shopping 09.19.05

Buying a Flat Screen

Is there anyone on the island who thinks their apartment is big enough?

From Park Avenue to Hell's Kitchen, Avenue C to West End, the answer is always no, which makes flat-screen TVs particular objects of desire. Reclaiming a few inches of space in a Manhattan apartment provides a satisfaction that seems to non-locals all out of proportion to the achievement. What do they know?

You have two choices for flat screens — plasma or LCD. (There is a new, cheaper alternative to LCD called DLP or digital light processing, but for the most part — and the moment — they're not the way to go.) Which should you get? There are endless considerations if you're an obsessive TV or film buff. For everyone else, this should help you decide.

Size:
Loosely, plasmas are big, LCDs are smaller. Most plasmas are 40 to 50 inches.

Resolution:
Without getting too technical, you want higher numbers for the best picture quality. However, a 640 x 480 may be perfectly fine on a small LCD. And the resolution issue quickly gets complicated, so don't get all dogmatic here.

Color:
For the best, richest color, plasma is the better choice.

Brightness:
LCDs have the edge. Ignore plasma specs when it comes to brightness and contrast. They may sound impressive but there's no standardization of these measurements.

Glare:
Sunlight glare can wash out a plasma screen, but not an LCD.

HDTV:
Not all plasmas are high definition. Many are EDTV, which means enhanced definition. By and large, high definition isn't worth the extra expense on a plasma unless your screen is 50 inches or larger. And non-high-def programs can look pretty funky on a high definition TV. Most LCDs are high definition.

Sound Quality:
If you're investing the big bucks for a plasma, you're going to want to buy speakers, even if the TV comes with its own since they're not likely to be up to the quality of the pic.

Burn-in and Dead Pixel:
The two gotchas of flat screens. Watch a lot of CNN? That ticker at the bottom of the screen is eventually going to leave a ghost of itself on a plasma TV (and warranties don't cover this). On LCDs, a dead pixel means a dead spot on your screen. (Warranties may cover this).

Durability:
Figure about 30,000 hours (whatever the brochure says) and you won't be disappointed. The math: if you watch 3 hours a day, every day, that's 1095 hours a year.

Installation:
Plasmas are less likely to be up on the wall because they're big, heavy honkers that generate lots of heat and have lots of cables. You'll most likely need help with the installation unless it's going on a stand. LCDs tend to be less hassle.

Watching TV:
New technology complication: you can't just sit any old place to watch these things. Sit too close and they don't look right — like an Impressionist painting. The bigger the screen, the further away you need to be.
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