Folks, it's finally here. As the bad boys from Prison Break, the hotties of 90210, and all those ultra-violent cyborgs on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles are testament to, the new TV season has begun. What better time to invest in a new HDTV?
It's better than you think. Prices for HDTVs are in freefall. Even the best sets cost less than half what they did just a year or two ago. To get a snapshot of where the market is today, we set out to evaluate different tiers of LCD HDTV sets, looking for features, quality and value within what we’ve noticed are three categories. For our testing, we didn’t pick brand-new models, but chose 1080p sets that are probably hitting that sweet spot of having the latest tech inside while sitting in the middle of the downward pricing pressure.
The top tier of LCD TVs gives you the swankiest styling, sharpest picture, lots of adjustability for each of its numerous inputs, and the best contrast ratio — that is, the blackest blacks while the whites remain bright. The midrange gives you a good balance between the best features and value pricing, while the bottom group of sets are priced so low that sometimes it’s hard to believe. To represent each category, we reviewed HDTVs from Sony, Samsung, and Vizio.
At this level, what you get for your money is sheer picture quality. Our challenging Blu-ray video examples revealed no “jaggies,” and the blacks were so deep and rich, we thought we were looking at a plasma set. At the same time, the whites were almost too bright to look at, without appearing to be blown out so much that you couldn’t see any detail within bright objects. We’re convinced. This is as good as any LCD screen available today.
If you’re looking to install a PC in your home theater, this Sony HDTV won’t disappoint. Its high resolution cranked out near-perfect images from an HDMI-equipped PC, playing back 1080p video whose quality was indistinguishable from Blu-ray, if not better. Plugging an Xbox 360 into the Bravia’s VGA input was also a pleasant experience, delivering the same sweet resolution we noticed through its HDMI ports.
Then there are the excellent Xross (pronounced Cross) Media Bar menus, showing up as a sliding lineup like that of a Sony Playstation portable. It’s simple to navigate to its multitude of settings. The most important of those adjustments is the ability to tweak each of the inputs, letting you change the way the TV handles over-the-air video, Blu-ray, PC or Xbox inputs, giving each their own custom set of adjustments. The Bravia is near-perfect., showing that you can get a lot of TV for your $3200.
It's got guts. In a previous Vizio set we reviewed, the value factor was high, but picture quality was at times compromised to our eyes — we suspect because of the signal processing. Would the same thing happen here? No way. While watching over-the-air and cable HD footage, we didn't see any pixelization or motion blur during fast-moving action. Excellent.
The remote control is outstanding. It's really one of the best we've ever seen for a set at this value. While it doesn't have buttons for every input, it does have buttons for each type. Makes things easy for us, since all we have to press is "HDMI" to cycle through all our gear. Also, the remote's backlight is most appreciated. Our only complaint would be the way Visio put the picture-size controls only on the remote, and not in the onscreen menus (we spent an hour looking for them!).
Even the best LCDs have trouble rendering proper blacks, so it didn't surprise us that the Vizio struggled here, too. What did stick out for us, though, was how much the picture adjustments and color-temperature settings helped mitigate the shortcomings of the pixels. Watching True Blood on HBO last weekend, the night scenes were dark enough to do their disturbing work.
If you need to stretch your dollar in your hunt for 1080p, we have no problems recommending the Vizio. Its many convenient features, like the remote control and its four HDMI inputs, are friendly to HDTV vets and rookies alike. The above-average picture sweetens an already tasty deal.
(Vizio reviewed by Peter Pachal)