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Buying a Direct-view Big Screen TV?
Our Television buying guide can help you choose wisely.

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A 'Direct-view' Television Buying Guide to help you discover the features to look for when searching for a new big screen TV for your Home Theater.


Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50" Plasma HDTV

Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50" Plasma HDTV


BIG Screen Television - An essential element in any Home Theater setup

Your big screen TV is crucial to a great home theater cinematic experience. Whether it is a direct-view TV or a projection television, big screen TV systems do not come cheap.

It is true that prices have come down considerably, but these are still relatively expensive beasts. You simply cannot afford to make the wrong choice. Regretting your big screen purchase is surely not an option. 

The info contained in this television buying guide should help you avoid costly mistakes when opting for a direct view TV solution.

Great care should be taken in your search, and ultimately your choice of a big screen TV in order to ensure that you get the features and functionalities you want. 

However, the issue here is not just limited to a set of features and functionalities. Complete integration of your big screen television with the rest of your home theater setup is also essential for a truly immersive cinematic experience. 

This Direct-View Television Buying Guide identifies the basic issues one has to consider when searching for a new direct view big screen television set. This buying guide is not some sort of systems reviews - rather it presents a set of guidelines to assist you in your selection of a most suitable direct view TV system that may best suit your needs. 


Direct-View Television Buying Guide

While some of the issues that we will be discussing in this Television Buying Guide are independent of the display technology, and therefore apply to both direct view and projection TV systems, yet others are specific to the type of display technology itself. 

For completeness shake, we will be dealing with all the relevant issues to present a complete Television Buying Guide covering direct-view systems. Hence, those who have already gone through our Projection TV Buying Guide would soon realize that some of the issues raised in this Direct-View Guide, apply to both.

Points to Consider:

TV Image Size: 

You have to keep both the size of your room in mind and the number of people watching at the same time.  

Having a life size display is impressive and contributes to get more immersed into the movie action, but if you end up sitting too close to your big-screen TV, you will be able to see the flaws in the picture; this can be extremely distracting. At the same time, sit too far away, and the impact will be lost. 

Choosing the right size in particular is extremely important with a fixed screen size display system - as is the case with all direct-view and rear projection television. 

As a rule of thumb, the TV viewing distance between you and your big screen TV should be twice to three times the screen width, while the furthest distance being no more than five times this size. This however depends on whether you are watch standard or HDTV.

This rule does not represent the ideal viewing distance but rather the range within which your TV viewing will be out of the trouble zone. More specifically, the TV screen size for home theater use should ideally occupy a minimum of a 30 degrees field of view for the audience.

It is not the scope of this Television Buying Guide to delve further into the issue of view distance; for those who would like to know more, we suggest that you visit our TV Viewing Distance guide under the Home Theater Design section of the site.

As to the number of people, no fast rules here but it is important that your audience will be comfortably seated and without any obstructions within the field of view. In particular, make sure that the lower part of the video display will be visible from all seats. 

This also means that care should also be taken with respect to the placement of the video display. In home theaters with only one or two rows, the lower part of your video display should be positioned approximately 36" above the floor. Indirectly, this will be limiting your maximum display size, as these 36" have to be deducted from the available room height. 

Based on the above, a typical 50-inch plasma or LCD TV should easily accommodate a group of six persons at an average viewing distance of 10ft to 16ft. 

Strictly speaking, here we are again shifting to realm of home theater design. It is being mentioned in this Television Buying Guide to raise your awareness re. the need to choose the correct display size when buying a big screen TV.  For full details on home theater design and room layout, please visit our Home Theater Design section.  

Picture Quality

This is different from 'picture resolution'. Resolution defines the detail level while image quality is a mix of contrast, color, brightness and image illumination; the latter two are not so much of an issue with direct-view systems since in general, CRT, LCD and Plasma TV sets are all capable of displaying bright clear images. More important picture quality attributes when it comes to direct-view systems are, contrast level and color dept. 

Contrast: Contrast is the degree of difference between the lightest and darkest areas displayed on a video screen. The Contrast Ratio is a method of measuring the dynamic range from dark to light, or black to white - the higher the ratio, the wider the range. 

The ability to display colors requires a contrast ratio in the region of 200:1 or greater for a correct perception of color depth and saturation. As a reference, transparency films (i.e. 35mm slides) often handle contrast ratios in excess of 500:1. Passive LCD Color Monitors are rated at less than 100:1 while present day TFT Active-Matrix LCD display panels support much higher contrast ratios. 

As the ratio increases, color depth increases. Flat panel LCD and plasma displays for home theater use would normally support a contrast ratio of 1000:1 to 3000:1, with plasma exhibiting higher contrasts.

Unfortunately, contrast ratio figures are turning out to be another number game for the display manufacturing industry, with some manufactures quoting figures as high as 10,000:1 for their plasma TV sets. But what does these extremely high contrast ratio ratings imply in real life? More on contrast ratio ratings can be found in our article here: Contrast Ratio

Viewing angle: Associated with a change - or rather degradation in the perceived contrast ratio, is an increase in the viewing angle. Typical flat screen CRT and plasma displays support a relatively wide angle of view - 165 to 175 degrees. 

This is not necessarily the case with LCD panels; most LCD displays tend to suffer extensive degradation in picture quality as a result of the color shift and decrease in contrast, with a change in the viewing angle. 

New developments in LCD technology are helping to address this problem. For example, the new Sony KDL-46S2010 46" Bravia S-Series LCD HDTV follows on the footsteps of its predecessor to deliver vivid and accurate colors even at ultra wide viewing angles, thanks to the use of S-PVA display technology.

Color: Up to recent past, CRT was the only technology that could really deliver accurate colors. This is no longer the case. The latest developments in LCD backlighting techniques, and new phosphors in plasma displays, means that the rendering of accurate colors is becoming more and more, a non-issue.

Display Resolution:

With CRT displays, this is more a question of the video bandwidth that determines the supported picture detail as here we are dealing with analog signals. 

In the case of LCD and plasma displays however, display resolution is determined by the number of pixels on the display itself. The higher the resolution, the less visible will be each pixel - in particular as the display size increases. Wide-screen Plasma and LCD panels supporting HDTV resolution (16:9 format) would require:

  • 720p   - 1280x720 pixels progressive

  • 1080p - 1920x1080 pixels progressive

Note here that while in the case of CRTs, it is natural to move from 720p to 1080i, yet flat-panel LCD and plasma displays are inherently progressive, and therefore, moving from 720p to 1080i is not really an option for LCD and plasma display manufacturers.

With direct view display systems, there is also the issue of Dot Pitch - a measurement that indicates the diagonal distance between like-colored picture elements or dots on a display screen. It is a sort of measure of the smallest physical visual component on the display.

Measured in millimeters, the dot pitch is one of the principal characteristics that determine the quality of display monitors - the lower the number, the crisper the image.

In the case of a tube based CRT display with a shadow mask, the dot pitch is the distance between the holes in the shadow mask.

The shadow mask is a perforated metal sheet filled with tiny holes through which the three electron beams pass before reaching the color phosphor dots on the screen.  Its main purpose is to ensure that the electron beam hits only the correctly colored phosphor dot and does not illuminate more than one dot at a time. In principle, it 'masks' the electron beam, thereby forming a smaller and more rounded point that can hit individual phosphor dots. Through the process, the mask absorbs those electrons that are directed at the wrong color phosphor as a result of which, it heats up causing the metal sheet to expand and deform slightly.

Hence, using metals with a low coefficient of expansion is essential to minimize possible image distortions on the screen as a result of shadow mask expansion. This is even more important when it comes to flat-screen CRTs. For this reason, the metal mostly used for shadow masks is INVAR, an alloy of iron and nickel with an extremely low coefficient of expansion.

An alternative to the shadow mask, which is less prone to distortion, is the aperture grille. This makes use of a slotted form of mask that was first included in the Trinitron series of Sony CRT TVs, first developed in 1968.

Other Key Factors:

This section of our Television Buying Guide covers a number of additional key factors, which have to be factored in when planning a big screen TV purchase. 

Aspect ratios: A serious issue when purchasing a fixed-size display system is aspect ratio management. This is the trickiest of it all.

Standard definition CRT TVs normally come only in 4:3 while CRT HDTVs are mostly available in widescreen format. LCD is available in both 4:3 and 16:9, while plasma big screen TV displays are normally available in the 16:9 widescreen format. Once you choose your format however, then you have to live with it. So once again, you have to choose wisely!

The 4:3 (1.33) or 16:9 (1.78) - referred to as aspect ratio - is the ratio of the screen width with respect to the height of the image. All standard non-HDTV material is in the 4:3 format while most modern films come in one of the many widescreen formats - the most common being the 2.35, which in itself is not compatible with any of the fixed aspect ratio TV systems.

There are various ways to deal with this - including:

  • Image stretching to fill the available screen.

  • Use of black or gray bars on top and bottom of a standard definition screen to show the movie in its correct aspect ratio as originally filmed, but then the effective film display area will be smaller.

  • Pan and scan editing where only the most important portion of each frame is shown with the rest being discarded.

Image stretching and horizontal bars can be extremely irritating while in the 'pan and scan' you are giving up film information to have a full screen view. Worst of all, prolonged use of horizontal bars - especially black bars - leads to burn-in in the case of CRT and Plasma displays.

The incompatibility between screen formats render the decision on aspect ratio a rather complicated issue whenever you are faced with such a choice. It may also imply that you have to re-think on the best display technology to adopt for your big screen TV solution. Here no one can help you in your decision, and though the trend is to move towards the wide-screen format as high definition content becomes more readily available, yet it is simply a matter of preference. The best way to decide is to determine what video material you will be viewing most.

Floor-space:  This concerns mainly CRT displays. LCD and Plasma display panels are extremely compact with only a few inches in dept. 

With CRT TVs, it is all a different story in that these are bulky and heavy. Ensure that you have all the necessary space to accommodate your TV and that a suitable table is used that can take the full load of your television set.

Video: Video standards include NTSC, SECAM, PAL, S-Video and DVI. Ensure that your big screen TV supports the video standard you require, and that preferable, it will interface with your video source without any additional 'boxes'.

Input panel: It is important to think about what you will be attaching to your big screen Television. A well-labeled input panel can help cut down setup time, while the availability of a number of AV inputs on the front of your TV would come in handy when connecting say a video camera or a game console.

Build-in speakers: Do NOT rely on the internal speakers of your big screen TV as a substitute for the center channel of your home theater receiver. Ideally, all your sound within your home theater should be coming from the same home theater receiver.

Price: Do NOT associate performance with price! Price can never serve as some form of performance indicator. In other words, price has NO bearing on system performance. Never choose your product simply because it is more expensive. Instead, try to follow the recommendations listed in this Television Buying Guide and associated articles on our site for a more educated and informed buy.  

Warranty: This Television Buying Guide would not be complete without mentioning product warranty. It makes most economical sense to purchase a big screen TV with the longest manufacturer's warranty! Some major stores offer what are known as 'extra-cost' services and maintenance contracts.  Whether you need this or not depends on actually what is being offered. 

Stores often make more money selling these extra services rather than the product itself as customers hardly make use of the added warranties. Most often, a good manufacturer's warranty should suffice.


The information contained in this Direct-view Television Buying Guide should be seen in the light of additional information available on our site in which we discuss the different direct-view display technologies. For detailed information, please check out the follow section links:

  • Direct-view Big Screen TV systems
    Choosing your direct-view big screen television technology - covering the pros and cons of CRT, flat panel LCD TV, and the latest high definition plasma televisions.

  • CRT TV Guide:
    The latest low prices on flat-panel TVs seem to imply that the CRT TV days are over. However, is it really so? CRT still offers unsurpassed picture quality, and the new slim type tubes offer even more…

  • The Complete LCD TV Guide:
    LCD HDTVs are turning out sharper, bigger, better, and cheaper. Discover all you need to know about LCD TV sets in this series of articles on LCD televisions.

  • Plasma Television ...the primary choice in home entertainment
    Complete Guide to Plasma Television: Discover the basic operational principles, find out the pros and cons of plasma vs LCD TV, and identify the features to look for when making a plasma TV purchase.

  • An Online Buyer's Guide:
    Shopping online is a way to save big money on your plasma, LCD HDTV, or in that case, anything you can think of. But is it safe and secure? Discover how you can manage the risks while still enjoying big savings when buying your gear online.




More on Direct View TVs
will follow soon.
Last updated on:

8th October 2006

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A Quick Guide to

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A complete e-Book on how to research, design and build your own Home Theater.

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by Duncan McClelland

More information HERE.










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