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Easy-Bake HDTV

After all the stewing and stressing, HDTV turned out to be an good life upgrade, and for you CSI-type fans, there’s nothing quite like seeing mummified body parts in excruciating detail to make a purchase worthwhile.

It’s all way easier than it seems, HDMI and all. Your mileage may vary–quite a bit–but this is what I learned.

1. LCD or plasma? One hint to me was that Sony isn’t even selling plasma sets any more. Another is that some warranty packages you can buy won’t cover plasma. The early problems with fast motion on LCD are gone with any current set you’d buy. So I picked LCD. I also know some people have gotten killer deals on “HD-ready” CRT sets, but the idea of lugging home a 200-pound TV didn’t turn me on. If you think HDTV sets are still too expensive, wait for the post-Christmas sales, or longer. Time, to paraphrase a bard, is on your side.

2. Set size? The usual advice is get the largest you can afford. We got a 32″ for a number of personal reasons. Our living room is small, and 32″ is Just Fine. It was a good entry-level size. A lot of people get 40″ sets–that is a wonderful size, and less imposing than you’d think because the sets are so slim.

3. Brand? Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony are three very big contenders. Sony makes amazing sets, but you’ll pay a premium. I wavered between the Samsung LNS3251D 32 and the Panasonic TC-32LX600. The tip of the hat went to the Samsung for two reasons. Every sales person I spoke with owned a Samsung, and it has Picture in Picture. That may be a meaningless feature for you, but nothing irks me more than finding out that Sixty Minutes has been preempted by the game where men kick oval balls. Keeping my eye on CBS while the men scamper around that rectangular field is something I’ve wanted for a while. (Then again, PIP may be like the side-burner on an outdoor grill–I was so certain this was a major feature, and the entire time I used that grill I used the burner once. But at least I made a decision.)

4. Number of HDMIs? Unless you’re hooking up your TV to a home entertainment system (which should have multiple HDMIs), or you don’t ever play DVDs, get a set with two HDMI inputs, so you’ll have one for an upconverting DVD player, which will prink DVD playback so it is optimized for HDMI (and later on, for whatever high-def DVD standard emerges–though don’t hold your breath). I thought the DVD player purchase could wait a while, but then I saw upconverting DVD players for under $100 at Best Buy. In addition to a tempting price, they’re all a third the size of our current DVD player. (In theory, you can use a switch to toggle equipment between HDMI-enabled devices, but the overhead of that purchase and then fussing with one more piece of hardware doesn’t seem worth it.)

5. HDMI 1.0 vs. 1.1? A non-player (I’ll discuss this more in a longer post later with several good explanations from experts). It turns out that 1.1 merely implements an orphan wannabe standard, “DVD-Audio,” and has nothing to do with DVDs and audio playback. Unless you are one of five people in the free world who gambled on this standard with equipment and the corresponding handful of DVDs that came out to match it, ignore this issue. 1.2 and 1.3 are interesting standards but only for features currently not implemented in most equipment. My guess is the people blaming configuration problems on 1.0 (as noted on Amazon) are simply misdiagnosing.

As for the cable itself, I lucked out–I found one open-box at Best Buy for $31–but if you’re getting an HDTV, get yoru cable online or at least look for sales, and if you’re told that an expensive cable will make all the difference, buy a cheap one as well, then compare, and return the one you don’t want–which will probably be the expensive cable. One of the most entertaining threads on Amazon is for a Monster HDMI cable, where old electronics guys sniff at people spending too much. You may swear by a $90 cable–I can’t see the difference.

6. Shop online or walk-in? I based my decision on the worst-case scenario: what if it’s broken or I don’t like it? Amazon has terrific prices, but their no-return policy for TVs 27″ or larger, plus scattered reports of delivery problems, scared me off. (They’ll fix the TV, but they won’t let you return it.) I also didn’t want to get into lugging a box back to the post office. BestBuy had plenty of stock, but their prices were high and like a lot of female buyers I was seriously ignored. We don’t have a Costco in this area (yet–but wait! It’s coming!), or I would have probably got it at Costco. We do not shop at WalMart.

I ended up buying at Rex, a chain in the Southeast. It had very good prices and plenty of stock on hand or easily available from another store, and they treated me like a customer. I came close to buying at Sears, which is close to our home (and applying for a Sears card would have given me a 10% discount), but the selection was bad. (If you’re shopping in a store, make sure you’re looking at current models and not old inventory, unless you’re adventuresome and willing to haggle for a good discount.)

7. Extended warranty? All the advice on these says no, and Consumer Reports has calculated that these rarely pay for themselves, but I can understand the temptation. I firmly turned down the $149 two-year extended warranty (which only goes into effect after the current one-year warranty expires), and was then offered a one-year extension on my warranty for $10, which I promptly accepted (go figure). So if the price is right…

8. And a brand-new, fancy stand! No, not really–we did some creative reorganizing, and now this slick black TV is on a sweet little table with turned legs, and what was the TV stand has become a multipurpose stand in my home office. But you might consider that this TV will be larger and much thinner, and is light enough for wall-mounting.

So I toted our new TV home in the back of my Honda Civic (try that with a 32″ CRT!), hooked everything up, and saw a grey screen. I called Comcast and got a dream techy. Anthony–or maybe it was Darrell, I spend a lot of time on Comcast these days–marched me through the Comcast remote menu, had me switch to 1080i, explained that HD stations were separate from SD (Standard Definition) stations, showed me how groovy ESPN looks in HD (I was polite, but again–those men with the pointy balls…), explained how Picture in Picture works, helped me tweak the display, and made sure I was getting nearly all of my services (we still aren’t getting the Valu Pak, and Anthony/Darrell said in a low voice that we needed a Visit to make that happen because Something was Done Wrong; we’re getting a visit anyway, to have more drops added to this house, so we can wait for Jon Stewart a little longer).

It’s true that SD stations don’t look great, but if you have a very old CRT TV, they will look a lot better than they do at present–or perhaps bad in a new, different way (sort of BladeRunner pixel-y as opposed to Monet’s dark period). As for HD… Sandy came home to find me slack-jawed in front of the set, watching some PBS special, and I don’t watch PBS specials. Dinner? I was supposed to make dinner? She rolled her eyes. She sat down with me. It was hard to get up to do other things, and we scampered back to the couch at 10 to be properly horrified by looming close-ups of mummified bodies (and that went for some of the actors, too–that HD offers a Swiftian close-up of aging thespian skin). Even at its most hideous–squirting body parts, lurid bullet wounds–it’s freakin’ gorgeous, and for all my fressing, it was not hard to get there.

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