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Buying an HDTV

December 14th, 2008

RegzasmlSachi and I are probably going to spring for a 42“ HDTV in the next week or two. Any recommendations? I like the Toshiba Regza ZH7000 for the HDD recording feature, but am less than thrilled that the lack of a VGA port means I won’t be able to connect my new Macbook Pro, at least not yet. Sharp’s Aquos seems to be the only one to sport an English option for the menus, significant because I’m the one who usually uses the menus and the language is hard to decipher. Some have Internet browsing (but never with a keyboard), others have special split-screen capabilities, and so forth. We’re looking for something in the ¥200,000 ~ ¥230,000 range preferably.

Please clue me in on what models are best for you, and why! Help us choose a new TV!

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  1. December 14th, 2008 at 05:08 | #1

    While mine doesn’t have a hard drive, I do have a 42″ Regza and am very happy with it. Also have a 32″ Regza that is a bit older, and no complaints with it either.

  2. ykw
    December 14th, 2008 at 06:22 | #2

    I have a 42″ sharp that I bought 1yr ago and it is doing very nicely. The others are probably just as good, as far as I can tell. Consumers Reports has some info on tv’s. I like placing my head 8ft away, to get the full hd effect.

  3. Paul
    December 14th, 2008 at 07:42 | #3

    I have a 43 inch Pioneer plasma that’s 3.5 years old and simply love it. Personally, I would almost always suggest that people spend a little extra (for the same size) and get a plasma over an LCD screen; however, the LCDs have gotten a lot better at handling motion (particularly sports) and are generally cheaper across the board. Plasmas look better for sports and movies (truer blacks/darks), though.

    You usually can’t go wrong with a Panasonic or Pioneer, assuming those brands are available over there (and I can’t imagine they aren’t!). Frankly, ANY of today’s big screens, even the “off” brands, are considerably better than earlier generations, whether you’re talking LCD or plasma.

    About the only thing I would suggest for sure is that you get a 1080 screen. It actually doesn’t make too much difference in one way, since most broadcasters put out a 720 signal instead of a 1080 signal, but having more pixels in the same relative space means that if you’re sitting moderately close to the screen, you’re less likely to see/notice the horizontal lines and space between the lines. (Note, this applies more to the USA; I don’t know what the broadcast formats are in Japan.)

    A 1080 screen will also transition better to the new BluRay format.

    Key, though, is the device (tuner/cable box/satellite box, or the TV itself) that converts the incoming signal (whether 480 from standard DVD, 720, or 1080) to the type of signal needed for your TV’s screen. They say that makes as much of a difference in viewing as the screen itself; best is if the incoming signal is identical to the screen and no conversion is needed. So you should probably take that into account.

    I’d be surprised if most of the models that are sold both over there AND internationally (particularly in the USA) don’t have English menus hidden away in there anyhow. My Pioneer has at least three or four languages in the menuing system, and so if you stick with the brands/models that are sold internationally odds are they’re going to have English-language menus built in.

    If you can shop relatively easily at the Costco in Kawasaki, they usually have (in the States anyway!) great deals on either new, or one-generation-old screens. Their return policy (again, Stateside, at least) is quite good (not as good as it used to be, but still good).

    Finally… if it were me, I wouldn’t screw around with an internal HDD recording system. That just sounds like trouble if/when it breaks down. I’m a huge Tivo evangelist now that I have it; it’s so much better than the Comcast DVR tuner box that I can’t imagine going without it. I “hacked” it a bit and put in a 1TB hard drive and we can store hundreds of hours of HD content now. If Tivo is available in Japan, get it. Only thing it doesn’t do well is move recordings to a DVD (possible but a bit of a hassle, gotta send them through your network to your computer then burn them onto a disc, which takes additional software, blah blah blah.)

    Have fun shopping. Tell you one thing- you will love the new TV, they kick butt. ;)

  4. Luis
    December 14th, 2008 at 11:39 | #4

    Sean & YKW: That’s good to know about–brand reliability can be an issue many times.

    Paul: Wow! Lots of info there. Yeah, I’ve looked at the Plasma vs. LCD issue, and purely on personal preference have opted for the LCD route. Also for the 1080 route as well; in Japan, most broadcasters go 1080i, and I want to have the 1080p option open as well for outside input. I’m just ticked off at both Toshiba and Apple for making it harder to connect their products, though Apple in particular gets most of the blame here. For some reason, the Regza line has no D-sub 15-pin (VGA) PC input port, which means it has to be HDMI–and Apple only has Mini DisplayPort, which still has a paucity of actual product out there for sale on the market.

    Apple can be stupid like that about some things. Brilliant in many ways, they crash and burn spectacularly in a few. Apple seems congenitally incapable of designing a decent mouse, and they have always opted for an audio line-in jack which doesn’t work with 99% of equipment on the market. And now, their investment in Mini DisplayPort, while it may have some advantages, means that for the time being, you can’t connect to anything but a limited range of hardware. For Toshiba to leave out VGA on the one model I’m interested in is just the last blow.

    As for the cable box, I’m having trouble with those guys as well. These companies seem fairly obstinate in terms of what service they offer–often the case with cable monopolies, unfortunately. They make noise about choices of boxes, but when I call them up, they tell me there are no choices. In fact, the guy I just called the other day claimed that they only have one HDTV channel, depite the fact that they advertise at least two pay-HDTV channels, and I would be astounded that they don’t carry the standard 5 or 6 channels that most carriers do. But I think it’s just (a) the moron they always have manning the phones, and (b) language difficulties.

    I will definitely check out Costco as part of this, but might not get there until Wednesday, considering work and all.

    As for the HDD system, it’s actually well-executed: not only is there an internal HDD, but they offer both USB and LAN connections to any external HDD you can buy and can record on them as well. Kind of surprised me in that way. Seems pretty flexible.

  5. Paul
    December 15th, 2008 at 05:34 | #5

    If the HDD system that’s built in is NOT required to use the TV- so if it crashes and burns the TV still works- then it makes sense. OTOH, it does seem like overkill if you’re also going to have/use any kind of external DVR type of device.

    In the States, we’ve got Tivo, of course- unfortunately Tivo’s web site indicates that they don’t have the service available in Japan. We can use a Cable Card, which is a PC-card sized jobber that you get from the cable company and plugs into the Tivo. It rocks and is a great way to handle everything; the only thing that we can’t get through it is Comcast’s “On Demand” service, where you do interactive ordering of movies and such.

    As a general rule, it’s easier to implement that kind of thing with an external box than it is to integrate it into the TV… so the built-in HDD in the TV doesn’t light my fire much, I guess, is what I’m saying. It just seems like a bit of overkill and adds to the price of the screen when the reality is that the screen is more like a computer’s monitor; once you have a really nice one, you can keep upgrading the box that’s plugged INTO the monitor later if you want something faster and more gee-whizzy.

    The Regzas get good marks. If you prefer the look of LCD then that’s the way to go- just don’t forget that viewing conditions at home are different than in most of the stores! The best thing they always say is to watch the screen from the same distance in the store that you’ll watch it at home.

  6. Luis
    December 15th, 2008 at 09:24 | #6

    Paul: It’s even simpler than that: just hook up any 3rd party HDD to the TV and it works. You could have a bunch if you want. With the model I’m getting, a 300 GB HDD is built in, and the store is offering a free external Buffalo 500 GB HDD with the sale of the TV. To record, you just go to the TV schedule menu, select the show, and choose to save to hard disk. Looks pretty simple, but I want to try it out more before plunking down the two grand.

    I have no idea what kind of file is saved, or how any computer might be able to then interact with the files, but since we rarely watch the recorded DVDs I made before, I figure that I don’t need to keep stuff for a long time anyway–just rent or whatever. I might wind up getting a Blu-Ray player/recorder later anyway.

    And yeah, I’ll be looking at distance, angles, lighting, etc. Gonna check this one out as thoroughly as I can. Thanks!

  7. Brayden
    December 17th, 2008 at 03:09 | #7

    Hi Luis,
    I really enjoy your blog. I lived in Japan (Tokyo) for eight years in the mid 80′s. Loved it my wife, is Japanese.

    I can highly recommend this TV:http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-LN46A650-46-Inch-1080p-120Hz/dp/B001413D94/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1229449603&sr=8-1

    I am AV addict :) . here’s a review:http://reviews.cnet.com/flat-panel-tvs/samsung-ln52a650/4505-6482_7-32887597.html?tag=tpr

    Also make sure you check out this highly informative forum, I am also a member of the AVS Forum:http://www.avsforum.com/
    They have an extensive thread on the Samsung-LN**A650 series. Everybody recommends this TV. If you buy this TV make sure it is the 650 series.

    Good luck! ***Go Obama!***

  8. jrs
    December 17th, 2008 at 12:24 | #8

    Think about getting a projector. They’re getting better, cheaper, and brighter every year. For around 100,000 yen you can get a good HDTV 70 or 100 inch screen that goes away when you don’t need it.

  9. ykw
    December 20th, 2008 at 17:54 | #9

    A new thing that is pretty neat is transmission of tv digitally encoded, through the air, to a rabbit ear antenna on top of a tv. In the past, with analog transmissions, this resulted in poor quality. Today, w/ digital transmission, the picture is perfect, and one does not need to pay a cable bill. In LA, my folks get 25 channels this way, perfect quality, and some are HD. How well this works may depend on what is between the rabbit ear and the transmitting tower. If it is only air, then that makes it very easy to pick up the signal. One can do this w/ the tv connected directly to the rabbit ears, w/o a set-top box. One needs to read the tv manual in order to set this up, since the tv needs to search the airwaves to see what channels are out there and how they are transmitted (this is done once during setup), before running live.

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