Get the whole picture before buying a flat-screen TV
Part 1 in two-part series
Anyone who's been to Costco or Sam's Club lately can't help but notice the crowd of flat-screen TVs vying for your attention. As the holiday season approaches and thousands of Hawaii residents haul these behemoths back to their living rooms in Hawaii Kai or Makiki, some people are going to be paying for more than just the TV. There can be a multitude of additional costs - often hundreds more than the TV.
For starters, you may want a special bracket (which can cost a few hundred dollars) just to hang that big plasma screen on the wall. Unless you're pretty handy as a carpenter, you're also going to have to pay someone another few hundred dollars to hang the screen, and possibly run those unattractive wires behind the wall. It's also a good idea to get special cables between the TV and a DVD player or cable box to get the best display. Again, add another few more dollars if you're going that route.
Then there's the issue of sound. Some units don't come with speakers, or else they have junk ones, so if you want tricked-out audio you're going to have to drop another $500.
To get the full surround-sound effect, you may need to upgrade your audio system's audio components. This can cost anything from several hundred dollars for a low-end system to thousands for top-notch Dolby equipment.
If you want a real high-definition picture, you might also have to pony up another $7 a month to upgrade your cable service. If you'd like to record shows for later viewing, you'll need to spend another $400 for a high-definition digital recorder or subscribe to the cable companies HD-DVR.
Why, you ask? A standard digital video recorder (such as your old TiVo) generally doesn't have the capability to record in high-definition. A standard digital recorder is going to play back only a standard broadcast or produce a weird stretched out effect on a high-definition TV.
While we're on the subject of resolution, be aware that while the DVD standard today has wide-screen capabilities, it does not have real high-definition capability. There are a couple new standards being worked on for HD-DVD that will incorporate HDTV. The reason that HDTVs are so crisp is because they show 1,080 lines of resolution. The current DVD standard delivers only 480 lines, so a new standard of DVD players is being developed.
There also might be a problem with adjusting color. When you walk around the showroom you'll notice every brand from Samsung to Sony looks just a bit different. In some cases the color needs to be tweaked. For example, some manufacturers will add blue to the screen to make it look brighter but that in turn can make skin tones look strange. There are people who you can pay to get your unit's color optimized. If you're going to get a color consultant, add another few hundred dollars for a home visit.
I don't mean to be a Grinch, but it's always better to know ahead of time what you're getting into if want to get the most out of your flat-screen system.
In a future column we'll discuss how to choose the right TV for your needs.
general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, has been a telecommunications and computer expert for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org