New-look TVs fail the screen test

hamba

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New-look TVs fail the screen test

For some, they are the latest 'must-have' living room accessory, but are flat screen sets all they are cracked up to be?


Why would anyone spend more than £1,000 on a television that offers a worse picture than the one it replaces, one that will not improve significantly for five years, and is prohibitively expensive to fix if things go wrong? These are the questions that consumers should ask themselves before they splash out on flat screen LCD and plasma televisions - if they want to avoid disappointment.

This week a researcher at Which? and a senior academic have both confirmed that many flat screens are simply not up to the job, particularly the more popular models that cost less than £1,000.

Over the past 12 months, LCD and plasma TVs have become a must-have purchase, to the extent that their sales have single-handedly restored the fortunes of several big-name retailers. Despite this, few retailers we contacted this week wanted to discuss the issue of poor picture quality.

Certainly, it is easy to be wowed by the super-thin TVs in any electrical store, as they look great. However, look a little closer and you will notice that the picture on the screen in the showroom is from a DVD player. The stores rarely show broadcast TV - which is what most of us watch on a daily basis - for the simple reason that it can look terrible.

Buyers have complained that colours look washed out, shadows appear, and in many cases the screens are unable to "keep up" with fast-moving sports action. Some who have returned their TVs to the store have been told "that's the way they are".

"We've been warning members that they're better off with their old-style CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs for some time now," says Michael Briggs, one of the Which? expert TV testers. "The new technology simply isn't compatible with the old analogue signal that most of us still watch." He says that while the old sets were designed with the signal in mind, flat screens are far more sophisticated and use software to process the signal and project it on to the screen.

"The results can be very disappointing for those who have spent thousands of pounds. For this reason, we tell people to stick with their old CRT TV. They will enjoy a much better picture quality. Films from DVDs play better, but are still not without their problems. And when they go wrong you need an electrical engineer to fix them. Put it this way, I haven't bought one," he says.

Ronnier Luo, professor of colour and imaging science at the University of Leeds and the owner of a Sony flat screen, says the problem has been caused by manufacturers who rush out cheaper models that are not of sufficient quality. "Until now there hasn't been any international standards for these TVs. The problem is that the makers don't put their name on them, and as a result the quality has suffered. Too many in the shops today are of a very poor quality. However, the technology is improving fast, and they are getting much better all the time. The future development of new ISO standards should improve things," he says.

Jake Day-Williams, editor of the gadget magazine What Video and Widescreen TV, says it is unfair to judge flat screens by watching programmes transmitted via analogue.

"The latest TVs are all designed with high definition (HD) services in mind. Watching something that comes down the aerial on your roof will never show them off at their best. It's like buying a sports car and putting thin, shoddy tyres on it. It won't function as it should. HD services are still ludicrously expensive. There are still relatively few programmes that are being recorded in the format. Sky does some of its football coverage in HD, and the BBC is starting to as well. When you seen a programme like Planet Earth on an old TV, it's pretty good, but on an HD-ready flat screen with an HD broadcast, it's amazing."

But the fundamental problem with HD is that it will not replace analogue until at least 2012. Until then, buyers will have to plod along on shoddy tyres.

John Lewis, which stopped selling conventional TVs at the beginning of 2006, says consumers are switching to the latest sets because they are more "living room friendly."

"Our customers see the switch to flat panel from the old-style CRT television as a tremendous improvement, which has led to this significant growth in our sales," says a spokesman. TV sales at its stores are up 50% since it dropped CRT TVs.

"All the large screen flat panel televisions we sell are HD-ready, which means that customers buying these are 'future-proofed' for when they want to enjoy the full benefit of HD television."

Hamish Thompson, spokesman for electrical giant Currys and owner of a Samsung flat TV, expressed surprise that consumers are unhappy. "Our research shows satisfaction levels as being very high. You have to remember that these TVs are more like a PC than the old TV and come with a range of settings that are adjustable. Most of our stores sell more than 100 different models. Which picture is best? Mostly it comes down to individual taste."

Should you buy one?

Flat screens are advertised heavily on the basis that they are all HD (high definition) ready. But the reality is that HD TV is at least five years away for the vast majority of us.

The only way to get HD TV now is to pay around £75 a month to Sky or the recently rebranded cable TV firm Virgin Media. To access it, you need an HD digital box (Sky's costs £299 if taken with a subscription). There are now just 350,000 UK consumers using it, and even they get only a proportion of programmes in the format.

The rest of us - those with a Freeview box - will have to wait until 2012 to get HD TV, and that assumes that many of the arguments raging between broadcasters and the regulator, Ofcom, are resolved quickly. The price of flat screens may have come down in recent months, but according to Michael Briggs of Which? and Leeds University's Prof Ronnier Luo, few screens costing less than £1,000 are worth buying.

"We test them in a variety of ways, watching all types of TV and films, and our research has found screens costing less are usually disappointing," says Mr Briggs.

He reckons just two brands are worth buying - Sony and Panasonic. He also warns that different models from the same manufacturer can vary enormously.

Another problem that users are reporting is the exorbitant cost of repairs. Warranty supplier Domestic and General says that while they do not appear to go wrong any more often than conventional TVs, the repair bills are significantly higher.

"If the flat panel goes, it is generally cheaper to buy a new one. Repairs across the country for a serious but not fatal fault vary between £400 and £600, while even minor faults cost £100-£180. The fact that they usually have to go back to the workshop, and require two people to carry them, only adds to the cost of repairs," says a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, you can buy some great conventional TVs second-hand. A quick trawl on eBay this week showed one-year-old TVs with Freeview (that probably cost more than £600 new) were selling for just £50-£100.

Why I hate mine ...

My £900 32-inch Samsung TV certainly looks good, writes chief business reporter David Teather. The only problem - and arguably a large one - is that the picture can be pretty awful.

When no one is moving on screen, the quality is great. During action sequences things start getting a bit more wobbly. Tennis balls can have a streak following them like a comic book swoosh.

Even if people walk too fast, their faces look like dough being kneaded - the image is constantly overlaid by where they were a fraction of a second ago. Quality varies. The main channels are best. American shows are worst. I've had to break it off with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I sent the set back, assuming there must be something wrong. It came back the same as ever. A second engineer confirmed my suspicions. There was nothing wrong with the set, he said, confiding that LCD TVs were never as good as an old-fashioned telly.

Why I love mine

We are not a family of TV junkies, writes City editor Julia Finch. Viewing is generally news, sport, The Simpsons and US dramas like West Wing and The Shield - and the decision to buy a flat panel TV was taken as much because they look smart and I resented the space taken up by the old, big telly as the prospect of particularly vibrant viewing.

We chose a wall-mounted Panasonic 37-inch plasma monitor and a Bose home entertainment system, which provided the television innards and replaced our DVD and CD/audio system. Total cost about £2,300.

We have had no real glitches or complaints (apart from the £450 for a wall bracket and another couple of hundred quid for leads). But the sound and picture are superb. I can't detect any of the shadows that are said to follow fast-moving soccer players on plasma screens - and that's without HD.

It's like sitting in the cinema - minus the smell of popcorn.







Miles Brignall
Saturday February 17, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
 

Dazmeister

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I agree a lot of people are duped into buying these big screen tvs more for the aesthetics than anything else.
Might look great hung up on the wall and the fact they are a lot slimmer than the old CRT was a selling factor. People just didn't look further than that its sad to say...
How many times have you been into the big stores to find the screens being fed with hi def DVD's. Looks great until you get it home and start watching your normal Eastenders etc. bad example I know but you get the picture (boom boom!!) lol
 

parker13

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Got to agree, nothing beats a good quality crt tv, and high definition won`t make that much difference to us either, it will in say America where there tv system is very poor, they use ntsc format, some have said it stands for no colour shown twice, it`s awfull, but will improve massively with high definition.
 

pinkhelmets

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.....nothing beats a good quality crt tv
How will you ever get the feel of being in a cinema with a crt? Its not just sound that gives the cinema effect. I totally disagree that nothing beats crt, its space consuming, old fashioned, far too limited, no place in the future of tv, and in no way comparable with large screen displays.

.....and high definition won`t make that much difference to us either....
That is just something that comes from a die-hard crt owner, no offence intended. Its like saying the DVD format wont sell, i'm sticking with video and will never upgrade to dvd.
HD is already here, its already making a difference and as HD-DVD and Blu-ray become the normal for discs, and media centres or home-hubs or gaming machines continue to gain popularity, then SD will become unknown - just like the old 4 button tube tellys that could only ever receive 4 channels maximum.

I agree that consumers are conned and dont understand much, but anyone in denial of HiDef just remain in the dark.
 

parker13

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"How will you ever get the feel of being in a cinema with a crt? Its not just sound that gives the cinema effect. I totally disagree that nothing beats crt, its space consuming, old fashioned, far too limited, no place in the future of tv, and in no way comparable with large screen displays"


I`m talking about picture quality, and yes, no Lcd, plasma rear projection can compare with the picture quality of a good crt, that is simply a fact.
 

Dazmeister

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I`m talking about picture quality, and yes, no Lcd, plasma rear projection can compare with the picture quality of a good crt, that is simply a fact.
Ooh I dunno, plasma is catching up, I am very pleased with the pq with my Panasonic albeit it is connected to a scaler so cheating a little.

Cant wait for SED
 

ice2004

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I`m talking about picture quality, and yes, no Lcd, plasma rear projection can compare with the picture quality of a good crt, that is simply a fact.

Dont know where that fact came from because i have a Sony CRT TV and a new 40" HD Sony Bravia with HD box from NTL. I can safely say the picture and colour is much better on the new Sony LCD TV than on the CRT sony.

HD picture quality is by far and i mean by far better than normal picture. It so much clearer and some of the clips on BBC HD channel are amazing especially wildlife ones.
 

fes_786

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HD picture quality is by far and i mean by far better than normal picture. It so much clearer and some of the clips on BBC HD channel are amazing especially wildlife ones.

agree with u there m8

i recently splashed out £1500 on a 42" hd plasma tv and 5.1 surround sound kit

i got it mainly for the x360 but i got to say the picture quality compared to my old was a huge difference

gears of war on my old tv looked like a normal tweeked up xbox game but on the hd tv it looked like a movie

its brilliant

and bbc hd with the wildlife is wicked

the picture quality and how sharp and colour depth the pictures got is amazing!

hd is the way forward
 

biffo1

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thanks for the interesting read hamba
regards Biffo
 

Dingodog

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Very good reading and I agree, how many peeps who bought LCD or Plasma HD TV's where told they would have to pay for HD TV, and have to buy a new DVD player, and have to get a new camcorder to fully benefit from the HD TV too and unless ur mega rich to be able to afford a good quality system, cos most of them Ive seen for less than a grand aint up to it.
 

Munkey

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I've just bought a new TV. I didnt want to buy a CRT as I felt they were too big and bulky compared to the newer LCD's and Plasma's. After weeks of looking I couldnt make up my mind as I couldn't get a great standard def picture on any LCD or Plasma. All this HD ready stuff is pure hype unless you can feed your new tv with a HD signal.

So if anyones in the market for a new tv my advice would be

NTL or dbox as main source or Sky+ - Go for a P series Sharp LCD as the resolution is 960x540. It is NOT HD Ready as it doesnt do 1376x768 or 1920x1080. Because its natural resolution is close to the actual signal it is receiving it doesnt have to do much up scaling therefore rsulting in a very good SD picture that is optimised for a PAL broadcast. The P series are however HD compatible which means they can upscale any image pretty well. Plasmas are also very good at SD pictures as there resolution is likely to be 1024x768.

Sky HD - Too expensive and too few channels for my liking but most new plasmas and lcds look great with this as the feed. Remember though that the brodcast resolution is 1080i and not 1080p so you are still not using your screen to its full potential as well as the fact that is is down scaling the picture.

Xbox 360 or PS3. Both can do the 1080p resolution but your tv must support 1080p through VGA for 360 and Very few tvs do this. You may buy a tv thinking its 1080p but the chances of it inputing 1080p over VGA are low. Therefore the image will be upscaled thus not giving you the tru resolution. Also your tv must support 1:1 pixel mapping where one pixel in the game is one pixel on your screen. Again very few 1080p tvs do this. PS3 has a HDMI out so your chances of 1080p are much better than 360 but the chances of 1:1 pixel mapping are 50/50 or worse

DVD non progressive scan, this will look poor on your new LCD screen and much better on a CRT. Plasmas perform well here

DVD progressive scan, will look great on a 1376x768 LCD screen but will have to upscale therefore reducing quality on a 1080i/1080p LCD screen. Most plasma's look great.

HD DVD or Blu ray look great on any new HD Ready LCd or Plasma and make your CRT look even better :)

HTPC, Great for all screens especially LCD's and Plasma's as you can contol the output resolution. The DVI-HDMI is also great and you get very little loss of quality. Your HTPC needs to pack a punch to display 1080p though. As a minimum spec I would say pentium D840 or AMD 4800+

I'm a gadget freak whi always buys the latest things but my TV choice was a bit dissapointing for most as |I bought a non HD ready TV. People - HD Ready is just a buzz word. Its the picture in front of your eyes that counts and not the sales brochure. I've managed to get a Sharp 37" LCD for £500 that cost £1700 8 months ago.

If anyone thinks its a stupid buy I'll glady show some shots of how great the image looks compared to my Panasonic HD LCD.

If money is no object buy the £5k Pioneer plasma, trust me you wont be dissapointed by the picture on any source.

and try not to buy a mickey no name tv as these things are very unreliable comapred to the trusty CRT :)
 

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I don't know LCD's just don't have the black levels that CRT's have. Plasmas are a bit closer to CRT quality pictures on SD sources. But there are known issues like screen burn (just think of all the channel logos on screen) and some of the supposedly top of the rang brands like Panasonic and Pioneer have issues like purple snakes, banding in the case of Panasoics and buzzing/Dirty screen issues with regards the Pioneers. I will probably buy a HD set soon and will probably go with Plasma, but I understand that SD will look crapier on them.

Romero ;)
 

shaun127

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I don't know LCD's just don't have the black levels that CRT's have. Plasmas are a bit closer to CRT quality pictures on SD sources. But there are known issues like screen burn (just think of all the channel logos on screen) and some of the supposedly top of the rang brands like Panasonic and Pioneer have issues like purple snakes, banding in the case of Panasoics and buzzing/Dirty screen issues with regards the Pioneers. I will probably buy a HD set soon and will probably go with Plasma, but I understand that SD will look crapier on them.

Romero ;)

Had the worrys again as you re snakes and dirty screen, but snakes now have a fix and dirty/buzzing screen is luck of the draw, mine is clean, no problems with it. pioneer are aware of the problem and are working on it, depends ware you buy them from whether you get any satisfaction with exchanges /refunds re problems. if you are after the panny 7 series have a look in bargain section, good price for one in there
 
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