HOME Technology Nov 2007
Widescreen is mainstream
CRTs are so square

The old hippy quip “don’t be square” is taking on new significance in our lounges as DVD movies and TV broadcasts prove size does matter and wide and flat is the way of the future.

DVD movies and a growing number of international shows like The Simpsons leave black bars sandwiching the picture on old cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs. Content on Sky TV has been converted from the square 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9 widescreen format for some time, and now the new shape is appearing on standard TV transmissions.

TV3 switched to widescreen broadcasting in April and TVNZ followed suit in September with all channels now converting thousands of hours of archival content. What we are seeing is the inevitable transition to a format better suited to big screen LCD and Plasma sets and ultimately high definition television (HDTV) broadcasting from mid-2008.

Panasonic’s latest Viera flat panels are revitalizing the Plasma game with its image processing maintaining high resolution even through the fastest action scenes. There’s even a 103 inch Plasma if you have a spare $80,000 rattling around. And while several manufacturers are pushing the size boundaries, most big screen TVs are no longer being viewed as a luxury item but an inevitable replacement.

Commercial models still max out around 65 inches and the mainstream market sitting between 32-42 inches. It seems 32 inch sets - measured from top to bottom corners - are still the best sellers, they are more affordable than ever and a better fit for smaller lounges and bedrooms.

Buyers should focus on features like contrast ratio, the difference between the brightest whites and the blackest blacks a TV or video projector can display; 1000:1 being average and 2000:1 and beyond being excellent. Most sets are HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) ready, although 720 x 576 resolution or below is unsuitable. Ideally resolution should be at least 1280 x 720 and the tuner MPEG4. The highest resolution screen currently available is 1910 x 1080p progressive scan.

All modern Plasma, LCD, rear projection and even home theatre projectors should be able to take broadcast TV, DVDs and home computers as their primary source.

Karl Pauling product manager with Monaco, which distributes Toshiba and Pioneer, says most big screens now have 8 millisecond screen refresh and the real differentiator is processing capability for depth of colour, motion flow or shifts from light to dark with no colour gradation.  A good showroom test is to look at standard broadcast channels and compare sets side by side.

Prices range from around $1200 to $2000 for a premium 32 inch brand and 42 inch has settled at $2500-$3500. As a compromise there are 27 inch screens for around $1000 and 46-50 inch models will take you to $4000 and beyond. Panasonic, Sony, Philips, LG, Acer, Samsung, Pioneer, Toshiba, Sanyo and RCA all have new offerings for Christmas.

New drivers for big screen TV are the move to new Blu-ray and HD-DVD high definition for DVD players and games consoles, and the impending arrival of HDTV broadcasting from Sky TV and Freeview.

According to GfK’s latest New Zealand consumer electronics survey, we have been spending more on big screen TVs than any other home entertainment item. Between January and August 2007 we forked out $182 million on LCD TVs, up 61 percent on 2006. Plasma sales grew only 3 percent and were valued at $76 million.

Meanwhile, consumers should keep an eye out for a possible Government ban on larger screens that don’t meet its impending energy performance measures, suggesting big is bad for the environment.


  Back2front    General Interest Webzine