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HDTV For the UnGeek
The FCC standard for HDTV broadcasting has a huge impact. The amount of information to digest can be daunting, even for the professional. The old hardware does not become obsolete, but will require a tuner to convert from the new signal if you receive your signal from a VHF/UHF antenna. If you have cable or satellite TV, the service provider will take care of that.
However, this might be a good time to upgrade your hardware. The new standard offers a much better picture. In today’s world of digital projectors, LCD, LCOS, Plasma and DLP are the four different types of TVs that dominate the HDTV market. Each has unique advantages over the other. Plasma and some of the LCD screens can be mounted on the wall, although surveys find that few people mount them on the wall. DLP and LCOS and some of the LCD units are both projector technologies. Rear projectors are usually the most cost effective. The size of some systems is now less than 12 inches in depth.
o Video quality on the best projectors now exceeds that available in a conventional commercial cinema.
o Traditional Television: also called direct view, has the images shown on a picture tube (Cathode Ray Tube).
o Rear Projection Television (RPTV): uses a combination of mirrors and lenses to project the image from behind onto the viewing screen. This allows the displayed image to be significantly larger, up to 70 inches or more. This technique usually offers the best value (image size vs. cost).
o Front Projection TV (FPTV): this is like a cinema. The image is projected forward, onto an external screen. But like a cinema, a very dark room is required because the screen will reflect any light in the room. This technique is usually more expensive than rear projection, but the footprint (the area consumed by the equipment) of the system is smaller.
CRT (Cathode Ray Tube):
The established standard for television screens; good value, picture quality. The maximum size of the screen is smaller with the technique. The technology is still a good choice where a smaller image is desired, and size is not a concern.
Liquid crystal display (LCD):
Thin design, but has problems displaying images in motion (sports), the images tend to streak. These projectors usually contain three separate LCD glass panels, one each for red, green, and blue components of the image being projected. As the non-colored light passes through the LCD panels, individual picture elements (pixels) can be opened to allow light to pass or closed to block the light. This produces the image that is projected on the screen.
Historically, LCD sets have had a problem with visible pixelation. This is less obvious on newer sets with higher screen resolutions.
Most LCD systems use a fluorescent backlight to shine through the LCD screen. This type of backlight will need to be replaced every few years. Some manufacturers are introducing sets with LED backlights, with 10X longer life. Although the initial cost may be greater, the cost of ownership benefit may make this design worth a look.
o Better color saturation, richer and more vibrant
o Better sharper image, important for text
o More energy efficient
o Poor black levels and contrast
o Problems displaying images in motion (sports)
o LCD panels (mainly in the blue channel) can degrade, causing changes in color balance
o Visible pixelation
Liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS):
A type of LCD technology, LCOS uses liquid crystals rather than mirrors to project (usually rear-projection) an image onto the screen. LCOS is good value compared to plasma and LCD sets, but expensive compared to all other rear projection TV technologies such as DLP. This technique uses a chip like a DLP (see below) set does, but the chip is covered with a liquid crystal that reflects the image seen on the screen. LCOS based systems allow a higher screen resolution than an LCD screen or plasma screen.
o Sharp, vibrant colors, and deep black levels
o It does not slowly change over time as plasma does
o Dead pixels usually occur because the technology is partially reflective
o High Maintenance Cost: LCOS require frequent bulb change requirements (anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 hours, about 3-4 years with normal usage) versus 50,000 or more for most LCD or plasma screens. A replacement bulb will cost about $400
o Reproducibility: Image quality can vary greatly from machine to machine
Digital Light Processor (DLP):
The DLP is a Texas Instruments product manufactured in Korea. It uses a chip with many mirrors (there can be over one million mirrors on a chip of about one square inch) that can be mechanically steered to reflect the correct color. This technology offers an excellent display, at a moderate cost.
In the best DLP projectors, like the ones used at your local movie theater, there are three separate mirror chips, one each for the red, green, and blue channels. However, in the DLP projectors marketed for the masses, there is only one chip. In these sets, to define a color, there is a color wheel, which consists of red, green, blue filters. This wheel rotates between the lamp and the DLP chip and alternates the color of the light hitting the chip.
The rotating color wheel used to project the image can produce a problem on the screen known as the rainbow effect, which is colors separating into distinct red, green, and blue. At any given moment, the image on the screen is either red, or green, or blue, and the technique relies on your eyes not being able to detect the rapid changes from one to the other. However, not only can some people see the colors separately, but the rapid succession of color can cause reported cases of eye strain and headaches. But the vast majority of people cannot detect the rainbow effect.
Newer sets have the color wheel rotation speed doubled. Also, newer sets use a six-segment color wheel (instead of 3 segments) that has two sequences of red, green and blue. Since the wheel is at double speed, and since the red, green and blue are seen twice in each rotation, the effect is a quadrupling of the rotation speed. This eliminated the visibility of rainbows for most of the people who had previously seen the effect.
Samsung and other companies have introduced DLP sets with LED lamps and no color wheel. The bulbs in the older designs need to be replaced every few years. The LED lamp should last the life of the TV.
LaserVue (Mitsubishi) is being introduced in the US now in time for the Christmas season. LaserVue is a DLP system (Texas Instruments “Dark Chip 4″ Digital Light Processor) that removes the conventional bulb and replaces it with a solid state laser. The video performance is outstanding, but the technology will cost you about $7000 for a 65” HDTV. The reliability/lifetime improvement may be better, but there is little data on this new laser. One would expect an Argon laser to have. lifetime of about 8000 hours (5-6 years of normal use). The Mitsubishi LaserVue uses a laser system made by Arasor, an Australian start-up company, made of lithium niobate (PPKN). Mitsubishi is currently doing accelerated stress testing, but has so far not published results. LaserVue An HDTV draws less than 200 watts of electricity, which is about half of a comparable LCD HDTV, and less than a third of a plasma High Definition system.
o Small package size
o High contrast image with deep black levels
o Good value
o Less bright images
o Rainbow effect
o High Maintenance Cost: DLP requires frequent bulb change requirements (anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 hours, about 3-4 years with normal usage) versus 50,000 or more for most LCD or plasma screens. A replacement bulb will cost around $300-$400. Samsung uses LED lighting instead of lamps. The LED should not be replaced.
Slim design, high contrast ratings, Size up to 60 inches or more; some screen limitations: expensive, older systems had a high burn-in risk (over time, memory of what was projected was retained); This could cause a problem for those who like to play video games or watch taped movies. If you pause the game or tape for too long, this could burn an image into your screen.
o Exceptional image quality: It can produce up to 8.6 billion colors, accurate color reproduction and wide viewing angles.
o Large screen sizes: Some Plasma TV units are now manufactured in screen sizes that can stretch up to 100 inches.
o Lifetime: Plasma TVs are also known for their extended lifetime capacity of approximately 60,000 hours and great contrast (deep blacks)
o Less expensive than LCD
o The screens are very thick, heavy and fragile
o Degrades slowly over time
o Energy inefficient
Coming soon: OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) HDTV sets are now available, but it will be a few years before they merit serious consideration. An OLED array is less than 1″ thick. OLED has already been used in digital cameras and cell phones with small panels, due to their energy efficiency, which is important in mobile devices.
o NTSC Analog TV or Standard Definition TV (SDTV): The current system that is being phased out (National Television Systems Committee).
o EDTV (Enhanced Digital Television): basically high quality Standard Definition Television: Although these sets may be better than standard sets, the picture quality is not equal to HDTV. Technically, there is little difference between SDTV and EDTV (except for the higher price).
o ATSC Digital TV: This is the new system (Advanced Television Systems Committee), which is not necessarily High Definition.
o HDTV: is digital television where the image is a widescreen image with many times more detail than is contained in current analog television images. Most consumers will see a huge improvement in picture quality. HDTV has a better quality picture than SDTV because it has a greater number of lines of resolution. The image is two to five times sharper because the gaps between the scan lines are narrower.
Any of the four technologies can be a good choice. The competition is intense, and all technologies will continue to improve. Buying a TV will never be as simple as it was before HDTV, but the benefits may be worth the headaches.
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