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Best HDTVs for the Buck

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Updated: October 7, 2007


My goal with this thread is to keep an updated list of the best HDTV panels for your dollar. I am a lucky SOB in many ways, since I get numerous TVs in my house to test and repair. I am currently certified on numerous brands and have just received my ISF certification, so I know a thing or two about image quality and calibration.


EDIT: I was PM'd and asked which brands I am certified to repair, so here's the list:

- LG

- Panasonic

- Pioneer

- Pioneer Elite (separate training)

- Sony

- Sony XBR (separate, again)

- Samsung

- Westinghouse

- Mitsubishi

- Optima


- Sharp


I am not currently trained/certified on Toshiba, JVC or Hitachi.... Yet :)


There are a lot of fallacies (and a lot of hot air) in the HDTV industry, much of which just confuses the general public and makes them spend more money on a TV than is neccessary.


I intend to update this initial thread with some more information about the different technologies (plasma, lcd, rptv, etc) but for the time being I just want to get the information out there. The cost of HDTV sets - in particular flat panels - has come down a lot in the last 6 months, to the point where HDTV is now accessible to many, and now is a really great time to buy.


Topics I hope to cover in future:

- To 1080p or not 1080p?

- Viewing distance and resolution: how far is too far?

- Flat Panel Battles: Plasma vs LCD


- Best sets for Gaming/Movies/SDTV

- Scalars and how they affect PQ

- HDMI: Digital vs Analog, and does it make a difference?

- Choosing Cables: does it really matter?

- Warranties and why you want one


And now, on with the show:sweat:FYI, my choices here take into consideration numerous factors which I think are the most important when choosing a TV:


- Picture Quality (above all)

- Cost to performance ratio

- Scalar Performance / Implementation

- SDTV performance

- Connectivity

- Image Retention (or lack thereof)

- Response time (for gaming/sports programming)


EDIT: Yes, I have skewed my decisions to a large degree towards gamers, since this is a large proportion of this forum. Though PQ ond overall performance is still the largest factor.


For interest sake, my reference set is a Pioneer PRO-FHD1, a 50" 1080p plasma that I have extensively tested, tweaked and calibrated for near-perfect grayscale tracking, colour response and black level detail. While this is a fricking expensive set (>$6000), it does give me an excellent jumping off point to compare other sets to. Numerous reviewers use this set in comparisons, including Cnet, Sound & Vision, Audioholics, etc. I also have a new Samsung LN-T5281F, an LED backlit 120hz 1080p LCD I use for most of my daily viewing and game playing.


Bear in mind I also chose TVs that are readily available from local retailers and not so esoteric that you need to order them from specialty shops. So you should be able to shoot out to your local Best Buy and check out these TVs for yourself.


EDIT: I was asked two questions: One, how broad I went with my comparison, and which sets I considered when making this list. A great question, since it allows you to rule out certain sets that may not be listed. Well I've had roughly 18 LCD and 22 Plasma panels in over the last 2 months, all of which were either for repair or ISF calibration. While I've got them, I always take the opportunity to benchmark them against my reference set and see how they perform under ideal conditions. I always take a few notes, and record both those features which I think standout from an ergonomic/functionality point of view, and obviously make note of picture/colour quality factors or metrics that are good or bad.


I also have equipment that allows me to record colour temperature, backlight uniformity, grayscale tracking, black detail, contrast and overall light output, and record it in realtime to a spreadsheet for later analysis or comparison.


For the purpose of this 'article,' I compared metrics from 30 different sets - 15 Plasmas and 15 LCDs. I figured this was a broad enough cross section, since I automatically dropped the lowest scoring panels (from my data) and the highest priced units. I compared LCDs from Samsung, Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, Westinghouse and Dell. Plasmas compared were from NEC, Pioneer, Panasonic, Samsung, LG, Hitachi (though I am not certified on them, I have had several to ISF calibrate). In general, most of the big brands produce at least a few decent panels. There are a few stinkers out there, like Vizio, Westinghouse and any house brand, which I would generally stay away from. That said, Westinghouse has made a couple 'decent' 1080p LCD panels which are so cheap, they make a great option for gamers on a very tight budget. In general, Pioneer, NEC, Hitachi and Toshiba are priced at the top of the market, with the remainder competing tightly for the average consumer dollar.


I was also asked, "when should I buy? Should I wait for SED or LED backlights or even just until christmas?" Well, here's the long answer. The industry is somewhat at a turning point in a manner of speaking, where technology isn't rapidly advancing, but panel size is. 50" sets are now the pseudo "standard" in size, with larger sets commanding a disproportionately larger premium. Large 1080p sets are now affordable, and larger panels are slowly coming down in price.


Well, the simple answer to this question is now. There will always be newer and better technology, but to a large degree, the BIG leaps forward in terms of PQ, black level detail and resolution have already been made. 1080p is where it's at for the forseeable future. Forget the 1440p pundits - they're complete nutters, IMHO. All the innovation currently is directed towards fine tuning and making the existing technology slightly better. The problem with this is that companies still need to have differerentiating products in their lineup, so the slightly better products command a huge price premium, when in reality their performance does not warrant such a jump.


This is especially evident in the Samsung LCD lineup. I currently have the top of the line 5281F LED backlit, 120hz 1080p uber-panel, with 500,000:1 contrast ratio. Well, honestly, the 120hz doesn't substantially improve judder issues, the contrast ratio is kind of a marketing ploy, since this only refers to the LED backlights ability to selectively dim different areas of the image, and so is measuring two adjacent sections dimmed to 0% and 100% respectively. Real world contrast ratio is roughly 18-20,000 from my measurements at most. This panel performs within about 5% of the T4665F, and the visual PQ, viewing them side-by-side (which I have), is nearly non-existant. Not to mention that there were ghosting and other image problems which took a great deal of time to calibrate out of the "better" set, while the less expensive set was pretty close to ideal right out of the box.


Best LCDs Overall


1. Samsung LN-Txx65F, 60hz, 1080p, 40/46/52"

2. Sony KDL-xxXBR4, 120hz, 1080p, 40/46/52"

3. Sharp LC-xxD82U, 120hz, 1080p, 40/46/52"


You'll notice that while my top 2 LCD picks closely mirror what Cnet chooses in their list, mine reverses the Sony and Samsung models. Cnet gave the Samsung a lower mark based on its reflective screen and poor 1080i film performance. Current revisions of this TV have fixed the 1080i problem, and newer firmware has also improved SDTV and scalar performance. I actually consider the glare from the screen a non-issue, since most everyone *should* be able to control the lighting in their room. As those of us in the PC world know, glossy "truelife"-esque screens are all the rage since they boost percieved colour clarity and black levels. I also find the Sony far too complicated for its own good, with numerous cascading menus that, while very pretty, are a PITA to adjust, even for me! The Samsungs simple controls are easy and user-friendly, and the TV requires very little tweaking out of the box. Xbox 360, PS3 (handshake issues resolved as of current revision) and 1080p Blu-Ray movies looks fabulous on this set. Frankly, I also think Cnet has always been overly-favourable to Sony in its reviews, for whatever reason ;)


Also, I consider the 120hz vs 60hz processing a moot point currently, since I saw no evidence of blurring on the Samsung compared to the Sony or Sharp. In fact engaging the Sony's 120hz processing gave images a weird, TV-soap-opera like appearance that was quite unsettling and almost made me seasick. It was like wathcing a 16:9 movie that had been poorly converted to 4:3 with loads of panning and scanning.


Since the Samung is also currently the cheapest TV in this list, I see no reason why - if you have the money - it should not be your first choice in a 1080p LCD. Newer models are coming from Samsung with 120hz processing and CCFL and LED backlighting, but their intial pricing will be astronomic at best, and the benefit of 120hz debatable. LED backlighting will bring dynamic dimming to the table, which should also improve contrast ratio, but the cost of these sets will be out of reach for at least a year or more, by which time SED may be a reality.


Best LCDs on the cheap


1. Samsung LN-Txx61F, 60hz, 1080p, 40/46/52"

2. Sharp LC-32GP1U, 60hz, 1080p, 32"

3. Samsung LN-Txx53H, 60hz, 720p, 32/40"


This is a very competetive segment, with lots of 1080p options for around the $1200 mark. Samsung again dominates in this area, with the 46" LN-T4661F coming in around $1600 at some discount retailers. This is still a lot of money to spend, and frankly, for about $300 more, you can have its better-performing sibling above. The real deals here are the Sharp Gaming series and Samsung's mid-end 720p sets.


Since at roughly 5' or more away from a 40" screen, 1080p becomes indistinguishable from 720p, the 32 or 40" Samsung 53H series offers a lot of performance for the money. Both the Samsung and Sharp are great options, and for roughly $1100 at some shops, the 1920x1080 32" Sharp is an appealing option as a dual purpose gaming/PC monitor. For $1200 though, the 40" Samsung offers more real estate, and a slightly better overall picture.


Best Plasmas Overall


1. Panasonic TH-xxPZ700U, 1080p, 42/50/58"

2. Samsung FP-Txx84, 1080p, 42/50/58"


Bear in mind I did not list my reference set - or any Pioneer plasmas - in this list, since they are quite atrociously expensive, and the gain in PQ is not neccesarily useful or noticeable to most viewers. If price were no object, I would reccomend the Pioneer PDP-5080HD ($2300). At 720p, its PQ exceeds that of 99% of the 1080p sets I have used, tested or calibrated, but it requires a lot of tweaking, and the anti burn-in features are not as good as the other models listed.


The two choices in this list are actually 1080p sets, a recent additional to the plasma arsenal and now becoming more realistically priced. At 50", both sets ring in at $1800 - not a lot of dough to spend on a 1080p plasma, and thousands less than you would have spend even a year ago.


The premium for 1080p is roughly $500 (compared to the sets below), which depending on your viewing habits and available sources, will decide whether it is worth the money. I have personally sat in front of two 58" Samsung plasmas - a 720p T5864 and a 1080p T5884 - and at 6', I could discern NO difference at all between the picture produced from a Samsung BD-P1200 BluRay player and scaled to native by each set. Both sets produced clean, finely detailed images, and when calibrated properly, looked exceptionally similar.


Comparing the two, the Panasonic has the better black levels, though the Samsungs uniformity and greyscale tracking are slightly better. Have a look in store to see which TV you prefer. All of these Plasmas have fantastic response times, and look great for gaming. Burn in is also not much of an issue with these sets, as all the new Samsungs and Panny's now burn-in reducing technologies which work quite well, though my nod goes the Panny in this regard for its superior "pixel wobbling" implementation and screen saver features.


Best Plasmas on the cheap (ED: revised)


1. Samsung HP-Txx64, 720p, 42/50/58"

2. Panasonic TH-xxPX77U, 720p, 42/50/58"


This is actually a fairly cut and dry category. There are fantastic deals at the moment on 720p Plasmas right now, with many 50" models below the $1500 threshold. Personally this is my favourite segment, since you get phenomonal quality and performance for your money.


That being said, this is actually a tough category to call. The seperation between the worst and the best panels in (the middle of) this segment is only a few hundred bucks at most, so choosing the best panel for the money is actually quite difficult. There are some OK panels from LG and others at under $1k, but the quality improves drastically when you move towards the $1300-$1400 mark.


My choices reflect the panels with the best PQ for the money. There are better 720p plasmas out there (like the Pioneer and a couple new Toshibas), but they'll cost you a LOT more. Between the Panasonic and the Samsung, I prefer the features, settings and ergonomics of the Samsung, but the PQ of the Panny is slightly better. Black detail is also a little better on the Panny as well, giving the appearance of improved colour. Gamers should also choose the Panny for better anti-burn in technologies, while movie buffs will appreciate the extra colour and picture settings on the Samsung.


Both of these panels feature excellent anti-glare screens, so would be ideal in bright rooms or those with numerous windows.


EDIT: I re-arranged this list to be organized by price, since that seems more logical


Top Flat Panel TVs... for the Money! (ED: Revised)


1. $2000 - Samsung LN-T4665F, LCD, 46", 1080p

2. $1800 - Panasonic TH-50PZ700U, Plasma, 50", 1080p

3. $1600 - Samsung LN-T4661F, LCD, 46", 1080p

4. $1450 - Samsung HP-T5064, Plasma, 50", 720p

5. $1300 - Panasonic TH-50PX77U, Plasma, 50", 720p

6. $1200 - Samsung LN-T4053H, LCD, 40", 720p

7. $1100 - Sharp LC-32GP1U, LCD, 32", 1080p


Honourable Mention: $2300 - Pioneer PDP-5080HD, Plasma, 50", 720p


See a trend here? Panasonic takes the edge for Plasma sets and Samsung for LCD. The 50" Panasonic and 46" Samsung are fairly evenly matched here. Though I personally prefer the picture quality of the 46" Samsung, the price and overall image size is an important factor to most people, so you must make your own judgement


NB: All prices are averaged from the top 3, 4-to-5 star sellers on Froogle.


EDIT: As always, this is a work in progress, so keep checking back for new revisions on content. I will try my hardest to clean up the format over the next few weeks and add new content, so the "Best Overall" and "Best for the money" Charts are easy to find and read. I may even move them to their own seperate post and add detailed info for each TV listed. I have added an Updated date at the top so you can quickly see if I have changed anything since the last time you were here ;) Thanks for taking the time to read this post! If you have any questions at all, please feel free to PM me.


ADDENDUM: Since the above list is ranked by price, I have added below my top 12 Flat Panels (both LCD and Plasma), rated by performance. This is based on metrics and data recorded during various calibrations. These are a mix of 720 and 1080p, but all in the 50-52" range. Please note that these are the exact models that I have data for - difference sized models often show different results!


01. Pioneer Pro-FHD1

02. Pioneer PDP-5080HD

03. Samsung LN-T5281F

04. Panasonic TH-50PF9UK

05. Samsung LN-T4665F

06. Sony KDL-52XBR4

07. Panasonic TH-50PZ700U

08. Toshiba 52LX177

09. Samsung FP-T5084

10. Panasonic TH-50PX77U

11. Samsung HP-5064

12. Samsung LN-T5261F


EDIT: Given $1500 to buy the best quality set I could buy with an eye towards gaming, movies and overal picture quality. I would instantly plunk that cash down on the Panasonic TH-50PX77U (or TH-50PX75U, depending on availability and market). It's anti-glare screen is phenomonal, the picture is great right out of the box, burn-in is almost non-existant, and it looks equally good playing Halo3 in 1080p as it does watching Grey's Anatomy off my HD Cable Box.

Honourable Mentions (in no particular order):

1. Samsung LN-T4053H

2. Sharp LC-52D82U

3. Sharp LC-32GP1U

4. Sharp LC-52D64U

5. Pioneer PDP-5070HD**


These TVs basically represent the best of the rest. Price was not a factor here - the idea is that if you find a good deal on one of these, it's probably worth picking up even if it is not in the top 12.


** If you can find this TV from last year, it yields similar performance to this years 5080HD, lacking only in colour tracking and mild grayscale issues. It is more susceptible to burn-in, so will require more attention and effort to break it in, but the cost/performance ratio is fantastic. I picked one up from Future Shop here in Canada several months ago for $2000 - an absolute steal for a TV of this caliber.

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Updated: October 7, 2007


This is a quick post regarding viewing distances relative to screen size, as well as screen resolutions and how far away you should be seated to realistically get the full advantage of them.


There are several different systems used to calculate the "ideal" distance of your eyes to the screen.


The THX system is based on published standards to which movie theaters must adhere to receive THX certification. This is a very aggressive standard, which is often touted by home theatre purists, but which is difficult to achieve in anything but a dedicated home theatre environment.


The SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) maintains standards for movie theaters. This, in my mind, is the standard which is the most appropriate for home use. Calculating viewing distance based on this standard is less aggressive, yet still results in a fantastic overall viewing experience.


Finally, calculations based on visual acuity are based on the resolving power of the human eye. A person with 20/20 vision can resolve details as small as 1/60th of a DOA (degree of arc). This distance represents the point beyond which the human eye can no longer resolve visual detail - in other words where pixels begin to blend together. This system is used to calculate the distance at which a person with average vision no longer benefits from a given resolution (see charts below).


This is a list of screen sizes followed by the associated maximum seating distances, based on the THX and SMPTE spec. The last number on the right is based on THX maximum viewing spec, and is calculated based on a 26 degree viewing angle - the minimum at which THX considers viewers in a theatre to be getting the "ideal" movie-going experience. Staying roughly within this spec will give you best possible experience at home, and I generally consider this the maximum distance you should sit and still get the ideal, immersive viewing experience.


EDIT: I have changed the charts to make it less confusing. THX and SMPTE are used to calculate viewing distance, while Visual Acuity is used to calculate the distance at which a given resolution is no longer noticeable. So no the Viewing distance charts are separate from the Visual Acuity charts below. I have also changed my maximum viewing distances and based them on the THX spec, rather than an average of 1080p acuity range and SMPTE viewing distance.


Distance values are measured in feet for you imperial nutters. Sorry for the decimals, it was the only way I could convert from metric!


Size-THX | SMP-Max


40" - 4.5 | 5.4 - 6.3

42" - 4.7 | 5.7 - 6.6

46" - 5.1 | 6.2 - 7.2

50" - 5.6 | 6.8 - 7.9

52" - 5.8 | 7.0 - 8.2

58" - 6.5 | 7.9 - 9.1

60" - 6.7 | 8.1 - 9.4

63" - 7.0 | 8.5 - 9.9

68" - 7.6 | 9.8 - 10.7


NB: The other way to read this is to look up your viewing distance on the right and match it to the screen size on the left.


The following charts are based on visual acuity, and assume a person with ideal 20/20 vision. These distances are the maximum distance from the screen that a human can visually discern differences in resolution. You should read these as being the furthest away you want to sit and still see/experience the benefit of the given resolution.




40" - 5.2

42" - 5.5

46" - 6.0

50" - 6.5

52" - 6.8

58" - 7.5

60" - 7.8

63" - 8.2

68" - 8.8




40" - 7.3

42" - 7.7

46" - 8.4

50" - 9.1

52" - 9.5

58" - 10.6

60" - 11.0

63" - 11.5

68" - 12.4


You'll notice that at 720p, the distance at which you can still perceive this resolution is actually further than the maximum recommended viewing distance listed above. Proving that sometimes, numbers are just that. Even if you're sitting further away than the chart says you should, you're still getting the benefit of the higher resolution.


Two final things to consider are source material and seating/audience arrangement. If 99% of what you'll be watching is Cable or Satellite, which is broadcast at a max resolution of 720p (or 1080i), then sitting further away is just fine. If you game extensively, then there may be situations where you are playing in 1080p and want that extra resolution to be visible. However since most console games are still designed in 720p and scaled to 1080p internally, this is often a moot point if you are playing on an Xbox 360 or PS3. HD-DVD or Blu-Ray is really the only siutation where I can imagine someone watching true 1080p content consistently. Lastly, take into consideration whether or not you'll often be watching with other people. If so, a very close viewing distance is often impractical, since it would place several people on a very severe angle to the screen.

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Just a really quick listing of the top 5 discs I use to judge video and film PQ while testing.



1. Ultimate/Complete Matrix Collection (VC-1)

2. Letters from Iwo Jima (VC-1)

3. Happy Feet (VC-1)

4. Hot Fuzz (VC-1)

5. Mission Impossible III (VC-1)



1. Letters From Iwo Jima (VC-1)

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (AVC MPEG-4)

3. Happy Feet (VC-1)

4. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (AVC MPEG-4)

5. Mission Impossible III (MPEG-2)


Not surprisingly, all the HD-DVD titles use the VC-1 codec, while many of the Blu-Ray titles are sticking to MPEG based systems. This makes it interesting to compare titles on each format that use the differing codecs.


In the case of MI:III, for example, the two-disc release actually puts the movie and extras on seperate discs, devoting an entire disc to the movie and allowing the studio to maximize the bitrate. With this release, we actually see the smaller 25GB Blu-Ray disc having a slightly higher overall video bitrate than the HD-DVD version, which bundles several HD featurettes on the larger disc.


What does this mean? Well the Blu-Ray, in this case, is a tiny bit cleaner overall - assuming you have the equipment to see the difference! The important thing to take from this is that for those with both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD solutions (like a PS3 and 360), it is prudent to examine the differences in the releases when choosing which format to buy a title on.


This comes right down to whether the studio has decided to include an HD audio track on a particular format and not on an another. Happy Feet, for example, was release back in March on both formats. Both formats were release in a single-disc format, both using the VC-1 codec. So which has the better video quality? Well we would assume the HD-DVD release, since the larger 30GB HD-30 disc has more room to push the bitrate up than the Blu-Ray's 25GB disc. However Warner decided, for whatever reason, to also encode the HD-DVD edition using the Dolby TrueHD audio codec in addition to the other Dolby EX tracks included on the Blu-Ray disc. Since TrueHD is an uncompressed format, this eats up a huge amount of disc space, and breaking down the video actually shows a cleaner overall picture on the Blu-Ray disc.



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Big up to you, great post. Can't wait to see what you have in store next, this is exactly the type of content that we need here at the Street.

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I've got the Samsung HP-T5054, which is basically the slightly cheaper cousin of the T5064. But it was a great purchase. Glad to see the Sammy's getting some props from a professional.

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Useful thread... got this one bookmarked as I'll be buying a Plasma or LCD in a few months. Thanks politbureau
Feel free to PM/Email me with questions regarding specific sets. Happy to help out with a purchase!


Big up to you, great post. Can't wait to see what you have in store next, this is exactly the type of content that we need here at the Street.
Cheers! I figure I've got tons of PC help from the street, so it was about time to give back :D


I've got the Samsung HP-T5054, which is basically the slightly cheaper cousin of the T5064. But it was a great purchase. Glad to see the Sammy's getting some props from a professional.
In fact I had originally listed the 54 in my list, but on searching Froogle, it seemed like the 64 was only about $50 more online. Obivously this doesn't reflect in-store pricing, but I removed it since I was basing pricing on lowest Froogle.


In reality, your TV has identical performance to the 64 model, minus the anti-glare screen, USB port and 1 anti burn-in technology (called "side grey").


Samsung is truly becoming a powerhouse in mid-priced consumer flat panels. I will admit that recently their warranty service has become a bit dodgy, but otherwise they stand behind their product. Ergonomics are also excellent - their LCDs in particular are beautiful.


Good choice!

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What do you think of this Samsung DLP? I've been considering getting one of these eventually and I like that it has led's instead of bulbs but haven't seen one in action. Also I think this is "Sticky" worthy....

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