Grandpa Webb's blog

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Do you need a new TV?

Find out more about Grandpa WebbWhile grandma and I are willing to make allowances for the permanent vertical blue line that afflicts our TV picture (see the thin blue line) the family were beginning to get a bit fed up with it. “Have you still got that old TV?” they ask when they visit (it’s six years old). If we don’t do something soon, we’ll begin to look like second-class parents.

The situation hasn’t been helped by our daughter getting a new top-of-the range smart TV with voice control. Actually the voice control has now been switched off. The new set comes from South Korea, and I think its command of English is a bit patchy. If you say a sentence ending with ‘off’ it’s apt to switch itself off, even though you were talking to somebody else at the time (usually the dog).

Anyway, we need a new TV. This won’t be easy, and I blame the internet. My existing TV receives its pictures from an aerial on the roof. The new breed of so-called ‘smart’ TVs acquire their pictures from the internet as well as from an aerial, a cable or satellite dish.

What sort of TV do you want?So do we want an old-style ‘dumb’ TV - a television pure and simple - or do we want a ‘smart’ (and more expensive) TV that offers access to catch-up programmes such as BBC iPlayer, and social networking sites like Facebook, and lots more?

My daughter’s smart TV has a built-in camera facing the audience, so you can use Skype to video-phone somebody. This means you can look at the people you have called on a 40-inch screen as they speak. Grandma is not fond of Skype. She says it means you have to get your hair done before you can ring up anyone. 
So, before choosing one, questions need to be asked, such as:

•    Do we want a dumb TV or a smart TV?
•    Do we want an LED, LCD or plasma picture?
•    Do we need a high definition (HD) picture?  
•    Do we want 2D or 3D, and if 3D do we want active 3D or passive 3D?
•    Or do we just want to sit in a darkened room and hope it all goes away?  

After much research, my answers to these questions are as follows:

•    We should get a smart TV, because this seems to be the way forward
•    LED (light emitting diode) and LCD (liquid crystal display) screens use less power than a plasma screen, although plasma is better at reproducing dark colours. LED screens, which are back-lit, tend to produce a brighter picture, so I will go for one of these
•    My current set is ‘HD ready’, but it needs a set-top box or Blu-ray player to trigger the HD and then the HD picture uses just 720 horizontal lines of the screen to build its image. Newer sets produce their HD picture from 1080 horizontal lines which provide much more detail, so I want 1080 HD
•    I’m not fussed about three dimensions. Most TV programmes are in 2D although some sport is shown in 3D, as are some films on Blu-ray DVDs. You need special glasses to watch 3D pictures. Active 3D glasses are battery powered and tend to give a sharper image than un-powered 3D glasses. They are also more expensive.

You can search online to check the specificationsWhen shopping for a TV, I’ve found most salespersons to be lacking in detail. Last week in our local store, there were two TVs side by side. One had a sharp, bright picture, whereas the one next to it – which was about £300 cheaper – had a slightly dimmer, fuzzier version of the same picture. “Is that normal?” I asked a salesman, pointing to the one with the poorer picture.

“Well sir, it doesn’t really matter, because, when you get it home, you won’t be able to compare it with the TV alongside it, and it will look fine,” he said. I must admit this wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for.

If you put 20 TVs together in a shop, it seems inevitable that the picture on some will look better than others. Some retailers don’t play broadcast programmes at all. Instead the TVs stream HD demos all the time so you get a super picture, but this doesn’t tell you what the standard reception will be like from an aerial when you get it home.

Then there’s the sound. How you check the sound in a TV department that’s 20 times bigger and much noisier than your sitting room?  The latest very slim flat panel TVs can only accommodate tiny speakers, and on some of these the sound can be quite poor. You can, of course, add extra speakers later.

In the search for unbiased information I eventually went online and invested £1. This bought me a one month trial of Which? magazine. The Which? website lists their best buy (and don’t buy) TVs, and detailed reports on all the models they have tested – which is most of them. There is similar information on all manner of other stuff.

If you only want to spend £1, you must remember to cancel your subscription before the 30 days is up, otherwise you will be signed up for the normal Which? subscription of £9.75 a month.

But in the highly technical area of TVs as they are today, it’s £1 well spent. It’s even got a jargon-buster, so if a salesman tries to bamboozle you about 100Hz processing software refreshing at 50 frames per second, you’ll be able to agree with him.

Me? I haven’t quite bought one yet. A more urgent matter now needs my attention: the washing machine has just broken down - watch this space next week. Time for another half an hour in the darkened room…

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