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Bargain LCD does fine job with hi-def TV & DVDs

Before I describe the bargain high-definition television I’ve been watching lately, a quick lesson in resolution and why you should or shouldn’t care.

Three high-def signals are currently available: 720p, 1080p and 1080i. The 720p has 720 lines vertical by 1280 pixels horizontal. The “p” stands for progressive, which means that 720 lines are shown at the same time. So 1080p gives you 1080 vertical lines and 1,920 horizontal pixels. The 1080i has the same resolution, but the lines are interlaced, which means each line gets painted sequentially.

You may not notice the difference, but theoretically 1080p is smoother. All broadcast TV signals today are either 720p or 1080i, so for TV it doesn’t matter. But some game consoles and Blu-ray and high-def DVDs are 1080p.

Bottom line: Any high-def TV is going to look a lot better than any standard set regardless of the type of signal you have, but if you plan to get a high-def DVD player, you’ll get a slightly better signal on a 1080p set.

The trouble is 1080p sets are typically a lot more expensive than 720p, and that brings us to my short review. I have been testing a 47-inch Vizio 1080p LCD TV, which sells for $1,700 online and at Costco and Sams Club.

I mostly watched high-def programs from a Dish Network personal video recorder and did a fine job with 720p and 1080i programs, but the TV really stood out when I played high-def Blu-ray DVDs. It has four picture modes: standard, movie, game and custom.

A few minutes with the custom settings improved the picture considerably. It comes with removable stereo speakers that sound good. It also has all the inputs you’ll need, including two HDMI ports along with component, composite, S-video and VGA. It also has digital and analog audio outputs to connect to an external sound system.

After two weeks of watching, I’m very pleased with this set. It’s on par with the slightly more expensive Westinghouse LCD I tested but, typical of other LCD sets, the blacks are more faded and the color less vivid than most plasma sets. Still, there are some advantages to LCD. It looks good even in a brightly lit room, it typically uses less power than plasma, and the picture quality won’t diminish over time.

If possible, it’s best to check out a variety of sets at a store and see if they’ll let you switch channels or at least check out a couple of DVDs. In-home testing has taught me that different TVs look better on different shows, so the only way to know for sure is to do some channel surfing.


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