DETROIT -- If you've been eyeing those fancy televisions in stores lately, you've got a lot of company. Super Bowl season -- the game is Sunday -- is one of the top times of the year for TV sales, and this year there's the added incentive of major price breaks that took place on some of the best new TV technology just before the holidays.
Add the specter of next year's digital-TV transition, and you've got a lot of reasons to upgrade your tube. Most people who do so this year will buy high-definition capable televisions, many of them flat screens. HDTVs can show pictures drawn with as many as 1,080 lines, as compared with the 480 standard in normal televisions.
Frank and Becky Head of Ypsilanti Township, Mich., shopped for a 26-inch flat-screen TV this week, just in time for their annual Super Bowl party. The General Motors retirees bought a 42-inch flat screen as a joint Christmas present last month.
"I've been talking about it for a while. We have all the neighbors over to watch the game, and we wanted something a little bit bigger" than their old 20-inch television, Frank Head said.
He wanted another flat screen, and ended up buying a plasma television.
"They don't take up as much room. They're much lighter. And I think the picture overall is better," he said.
Whether you see a gorgeous picture depends on how your television receives its signal. Receiving HDTV signals requires a special antenna, if you're one of the few getting your television with an antenna. Subscribers to cable or satellite television typically have to pay for a special tuner box to see HD broadcasts, which take advantage of the crisper, more precise pictures HDTVs can draw.
DVD players in two competing formats (Blu-Ray and HD DVD) also can show high-definition pictures. Which will win that format war is unclear.
When you shop for a television, you'll be faced with a lot of numbers. One is the resolution; anything more than 720 lines technically is considered high-definition. Typically, you'll see a letter after the resolution number. The letter "P" means the set is progressive; it draws every line every time the image is refreshed. The letter "I" for interlaced means every other line is drawn each pass time; that means the picture is not as crisp. The response, or refresh, rate is how many fractions of a second the set takes to redraw its image.
At present, 1080p televisions have the best pictures of anything available. But Quad HDTV sets (which show as many as four times as many lines) are slowly trickling out to the high-end marketplace.
When shopping for a television, don't be swayed by the contrast and brightness you see in the store. Models out of the box are specifically tuned to be extremely bright with extremely high contrast so that they'll look appealing when you see them on the shelves.
When choosing a television, be aware that you'll need to sit closer to an HDTV to get the full benefit of the crisper display. For normal televisions, you might sit up to 12 feet away from a 42-inch set and still see all the detail. For a max-resolution HD model in the same size, you'd want to be no more than 5½ feet from the screen. Sit farther and you're looking for a bigger screen.
WHAT'S OUT THERE
Here are some television models, their pros and cons, and how much you can expect to pay:
- PLASMAS: Plasma televisions are one of two common flat-panel types, along with LCDs. Many of the problems that plagued plasma displays -- burn in, for example, in which TV station logos eventually would show up as permanent ghosts on the corner of the image -- have been resolved, and they're a popular choice, especially in larger sizes.
They tend to be a little thicker and heavier than their LCD counterparts, but they offer truer blacks and deeper reds at prices that most consumers appreciate. They also offer a wider viewing angle than their LCD counterparts (so people sitting in chairs at the edge of your living room will have a good view, too). A 42-inch plasma TV can run $1,000 online or on sale.
-- DETROIT FREE PRESS