The HD Experience

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The HD Experience
- Part 1 -
November 10, 2007
The HD Experience: Part 1 (HDTV) The HD Experience: Part 2 (HD DVD or Blu-ray?)
The HD Experience: Part 3 (Choosing HD DVD) The HD Experience: Part 4 (HD & TV Size)
The HD Experience: Part 5 (Integrating HD) The HD Experience: Part 6 (Upconverting vs. HD)

After WalMart recently sold the Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player for $99, the Format Wars as they are referred to, are definitely speeding up. What's going to happen? Who's going to win? Well, there really isn't such a clear and easy answer. So, if you have a few moments, I'd like you to read my experiences and observations as I came to a conclusion about what was right for me. To begin this journey, I'll take you to my first experience when my CRT television was showing signs of wear...

My HD Experience

"There was virtually no difference between 1080p signals and a 1080i signal..."
I was on the sidelines of HD for quite some time. Back in January of this year, my loyal and outrageously heavy JVC 31" CRT was showing signs of quitting on me. It was time to start looking for another television. Purchasing this television in 1995, it had given me 12 years of error-free entertainment, and come to think of it, it was with me for 1/3 of my entire life. It was time to think about sizing up for an HDTV. But what kind? How big? There were so many to choose from. I was familiar with HDTVs, but having never shopped for one myself, it became a totally new experience.

1080p HDTVs were being offered in January 2007, but they were just too expensive, and my budget was around $1,000. I visited a few local stores, but unfortunately found little objective help in determining which HDTV was right for me. Having retail experience myself in selling electronics, I could immediately see commission sales driving particular brands, and I could also tell the CSRs (Customer Service Representatives) were simply repeating the memos they got from upper management. I decided I needed to go to a specialized video store in my area.

After viewing some of the HDTV sizes (37", 42", and 50") the differences (or lack thereof) between 720p, 1080i, and 1080p video signals were quite interesting. There was virtually no difference between 1080p signals and a 1080i signal. More importantly, a 720p signal was just as good as a 1080i signal. What the hell, I said to myself. Why spend $2,500 on a 1080p set when a downconverted 1080i set selling for around $1,500 (1,366 x 768) was just as good? It became apparent, 1920 x 1080 televisions (which are true 1080i--not downconverted--or 1080p) were not delivering the proclaimed and marketed differences I was expecting. Therefore, a downconverted "1080i HDTV" (1,366 x 768) was going to be my choice.

I finally narrowed down my choices to a 50" Plasma television. It looked better than LCD because LCD seemed to have "oversharpness" and just had a fake look to the HD movies being played. This is not to say the LCD TVs were poor in quality--they certainly were not. However, after viewing shows on my CRT for so many years, the plasma televisions were more reminiscent of these days and had so much more depth. There were RPTV sets of all different types, but I didn't want something that large, they still didn't have the clarity of the plasma television sets, and I figured if I was going to get an RPTV, it was going to be around 60". But I couldn't justify those prices, either. Back to plasma it was.

I was looking at a Pioneer 42" and 50" plasma HDTV, and I instantly fell in love. However, the price was a few thousand more than what I could afford. Was there anything equivalent? I walked over to the Panasonic plasma sets and couldn't believe my eyes. A 50" plasma for $1,800 and it looked about as good as the much higher priced Pioneer. I think I found my HDTV, I said to myself. But it was still almost $800 beyond my wallet.

After searching the net for some Panasonic plasma televisions of similar models, I came across the "UK" series by Panasonic. These were strictly plasma monitors, as they had no internal tuners for cable television, nor did they have built-in speakers, or a plethora of consumer inputs. However, they were selling for several hundred dollars less than their consumer versions. At the time, a 42" Panasonic plasma had 1,024 x 768 pixels. Not to get too technical here, but the pixels were not perfectly square as in other plasma sets as they were rectangular, and I noticed sets of this pixel size were not as clear as the larger 50" versions. The 42" plasma was below the spec for 720p (1280 x 720) anyway, so I had to make a choice on whether to get a 42" or 50". It probably had to be a 50" because buying a 42" set for $1,000 with the observable differences in picture quality, would not be a wise choice. I also knew 1080p sets would be much cheaper later in the year and oncoming years, so getting something which was at least 720p, was a priority. What also became clear, was my initial budget of $1,000 wasn't realistic. Oh joy.

After searching for more information on the UK series, and finding the right price, I found a TH-50PH9UK for $1,699 on Newegg's website. Since I have a rather long history of buying products from them and their customer service is just absolutely amazing, I found my seller. It was unfortunate I couldn't find a local television store to make my purchase. All I found at my B&M (Brick & Mortar) stores were incompetent young kids who were more concerned about a smoking break, and on the other end, a highly stressed 40-something man who had more biased information for one brand, he was glowing from it.

Since the TH-50PH9UK was $700 more than what I was expecting, I had to wait a few more months to accumulate some emergency funding. In late April, I finally placed my largest online order ever. And I was nervous. Buying an HDTV online? Are you nuts?

Newegg uses AIT for delivering larger packages (much larger, actually) and a local partner company delivered the television from them to my doorstep. The TH-50PH9UK was in perfect condition. I was impressed.

But it was big. Very big.

In fact, the TH-50PH9UK was so large compared to my JVC 31" television, I wondered if I had purchased something too large for my viewing tastes. I had a friend come over and she had only three words to say which didn't help much.

Oh. My. God.

After a few days of just looking at the set (marveling at its size and just where and how I was going to put it) and finally pairing it with a pedestal stand which is specifically made for the Panasonic plasma sets, I hooked it up to my non-HD DVD player, a Panasonic DVD changer. It only put out 480p maximum, but the picture was just amazing on the 50" plasma. Colors were so much more "colorful". There was no way in hell I was sending this TV back. Oh no. I made the right choice. It was staying right here. But now the real question began to surface: how would an HD image look?

Not owning a Blu-ray or HD DVD player, I had no option other than to subscribe to my cable provider's HD service. It was magnificent. The picture on the HDTV was absolutely gorgeous. I watched the US Open and if anyone knows me, I don't watch sports on television. At all. However, I was spending my weekends and even weekdays, watching the US Open. Hek, I even watched football, which probably made the DigitalDingus Gods throw their arms up in amazement. This was one purchase I didn't regret.

After a while, I couldn't help become interested in this "War" between Sony's Blu-ray format, and Toshiba's HD DVD format. As I was reading more information about my television, I wondered what exactly was this war all about?

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