Prices for flat-screen TVs have dropped, and options are many
Part II of the choosing-a-flat-screen-TV-for-Christmas series
Judging by the multitudes I see gathered around the displays of big-screen TVs at all the stores these days, I'm wondering if the 2005 holiday season will be known as the first Flat Screen Christmas. As the seasonal sales juggernaut rolls on, you're going to hear a great deal more about this phenomenon.
Prices have dropped 30-35 percent so far this year. You can buy a 50-inch plasma brand-name HDTV screen like Phillips for $3,000. Off -brands cost much less. At Costco, a 50-inch Maxent brand plasma monitor is only $1,800.
If history is any guide, prices could drop this much by next Christmas for the same reasons that computer prices drop -- extreme competition and greater economies of scale as factories with greater efficiencies come online.
It was only a couple years ago that flat-screen TVs were outrageously expensive ($10,000 to $20,000). Prices started to come down when the audio components dropped in price, as manufacturers began to offer integrated "surround sound" home theater systems with all components (a subwoofer and four speakers) in one unit.
With so many models and even different technologies to choose from, how do you figure out what's the best system for you?
First off, consider what kind of technology you want to buy. (Yes, as if this weren't confusing enough, there are a couple to choose from.) Plasma technology utilizes electricity to illuminate gas between two pieces of glass and is generally found on larger sets. LCD sets produce images using light filtered by liquid crystal; it's more popular in sets under 40 inches. LCDs are thinner and weigh less than plasma, but generally cost more per inch. In the future we'll see LCD prices come down as competition heats up. The third technology is projection TV (rear and front). It is also reliable, but usually too thick to place on an ordinary wall at someone's home. These are cheaper but give slight less color quality than the plasma and LCD.
Secondly think about where you're going to place the TV. If it's your living room, figure on at least a 40-inch screen. Consider that you'll need an optimal distance of six to nine feet from which to view it. If you're thinking bedroom or kitchen, that will be too big. In that case, if you really want a flat screen, go for a 36-inch or smaller unit.
If you plan to view those Monday Night Football games, you might consider a plasma set, which provides better greater color contrast than LCD in a darkened room. The LCD units tend to generate brighter images, which makes them better to watch your favorite Korean soap operas in the afternoon when there's more ambient light. Projection TVs also work better in a darkened room.
Another thing to consider when it comes to choosing the right technology is reliability.
Every day products are getting more reliable as manufacturers gain experience and use the latest technologies. However, plasma screens still generate a considerable amount of heat, and parts of the screen (pixel) can go bad. Once they go bad, there is no way to fix them. A bad pixel can just stay off and therefore be black but they also can get stuck on all the time. This can be noticeable if it is right in the middle of the screen! LCD sets are more dependable but also cannot be repaired. Lastly, although they aren't as sexy, projection sets are fairly reliable and can be fixed.
In any case, these new sets are a big step up from the 27-inch Trinitron days, and will provide many hours of enjoyment.
Happy hunting for your new TV and happy holidays!
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