A Panel of Problems

Why is it so difficult to buy a decent flat panel TV? Yes, I can do down to the likes of Comet or Currys right now and buy one of about 50 panels on display immediately. The problem is I want a good panel. No, I want an excellent panel. Clearly I am just too discerning!

Into the local Comet superstore I go. They have the biggest selection of flat panel TVs I’ve ever seen. I am hovering around the most expensive of those panels and the inevitable salesman spies me in my three piece suit (I’m on a lunch break). The conversation goes something along the lines of:

Salesman: Can I help you at all?
Me: Er, maybe. I’m looking for a 1080p panel.
Salesman: The only one we’ve got is this Hitachi plasma…
Me: Yes, I was looking at that but it isn’t actually 1080p.
Salesman: It’s 1080…
Me: It’s 1080i. Interlaced. I’ve looked into it and it doesn’t support 1080p.
Salesman: Yes, I think you’re right. In that case we don’t have any 1080p TVs yet. You will probably have to try a specialist shop.

A specialist shop?! I’m trying to buy a TV, not an unusual musical instrument or a weapon of mass destruction! I take a quick look around those panels they do have and they are all very last generation, most 1366×768. Clearly 768 vertical lines cannot display the 1080 lines of Full HD without throwing away, what, 312 lines (about 30%). Even the Hitachi panel they showed me was only 1024×1080 rather than 1920×1080 (although Comet has their information on the display wrong, claiming full 1920×1080 when it isn’t).

I wasn’t surprised by this but I was hoping the salesman would know about the upcoming Full HD Sharp panels I’ve been looking at. My investigation of said panels has unexpectedly turned a bit sour, though. These were my great hope. First I was looking at the 42″ panel but it quickly became clear that Sharp don’t make their own 42″ LCD panels and the outsourced variants were significantly inferior to their home grown 46″ and 52″ screens. That was a blow. I did some hasty calculations and 46″ would just about fit. No chance for the 52″. So, that was okay, Sharp here I come. Except… The American version of the panel came out a couple of weeks ago and reports are mixed. If you get a good panel then you will be in for a treat, up there with the best panels you can buy for any price. If you get a bad panel then you will have severe colour banding, poor viewing angles and, possibly, a high pitched buzzing sound. Early estimates have it at about 47% chance of getting a lemon. I don’t like those odds. Sharp’s new 8th generation LCD plant appears to have some teething troubles. The quality control leaves something to be desired. As my only option to buy this set is currently online, I simply won’t be able to see what I’m getting before I pay and sending it back will be a right pain in the panel (it will be no small box and I’d probably have to take the day off just to take delivery). Very disappointing. The European panels might not exhibit the same problems, they are only just appearing now. I nervously await reports from the first buyers of the Sharp LC-46XD1E. I’ve no doubt magazine reviews will be great but they will probably be given hand picked good panels. As ever, time will tell.

There are a couple of alternatives. The previously mentioned Hitachi, though not true Full HD, is nonetheless a great plasma panel by most accounts. So, that’s the 42PD9700. 42″, a little expensive by comparison to the Sharp but it may be they have better QC than Sharp. I’ve also recently discovered that Sony do a new LCD panel that does do Full HD, KDL-40W2000. Being Sony it is more expensive than anyone else, meaning only the 40″ is at a realistic price (and my realistic price is probably a little bit higher than most people’s realistic price for a TV). Smaller than my original idea of a 42″, a heck of a lot smaller than the Sharp 46″ for about the same money. Standard Definition is, apparently, below par (also a problem of the Hitachi, as I have witnessed). Also, I’m no fan of Sony recently, what with the spyware on their CDs, their part in the next-gen DVD wars, their exploding laptop batteries and their poor handling of Star Wars Galaxies. Decisions, decisions.

Perhaps HDTV isn’t there this year after all. Do I really have to wait another year?!

8 Responses to "A Panel of Problems"

  1. Ian Mc says:

    Me? Can’t afford on – plus don’t want to spend my life getting grouhy with the little ones for smearing the screen. My advice…

    1 wait a bit (they’re hideously overpriced and the market is relatively new. wait for the big push once HD STB Boxes are more prevailent (ntl launch theirs fairly soon, Telewest already have. Sky’s is in it’s infancy and not without it’s problems – one of them being that they seriously under-estimated demand prior the the soccer world cup and ran out!).

    2 I am, and have been for a long time, a big fan of Sony…. having bought from them over the years I tend to find you get what you pay for! (Not their mobile phones though, where I’m sadly part of the nokia massive).

    3 What’s wrong with a decent spec CRT tube anyway – you have a whole room devoted to television, it should be the biggest thing in there (and could save on heating). I mourn the loss of my Trinitron 28 inch Widescreen (circa 1998) which it still going strong at my parents house. (Had to give it to them – too big for a small living room and a toddler topple hazard to boot!)

  2. Hobbit says:

    We have gone over this time and time again, Adam. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO FRIGHTEN SALES ASSISTANTS!! How many times do we have to discuss this? Now go and stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done.
    Is there still a little Sony shop in town next to the little Sainsbury’s? You could try there.

  3. Yes, I’m not sure what to do. Part of me is saying wait until new year (which in practice means March/April). Part of me wants one before Christmas. It would be good to see Torchwood in HD (and The Runaway Bride, if it’s going out in HD). We certainly won’t see any BBC programmes on HD DVD or Blu-Ray for a good couple of years or more, so it’s almost a now or (almost!) never. There is hope that Telewest will provide them in VoD HD, I suppose. TV Drive is certainly coming to my TV room as soon as a HD panel (howling mad Murdoch isn’t getting any more money (directly) out of me for a while, I hope!)

    Sony is an option. I did actually pop into the Sony Centre in town yesterday lunchtime. Two salesman and one potential customer (namely me!) It was about 3PM, a rather late lunch, and the town was quiet in general. Had quite a long chat with one of the salesmen. Unlike the Comet staff these chaps do seem to know a little about what they are selling. Unfortunately their price is about £400 more than if I bought online. I could get an unscaling DVD recorder for that (and still have about £100 change). I’m still hoping the Sharp panels come good, though. My PDA is a Sharp, it has a fantastic 640×480 LCD screen (it was far ahead of the competition) and it runs Linux. On the evil scale they rate a lot better than Sony in my book!

    As for CRTs. My current TV was, I think, bought in 1995 (though maybe late 1994 or early 1996). Rapidly approaching 12 years old! It’s a great TV but it isn’t HD (or even a widescreen tube). It’s very bulky for not much screen size. It pulls a lot of power for its screen size. More than anything though, it’s yesterdays technology! Something a little more cinema-like would be great for my TV room and great for wii-ing on. Besides, when the time does come and my CRT fails there aren’t many CRTs left in shops to replace it with. Probably better I can spend a bit of time like this to find ‘the right’ TV now.

    I know, it’s probably not rational, I should wait. Can I though?

  4. Oh, and why aren’t I allowed to frighten sales assistants? That’s where all the fun is! They must really hate customers that know what they are talking about. Makes me wonder why they don’t try to learn a bit more themselves, they can’t like to sqirm like that, can they?!

  5. I must profess, I do enjoy following Purcell-Face around computer stores and the like and watching the faces of the teenage idiots who claim to ‘know what they’re talking about’ slowley crumble like the arctic shelf….a lot of fun….

    hmm..I think theres a series for channel 4 in this….

  6. Lord Summerisle says:

    Lord Macfadyan indeed … when did you get your peerage? It’s the wicker man for you, upstart!

    On the subject of LCDs/Plasmas I’m of the opinion that the public are being forced to move too fast here. Certainly there are some great LCD/Plasma TVs out there (and they cost an arm and a leg) but the bulk of what is in the shops is inferior, cheaply built and shoddy. Apart from the footprint they are inferior to a similarly priced CRT in almost every respect. That situation will change in time but at the moment I feel that shops are dropping CRTs too soon. I took a stroll through Jon Lewis in Reading at lunchtime the other day. They have a good selection of LCD/Plasma and the things that struck me were the remarkable range of picture quality and how price didn’t seem to be much of an indicator of it.

    Adam, you know waiting is the right thing to do. My feelings are similar to yours, I’d love to have a massive 50 to 60 inches (ooo-errr, missus) adorning my wall and dammit, I can afford it. But the feeling is still there in the back of my mind, that if I wait a year or so then I’m going to get much more value for my money.

  7. hantsbear says:

    weapon of mass destruction
    Try Anchor Surplus in Nottingham – they seem to have everything you need for world domination…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.