I See Dead Pixels: Buying a TV Part 1

The world of choosing a television has become exciting for some, and incredibly frustrating for many. There are so many new choices. Even the shape of the screen has changed, for Pete’s sake! It’s enough to make you run screaming out into the parking lot, with a salesman in Hot Pursuit!

All broadcast TV is now totally digital. The change was made partly to make room for more channels in the same amount of bandwidth, and partly because some folks thought the old system just wasn’t good enough anymore. TV stations have stopped broadcasting analog signals. If you get your programming off the air instead of by Cable or Satellite, your old TV will need a converter box to turn those digital signals into analog. Cable viewers will need the set-top box that’s sometimes optional today, and satellite viewers will see little or no change, because the satellite receiver already converts the incoming digital signal.

Let’s talk for a minute about screen shape and size. Traditional TVs had an “Aspect Ratio” (Ratio of picture width to height) of 4:3. This means that if the picture was 4 inches wide, it would be 3 inches high, and the proportions are the same no matter the actual size. TVs now have a 16:9 aspect ratio. This gives a panorama appearance. The screen is much wider in proportion than the old screens. Most DVD Movies are already produced in wide screen format, and TV shows have adopted this as well. If you love watching movies, you’ll love the wide screen. Wide screen movies on a standard TV are “letterboxed”; they have a black band on the top and bottom of the screen so that the remaining image area is wide screen. The net effect is as if your TV screen has shrunk by about 30%. Of course, if you watch an old TV show or movie on a wide screen TV, you’ll have those bands on the sides, instead. Either way, it amounts to a shrinkage of screen area, so you may want to go one size bigger when buying a new TV.

People used to dream of TVs that could be hung on the wall like a painting. If you’ve been in the stores lately, you’ve seen that fantasy has suddenly become reality. Liquid-Crystal (LCD) and Plasma TVs are both flat enough to be suitable for that sort of mount.

Next Time: The Gory Details on LED, LCD, etc.

This post has been adapted from my new book, “Deciphering the 21st Century,” Available now! Click here to read all about it.

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