Monday, August 07, 2006

OT: New Screen!

To correct the ergonomic disaster that is our living room, it was agreed that we needed to replace our 5yr old 32" Panny CRT with a wall-mounted screen. That was a few months ago and despite the lure of new technology, I was having a hard time trying to find the right piece of kit at the right price.
  • LCD, Plasma or Projector?
  • SD, HD-compatible or HD-ready?
  • 37", 42" or more?
The budget was flexible-ish but as this was about ergonomics rather than technology, every £ spent was a £ less for the rest of the ground-floor remodelling work.

Of course, whatever I chose had to play ball with my existing MythTV arrangement as funds couldn't stretch to a whole new PVR system as well.

First, we thought a projector was the answer as it could be mounted near my existing kit rack and projected onto the far wall where the screen needed to be. It would have been very nice but just not practical enough for regular daily viewing.

After discounting a projector, I started looking for a 37" HD-ready LCD. To get the same relative display size as my 32" CRT, I was going to have to look at 37"+ panels due to the extra viewing distance from sofa to wall. 37" LCDs are (were) not very common and cost a lot. Current best practice appears to be:
  • up to 32": go LCD
  • from 37": go Plasma
So, after months of head-scratching, reading reviews and looking at shop displays, plasma seemed to be the way to go. Now - HD or not? Everyone(TM) says to buy HD-ready; if HD is going to be ubiquitous in a few years time, surely it's short-sighted to buy kit that isn't HD-ready?

Yes and no.

One of the early lessons you learn in IT is not to future-proof your kit; if you pay extra today for something that you won't use until next year - it will cost you more in the long run. In areas where technology moves so fast, just-in-time buying gets you the best technology at the cheapest price.

All of my existing media (DVDs, Myth recordings) is SD. My cable feed is SD. My freeview card receives SD content. My entire MythTV hardware configuration is built around SD. SD actually looks better viewed on an SD screen (no horrible upscaling).

So, the plan finally became clear: buy an SD plasma screen today and then replace it with an HD LCD screen when HD becomes a problem that actually needs solving.

What I actually did was buy a 42" enhanced definition (ED) panel, the TH-42PWD8 Panny. It's not HD (we'll it's 480p) but is HD-compatible, ie. it can be fed anything up to 1080p and will happily downscale it to 852x480. Also, it's not a TV - no tuner or speakers - just a plain plasma picture frame. It's always bugged me that TV real-estate is bigger than needed by having crappy built-in speakers that need instantly disabling! Well, it looks like others now agree. The unit came with PC(RGB or YUV), svideo and composite inputs and the optional component (RGB or YUV) module was thrown in for free. I'll wait to see if I ever need a DVI or HDMI module before splashing out on one of those.

From a financial PoV, I'm banking that the price of HD kit will fall and the technology will become mature in the short-term future but that doesn't have long odds. I'm confident that the cost of an ED panel today + an HD panel in a few years time will be less than the cost of trying to future-proof myself now. Additionally, I'll get better picture quality in the short-term and will end up with a better HD screen in the long-term. We'll see...


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