CNET on their reviews as my sole source of trusted information anymore.

My Sony Wega CRT TV

My Sony Wega CRT TV

Long story – In December 1999, I bought my first TV. I had started my first job out of college, but was still living at my parents’ place. As the story goes, I had seen the Sony Wega CRT TV at a PC Richard & Son in New Hyde Park, and was floored.  I loved it. It was heavy as hell (200 lbs.), but  it was a great picture for its time.

Fast forward to the past few years, and everyone I know has an HDTV in their house. I know one friend who hasn’t made the leap yet, but he’s not into HDTV. I desperately want an HDTV. A bigger, clearer picture. The glory of HD. Did I mention the bigger screen? What has primarily stopped me was the exorbitant prices (over $2000), and the fact that our Sony is working well after 10 years. Sony may have high-priced products (the so-called “Sony tax”), but the products work well. I was almost close to getting one back in 2005 after someone dropped our Sony during our move (I’m talking about you, Vijay.) However, Sears was able to fix a cracked board for just $200. Curses, foiled again.

The premium HDTVs are still at the $4000-5000 price point, but prices have come down significantly for the low end and middle ground TVs.  You can find very good HDTVs (with a good balance of features starting at the $1200. Why am I even explaining this? You probably have an HDTV already, so screw you. Let me move on to explaining my predicament.

My wife will tell you that I’m super particular about my technology. At a reasonable price, it has to have good features, multiple uses, and can scale up as I replace components within my Ipe ecosystem. For example, my home PC isn’t the fastest or greatest, but I can do work, edit movies, or play games. My PS3 can play games, but I can stream and watch Hulu’s TV shows and Netflix movies. I used my iPod Touch equally for listening to music and looking up facts on the Internet while sitting on the couch.

While I can’t afford every product, I continuously research to keep up on technology trends. One, I can be prepared for when I need to replace a product. Two, I can give advice when someone needs buying advice. A good example is my home theater A/V receiver. I’m not replacing it this year, but I’ve already got my eyes on a particular Yamaha among things will allow me to hook my iPod up and play music, and also supports HDMI (my current receiver does not.) CNET is my best friend, as I trust their reviews.

The good news is that we are finally in the market for an HDTV. Our Sony is still going strong (damn you, Sony), but we’re doing a little home redecorating.  Now, onto the problem at hand, and why I’m utterly perplexed, as recent developments tossed my plans out the window.  I’ve always been a big fan of plasma. CRT is dead. LCD has bad viewing angles. DLP is too big and the viewing angle is atrocious. Projectors wouldn’t work with our high ceilings. LCoS is dead, and LED is too expensive.

Plasma technology and my choices

Panasonic

Panasonic TC-P50V10

After Pioneer and Sony got out of the market for producing plasmas, Panasonic and Samsung are now the next best plasma manufacturers, but Panasonic is tops overall. Normally, I adhere to CNET reviews, since I trust their opinions. If they think it’s good, then it’s good.  If they can catch a problem, I might not have noticed initially myself, better still. While I’ve long desired the V10, and to a lesser degree the G10 model, Panasonic has been experiencing recent issues with their deep blacks turning grey over time. CNET never caught onto it, but the tens of thousands of people who have purchased Panasonic plasma sets have. I happened to have started looking at user reviews on multiple websites, and started to find this disturbing trend. Last week, CNET finally reported on the problem.

With that many customers having problem with all of their models, including new problems with image retention (IR), it doesn’t matter how much you spend. Panasonic has now acknowledged the problem, but for now, the entire Panasonic model line is suspect. Last year, when Panasonic announced the V10 at CES 2009, I was in love. How can anyone take a chance at this point?

Samsung PN50B860

Samsung PN50B860

Samsung

Samsung supposedly makes gorgeous plasmas, and their PN50B860 is thin and everyone who doesn’t have a problem will shout how beautiful and razor thin it is.  Notice that I said people who don’t have a problem. While perusing Amazon’s customer reviews, there is a tag for the word “buzz.” There is a significant portion of owners complaining about a their sets making a ridiculous buzzing noise. AVS Forum has multiple threads on it as well. While some people say they don’t hear a buzz (like a bad flourescent bulb), some say it can be ignored, but to many others keep returning or exchanging their sets. Samsung states it’s normal, but expensive televisions should not make an annoying buzz that people describe as a buzz that drives into your skull.

Who in their right mind would buy an expensive TV that may or may not make a buzzing noise that will drive you nuts? You may have a problem, but you may not. Uh, no thanks. I don’t win often at craps when I’m hustling in Newark on Saturday nights, and I doubt my luck is going to be better here.

LCD technology and my choices

Samsung

SamsungLN46B750

Samsung LN46B750

LCD? Really? I’m not a fan, only because LCD isn’t perfect. While plasmas are older technology and not as popular as LCDs. Sure they are bright and look good in bright rooms, but  people complain about the viewing angles, the motion blur when watching fast action movies or sports, and the lag when playing games.  BTW, did you know there is often a lag when playing videogames on some LCD sets? I didn’t know that.

Samsung makes a well-reviewed LCD called the LN46B750, in multiple sizes. It reviews well enough by sites and users, but some people complain primarily about the viewing angle. Specifically, people/guests in your house who sit off-center (more than 20 degrees from center) won’t enjoy it when the blacks wash out. Or if you play fast twitchy PS3/Xbox games on it, it’s going to lag. This is not encouraging.

Many other LCDs seem to have the same complaints. Good picture, but you may have problems playing games. Or sitting one or two spaces from direct center. Or the colors may be so so. It’s just “not as good as plasma.”

Are you kidding me? I’m not a big fan of LCD technology (except for with my home PC), but I guess it’s the nature of the beast.  I’ve spoken to other friends with LCD TVs, and they love them. I’m so confused.

These are my choices:

  • Plasmas that look great initially, but the blacks get lighter and lighter after a  thousand hours?  Or you turn off the menu, and a ghost of the menu’s image is still displayed?
  • TVs that drive you nuts with a buzz?
  • LCDs with bad viewing angles? Laggy gameplay?

For a guy who finally knows what he wants, I now have no idea what I want. Strike that, I know what I want. I can’t find what I want.  I want a clear-cut winner, but everyone has a problem with every model out there. I feel like I’m in some sort of paralysis mode, since I can’t get a general consensus from the greater population. I’ve already been to Best Buy to see the G10, the V10, and the Samsung LCD. The G10 didn’t wow me, the V10 was nice, but hard to find and expensive. The Samsung LCD is nice, but most purchasers state that the viewing angle problem is not identifiable when you’re standing in the aisle, and when Best Buy has already jacked up the contrast and brightness. True enough, when I saw the Samsung LCD in person, the settings were off the charts. The Samsung plasma would be nice in person, but I doubt I would be able to hear anything out of the ordinary while in a big, noisy box store.

At this stage, I am leaning towards taking my chances with the Samsung LCD for a lower price and smaller screen. I figure that if I lower my investment, then it won’t so bad if I’m not happy later. Furthermore, we’re opting for the 46″ version (not the 50″), as it’s cheaper and probably better fits the size of our room. What I have learned so far is to not rely only on technology reviews by journalists. A great source of information is customer reviews, and I don’t mean just a few. Dig deeper into pages 5-10, and you’ll get a better, more complete, sense of people’s experiences. 

A final, funny anecdote to close this out. There’s a fellow out in the Bay area named P. Radakrishnan. I think he’s my long-lost twin brother. I don’t know what he looks like, but after reading his Amazon.com profile with his other reviews, he’s like a kindred soul. Appears to be a fellow technophile, Indian, and plays the same PS3 games. Weird. BTW, he ultimately returned his Samsung LN46B750 LCD TV, and bought a Panasonic G10 instead.