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Are YOU looking for a Big Screen TV for Home Theater Use?

A Guide to Direct-view TV Systems

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The great news is that Big Screen TV systems have come down in price. Everyone is talking about plasma and LCD TV sets, but what about CRT televisions? Do these still represent a viable option in home entertainment, and how do direct-view TV sets compare with their projection TV counterparts?


Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50" Plasma HDTV

Panasonic TH-50PX60U 50" Plasma HDTV


What's the big deal about direct-view big screen television systems?

Whether it is a big screen CRT, LCD, or plasma, direct-view systems are still relatively expensive in comparison to their projection TV counterpart for the same screen size.

The truth is that if it is just for the big screen TV experience, you can enjoy a 100" picture using a front projection setup at the same price of a comparable 50" plasma TV.

However, direct-view TV systems do carry a number of advantageous over a projection setup.

In this short article, we will try to:

Identify the pros and cons of direct-view versus projection TV. However, first we will try to define a few terms associated with video display systems.

Discuss the main direct-view technologies - conventional CRT displays, LCD panels, and the latest plasma display screens.

Present a step-by-step guide to selecting your direct-view big screen TV. 

We are dealing with relatively expensive systems - resenting a big screen TV purchase would be truly unfortunate.

We therefore hope that the information contained in this guide will lead you through the process and help you make a more informed buy you feel confident about. 

Article continues after this advertisement.

A Few Definitions: Big Screen TV, Direct-view Displays, and Projection Systems

What qualifies as BIG Screen TV?

There are no strict and fast rules here; typically, any video display device with a diagonal screen size of 34 inches or more, is normally considered to form part of the so-called big screen TV category. Some stores tend to list smaller TV sets as well - namely any TV within the 27" to the 34" screen size - as part of the 'big screen' category.

This is however debatable in that it all depends on what you are after. Here we are dealing with Home Theater. A big screen television is a most crucial element for a great home cinema experience. In our opinion, even a 34-inch screen may turn out to be a bit too small a size for a truly immersion movie experience, least image a smaller screen size.

Big screen TVs fall within two main display categories:

Direct-view video displays: These are video displays in which the light produced by a display device is viewed directly without first bouncing off a screen. CRT, LCD, and plasma televisions are direct video displays. 

Direct view displays are best suited for brightly lit environments in that these have the greatest light output as compared to projection displays. 

Projection display systems: Unlike their direct-view counterparts, a projection display setup relies on the projection of an image onto a screen for viewing purposes. Front and rear projection systems fall within this category of video displays; the main difference between these two processes is that front projection utilizes a reflective screen surface while rear projection makes use of a transmissive screen surface. 

Projection displays work best in a dimly lit environment. In particular, a front projection setup requires a darkened room - similar to a movie theater - for the best results.

Direct-view Big Screen TV systems - Pros & Cons 

Since the first days of television, conventional direct-view cathode ray tube (CRT) devices have been used almost exclusively to display a video image. The technology is proven and there is a large base of satisfied customers. It is estimated that over 85% of all TVs in the world are tube televisions, while analysts predict that CRT TV sets would still account for some 70% of all TVs by end 2008.

Up to a few years ago, the CRT was the only display technology you could choose for your TV. In reality, you had no choice. You had hundreds of models of TVs on the store shelves, but... inside they were more or less the same - a cathode ray tube as your TV display device.

This is no longer the case. LCD technology used extensively in laptop screens, is readily available on stores shelves in screen sizes up to 50 inches and above, with the largest commercial available LCD TV set being the  Sharp LC-65D90U 65" LCD HDTV.

At the same time, at the larger end of the spectrum, plasma technology is allowing for really big screen TV sets - the latest prototypes boost a screen size of over 100 inches diagonal at just 4 inches deep. In contrast, a 36-inch CRT TV is typically 24-inches in depth though lately, we have seen some super slim tube sets from Samsung that are typically 30% slimmer than conventional CRT TVs. (For more info on the Samsung SlimFit series of CRT HDTV sets click here.)

These new emerging flat-panel display technologies are extremely thin - at under 4-inches deep, meaning that these big screen TV systems can literally be hang on a wall - just like a picture!

The availability of new direct-view display technologies implies that now you have the possibility to choose the most suitable technology for your requirements. 

This is however subject to your available budget - Plasma and LCD display technologies do not come cheap, meaning that depending on your requirements, a projection TV set-up may at times provide a more appropriate and cheaper alternative that is also surely worth considering. 

Video Display Technologies - Main Characteristics:

The summary list detailed below points out the main characteristics associated with the various display technologies. Its main purpose is to serve as a guide to help you determine which of these direct-view video display technologies is most suitable for your requirement.

We are also listing the main characteristics associated with video projection technologies. This should help you better identify the pros and cons of direct view displays versus alternative technology. 

Note: What follows is more of a checklist - but it should be enough to help understand where the respective video display technology fits best when it comes to choosing your big screen TV. Once you identify the right video technology for your needs, we recommend that you would follow through the respective technology guides available on our for a better understanding of the pros, cons, and usage; links are given at the end of this article.

Direct-view Technology

Cathode Ray Tube (CRT): (standard, HDTV)  27" to 36"

  • Relatively inexpensive up to around 32-inch - especially standard definition models. Price starts to shoot upwards as you approach the 34-inch screen size.

  • Proven technology: Expected half-lifetime: 20,000hrs 

  • Picture quality is among the best you can get from a direct view device. In reality, not even the latest plasmas can rival conventional cathode ray tube displays for black depth and contrast, while nothing beats a high-resolution flat-screen CRT display tube for picture clarity.

  • Bright crisp pictures - can be viewed in bright ambient light conditions.

  • CRT big screen TV systems are bulky and very heavy though the latest super slim CRT TVs would take almost the same depth as an equivalent screen size LCD TV placed on a table stand.

LCD Display Panels: (HD-ready, HDTV) 10" to 65"

  • Clear bright high resolution pictures

  • Display panel is only a few inches thick

  • LCD displays tend to exhibit a color shift as the viewing angle changes though new developments are addressing this problem.

  • LCD response time and image lag may be an issue with some models.

  • Typical expected half-life time: 50,000 to 60,000 hours.

  • Most expensive of all direct view big screen TV technologies especially as you cross the 50-inch screen size.

Plasma screens: (HD-ready, HDTV)  37" to 65"

  • Clear bright high resolution pictures with very deep blacks

  • Display panel is only a few inches thick

  • Support a viewing angle of up to 175 degrees with no color shift - similar to a CRT.

  • Reliable technology with an expected half-lifetime of around 50,000hrs.

  • At the smaller end of the scale - 37" to 42", plasma displays support a lower resolution than an equivalent screen size LCD screen.

  • More expensive than similar size rear projection TVs but cheaper than LCDs especially at the larger screen sizes.


It is relatively easy to determine if in effect, CRT is really the best display option for your needs. Things are not that straight forward when it comes to choosing between plasma and LCD.  For a detailed comparative analysis between Plasma and LCD TV display technologies, we suggest that you follow through our article here:

Plasma vs. LCD TV - A Comparative Guide


Projection Display Technology

Rear Projection: (standard, HD-ready, HDTV) 42" to 73"

  • Good picture quality

  • Easy set-up offering an immediate solution to getting a bigger TV

  • Relatively bulky and heavy

  • Affordable - much cheaper than direct-view systems for the same screen size.

  • Relatively expensive replacement projector lamps costing a few hundred dollars every 3000 to 4000 hours of use.

  • May exhibit degradation in picture quality with a change in the viewing angle.

Front Projection:  (Standard and High Definition) Theoretically up to & greater than 150"

  • Very good picture quality but highly dependent on type of projection screen.

  • Projector is small and lightweight.

  • Affordable - offer the best dollar to image size ratio.

  • Relatively expensive replacement projector lamps costing a few hundred dollars every 3000 to 4000 hours of use.

  • Best when viewed in total darkness

  • Front projection is the closest you can get to the movie theater magic.



Detailed Information and System reviews

As already stated, the video display characteristics checklist detailed above should put you in a better position to determine which of the different display technologies is most suited for your big screen TV needs.

If you think that direct-view is not an option, we suggest that you take a look at our Projection TV section; there you will find a series of guidelines and product reviews covering both front and rear projection TV systems.

If Direct-View represents a solution to your big screen TV requirement, we recommend that you visit the links listed below for additional information on the respective display technology. 

Included in the list of links below, you will also find a Big Screen TV Buying Guide, that highlights the features to look for when planning a big screen TV purchase, and an Online Buyer's Guide; the latter should lead you towards a more educated online buying experience should you opt to purchase your direct-view big screen TV online.

  • Big Screen TV Buying Guide: A step-by-step guide to help you identify the features to look for when choosing your big screen direct-view TV.

  • 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.

  • For the full range of Big Screen TV sets at amazon, click here: Big Screen Televisions





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

8th October 2006

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