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What Does $2,000 Buy Today (TV+DVD player)?


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#1 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted September 25 2008 - 07:34 AM

Our 36" television and 480i DVD player just celebrated their sixth birthday and the 36XBR800...I must face the truth...is getting dimmer almost by the week now. I've been saying for years that I wouldn't upgrade the TV until high definition DVD's become available and affordable. So for the past several years I've been completely out of the loop on home theater stuff (except for replacing our audio HT receiver when lightning killed the original one).

We sit 8-1/2 feet from the screen in a semi-darkened room (heavy drapes on the two small windows, extra drapes that we hang over the doorway to watch movies) and watch about a 60/40 combination of rented or purchased movies and HD-cable shows with a Time-Warner DVR. I have a personal preference for really good black levels and a smooth, film-like picture while my wife basically couldn't care less beyond preferring a good HDTV picture to most 480i DVD movies.

So where does that put us? My initial impression is that at our viewing distance a 42" television is probably on the small side whereas anything much beyond 50"-ish might be overwhelming in our small HT room. And I can't imagine not going with a flat panel nowadays, what say? I guess the "high definition" CD player will actually be Blu-Ray if I understand the current situation aright.

I'll ask the question w.r.t. a $2,000 budget but will also say that the closer to $1,500 I can keep it the sooner I'll be able to do the upgrade. Assuming the Sony doesn't completely give up the ghost any time soon I'm thinking of looking for holiday-season deals or maybe even waiting around to pick up something previous-generation-ish after the first of the year if that's a way to save some money.

With $1,500-$2,000 to spend all in (tax, delivery, etc.) what would be a good value-for-money proposition in let's say a 46" TV and plain-vanilla Blu-Ray player? Can you get a plasma at that price point...or for that matter do I even want a plasma? Can I assume 1080p or should I consider "settling" for 720p? Is everything hooked up HDMI now? BTW, I'll plan on doing my own calibration as I've done in the past if there are Blu-Ray based calibration DVD's to use.

#2 of 20 OFFLINE   Bob Graz

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Posted September 25 2008 - 10:31 AM

Here's the ticket. See Sears link.

Panasonic 50 in. Class Plasma Integrated HDTV (720p), VIERA - Model TH-50PX80U at Sears.com

Panny TH50px80U. 999 plus additional 10% if you use Sears card. $900 is an unbelieveable value. I have one and I don't feel I settled cause it was 720P.

#3 of 20 OFFLINE   hodedofome

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Posted September 25 2008 - 01:08 PM

Doubly agree on the Panasonic plasma. Grab that one and either Sony - Blu-ray Disc Player with 1080p Output - BDP-S350 or a Panasonic BD35 when they come out. They should be $300 or less come Thanksgiving/Christmas time. You can definitely have a great setup for $1500 these days.

#4 of 20 OFFLINE   Clinton McClure

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Posted September 26 2008 - 03:08 AM

Another vote for the 50" Panny. I bought one Tuesday (same model) at Best Buy for $999 + tax and calibrated it last night. So far, the image is super and from my 8' seating distance, I can't tell it from a 1080p plasma. I also picked up a Sony S300 BD player for $250.

#5 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted September 26 2008 - 05:55 AM

I spent a while in Best Buy at lunch time and you guys are right, that's an impressive picture for a thousand bucks. In fact, there was nothing remotely comparable on the wall of my local store at that price point. I did all my looking at a distance of 8-1/2 feet since that's our viewing distance at home. For me, the 46" and 50" screens were pretty similar but the 42" ones seemed much smaller and less impressive.

They had the 50PX80 and a 50PZ80 (or whatever the 1080p version is called) side by side and I must admit I could see a difference in detail at one or two moments in their demo loop. Now maybe it was a calibration issue or variation between individual sets but for something like panning across brightly colored textured surfaces the 1080p seemed to hold more texture detail even from my viewing distance. But we're talking darned near twice the money so it ought to have some advantage ;-)

So I've got to remind myself of the age-old issue, namely "What question am I asking?"...

If the question is "Can I find a $2,000 screen that looks better than this $1,000 one?" the answer is probably yes. In fact, depending on the meaning of "better" I can point to that 1080p Panny plasma or a 46" 1080p Sony LCD that I particularly liked.

But if the question is "Does the picture look a heck of a lot better (and much bigger to boot) than my 36" CRT?" the answer is an unequivocal yes. I know the grass is always greener and all that but my goodness, the 50PX80 has a saturated, rock-steady picture that's the 3-1/2' across. Ye Gods!

A couple other observations. Boy those plasmas throw off a lot of heat. As soon as you step within four feet of the screen it starts feeling more like a low-power heat lamp than a television screen. I'm not really sure our HT room (which gets rather stuffy at times anyway) is ready to have several hundred watts of waste heat dumped into it for a couple hours at a time. That's something I'll have to ponder.

And finally, concerning LCD's. They had a demo station set up with a Sony '350 Blu-Ray player, a 46" 1080p screen that looked to me like it had been calibrated (not on torch mode) and mini-surround system. It was playing a Blu-Ray disk of some nature documentary. I definitely noticed an effect whereby the picture looks steady and detailed while the birds and critters were in motion but then when they stopped moving the amount of detail in feathers or fur just instantly doubled until they started moving again. I did not see any such thing on the Plasma screens so I assume that's a fundamental drawback of the LCD stuff. That said, on relatively static images that 46" LCD had the best picture in the store. It was also $2,200 but still I would have to consider 1080p LCD a totally viable option if I want to wait until I can afford to spend a few more bucks and/or the prices come down one more notch. If I had three grand in my pocket I'd love to have taken home that TV+DVD player right then, it looked real good.

But the bottom line is for under a thousand bucks I ought seriously consider replacing our dimming CRT with a 50PX80U, whether I buy a Blu-Ray player with it right now or not. It's just a massive upgrade in picture size and quality for not too much more than impulse-purchase money. The biggest downside is the waste heat and of course the ever-present possibility of buyer's remorse at not spending twice as much ;-)

P.S. The model number of the Sony LCD was 46Z4100 if that matters to anyone

#6 of 20 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted September 26 2008 - 08:19 AM

Since you mentioned "blacks" and sounds to have your HT environment reasonably well controlled, I'd say forget about the LCD. The LCD may look impressive on the brightly lit showroom floor, but it's not gonna do as well as the plasma (or a good DLP RPTV) when viewed in a proper setting.

RE: 720p vs 1080p, what did the demo loop show at the store? When comparing, I think one needs to also consider the quality of the demo video. HD programs typically found on cable or the like may not really show off the diff as much as good quality Blu-ray.

At ~8.5ft, you *should* see some diff between 720p and 1080p when given a good 1080p source though it might not be enough to sway you to spend an extra $600-800 at this range. However, to be fair, that $1000 price tag for the 50PX80 seems to be some sort of clearance price whereas the more typical $1600-1800 price for a 1080p 50" plasma has been the going rate for a long while now. IIRC, the 50PX80's previous lowest sale price was ~$1200, but it usually sat around ~$1400, which was just $200-400 less than the 1080p. So if you wait some more, you might also find the 1080p ones start coming down substantially as they will likely eventually be clearance priced also (maybe no later than year's end).

But yeah, it's pretty hard to resist that 50PX80 at such a great price. Heck, I'm starting to get tempted again now too although I really want something bigger (like a 58-to-61" 1080p, probably a DLP) for my ~9.5ft viewing distance. Posted Image

_Man_
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#7 of 20 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted September 26 2008 - 08:35 AM

Brent, I've got a question for you: what will you do with your old Sony? I've got a similar Sony of similar age (2002 36" , HD but not the XBR) and I'm wondering how to get rid of it when I replace it in the next year or two.

#8 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted September 26 2008 - 08:46 AM

One followup question. When people complain that upconverted standard DVD's look bad with something like a Sony '350 Blu-Ray player do they mean "worse than playing a DVD on my RP92 through the plasma" or just "not as good as a better upconverter would be"?

Man,

I'm pretty sure I could see "something" comparing the 720p and 1080p versions. Not sure how the demo loop was sourced, it was not particularly impressive content. Mostly commericals, actually. I had expect the price difference to be of the 1,500 vs. 2,000 kind of thing in which case I would almost certainly find a way to get the higher resolution. But when it gets into the thousand or less range I think it's perfectly reasonable to think about buying a screen then replacing it with no remorse a couple years later. Which brings me to...

DaveF,

No idea, brother. I may just offer to let somebody haul it off if they want it. I have the complication that a lightning strike a year and half ago (that destroyed my HT receiver) permanently discolored the top left and right corners of the 4:3 screen. Can't see it with widescreen content but on SD cable or 4:3 DVD's there's a purplish blob in each corner that's kind of annoying. So I don't imagine I could actually sell the thing even for a couple hundred bucks...over six years old, dimming and with purple blobs.

It's a dilemma.

#9 of 20 OFFLINE   Patrick Young

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Posted September 26 2008 - 09:25 AM

DaveF and Brent

A lot of electronics dealers and county recycling centers in MN are taking the old ones for FREE! You may want to check with your local centers.

As for the 50PX80U Panny I will add another vote for it. I have had mine since April and I love it. I have not noticed to much of a problem with heat with mine. Remember in the stores you are usually seeing ALOT of them on a wall and yes they do though out some heat but in practice with mine it has not been that bad.

I even had it in our bedroom on my dresser for about 2 weeks while we refinished the floors in the living room. Posted Image That was fun. The only reason I can see for not going that big in my bedroom when we get to redoing it is that my closet door will not open all the way with the TV up there.

#10 of 20 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted September 26 2008 - 09:52 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hutto
Man,

I'm pretty sure I could see "something" comparing the 720p and 1080p versions. Not sure how the demo loop was sourced, it was not particularly impressive content. Mostly commericals, actually. I had expect the price difference to be of the 1,500 vs. 2,000 kind of thing in which case I would almost certainly find a way to get the higher resolution. But when it gets into the thousand or less range I think it's perfectly reasonable to think about buying a screen then replacing it with no remorse a couple years later. Which brings me to...

I hear yah on that. If I get tempted enough (or really need something asap), that's also how I'd be looking at the 50PX80 myself -- just consider it a good stopgap at that price and maybe move it to the bedroom or den or wherever later...

_Man_
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#11 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted September 26 2008 - 12:47 PM

Well, we watched a DVD tonight and it's to the point even my wife agrees that the Sony CRT is getting blurry as well as dim. I could probably do one more calibration on it and boost things a bit but at this point I'm inclined to just pick up one of those 50" Panasonics. The only remaining issue is fitting the width of the the thing into the available space without rearranging the whole room.

Fallback plan might be to drop down to the 42" 1080p model at about the same price which would easily fit but I'd only do that if we can move the screen a foot or so closer. I think 42" at 8-1/2' is kind of a ripoff size-wise and would not be willing to settle for that no matter how nice the picture.

And I think we'll hold off on the Blu-Ray player until the BD35 hits the stores in a few weeks. Sounds like people are overly impressed with either the BD30 or the Sony '350 and both are over 300 bucks so I don't want to grab one if a better option might come along sooner rather than later.

#12 of 20 OFFLINE   Clinton McClure

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Posted September 26 2008 - 02:40 PM

Brent,

Concerning the lack of motion detail on the LCD display you saw when compared to the increase in detail when the image became static:

In another post, GeorgeAB pointed out that LCDs can lose up to (I think he said) 60% resolution during fast motion and action sequences, whereas plasma does not suffer from this phenomenon. That along with poor black levels turned me off from a 1080p LCD purchase and I set my sights on the 50" Panny plasma.

#13 of 20 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted September 26 2008 - 03:29 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hutto
Fallback plan might be to drop down to the 42" 1080p model at about the same price which would easily fit but I'd only do that if we can move the screen a foot or so closer. I think 42" at 8-1/2' is kind of a ripoff size-wise and would not be willing to settle for that no matter how nice the picture.

If you do end up going w/ a 42", then you should definitely consider saving more $$$ and go w/ 720p instead of 1080p. And then, when space permits, get a big new 1080p set either for less than now or w/ better quality (and maybe lifespan) advances in whatever type of display that suits you best at that time.

_Man_
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#14 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted September 27 2008 - 05:31 AM

Well I went with the 50" version, although given the trouble I had getting it into the car for the ride home at one point the 42" was looking like a viable option. Got to run out to Radio Shack and get a HDMI interconnect then cross my fingers that my local Time-Warner has the HDMI port on my DVR turned on in their firmware.

I did look at some regular analog cable channels and thought the picture was quite acceptable. I'd read horror stories about how bad SD looks on these HD plasmas but no big deal. My parents got a 40" LCD (cheapy) last year and SD looks pretty horrific on it but the Panny acquits itself admirably.

Can't wait to get the DVR hooked up...

================================================== ================================================

OK, a couple of concerns have been assuaged. Hooked up the Time-Warner DVR with an HDMI cable from Radio Shack and everything worked immediately. Looks good on whatever lawyer show TNT-HD was showing. Local football games in 4:3 look fine with gray boxes left and right.

So I plugged in the Panny BD30 that I bought along with the TV. Yeah, yeah I shoulda waited and got an BD35 at Thanksgiving but I didn't. So I just plugged it in and dropped in one of my best-looking old DVD's to see how the upconversion looks. All the stuff I read must either apply to other players or to bigger screens because "North By Northwest" looks absolutely pristine. Just like it looked on my 36" CRT except bigger and more impressive.

Next step is to look up some initial settings, I'm just on "Standard" profile with its factory defaults and I think maybe there is a hint of a greenish cast to certain grays. But I only see it at certain moments. Otherwise, the defaults look pretty sharp and neutral.

#15 of 20 OFFLINE   Bob Graz

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Posted September 27 2008 - 02:48 PM

Congratulations on your new Panny. I think as you watch it you will be more and more convinced that you made a very good decision.

FYI, Here's the settings for mine with my Sound & Vision DVD.

Pic mode:Std
Picture: +50
Bright: +50
Color:+49
Tint:-1
Sharp:+35
Color temp: Warm
Color mgmt:Off
x,v Color:Off
Advanced Pic

Video NR: Off
3D YC Filter:Off
Color Matrix:HD
Mpeg NR: Off
Black Level:Light

#16 of 20 OFFLINE   JustinCleveland

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Posted September 28 2008 - 10:41 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Graz
Here's the ticket. See Sears link.

Panasonic 50 in. Class Plasma Integrated HDTV (720p), VIERA - Model TH-50PX80U at Sears.com

Panny TH50px80U. 999 plus additional 10% if you use Sears card. $900 is an unbelieveable value. I have one and I don't feel I settled cause it was 720P.

Go to Circuit City, spend a few hundred more, and get the 50PZ80U. You'll appreciate the extra resolution. You can get the Panasonic Blu-Ray player (the BD-30) for 300. You're set for the next 10 years. Posted Image

#17 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted October 01 2008 - 01:33 PM

Many thanks to you guys for suggesting this lovely, affordable Panasonic plasma. I've watched some Sunday football and we've watched a couple movies on it (including the wonderful Blu-Ray version of "Nightmare Before Christmas") and it's just great. If our Sony CRT hadn't lost so much brightness and clarity lately it would have been at least 6-12 months before I even started researching digital displays and, frankly, we'd be missing out on a lot of enjoyment. Boy what a lot of Home Theater experience from a thousand-dollar screen.

The day I got everything hooked up I doused the lights and popped in the Blu-Ray of "I Am Legend". As soon as the first big pan of the city skyline came on my wife said "We'll never need to go to the theater again!" and she may be right. Sitting just under eight feet from a 50" Hi-Def display is a very movie-like experience.

#18 of 20 OFFLINE   Clinton McClure

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Posted October 02 2008 - 12:18 AM

Glad you like it Brent! Posted Image

#19 of 20 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted October 02 2008 - 09:29 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hutto
If our Sony CRT hadn't lost so much brightness and clarity lately it would have been at least 6-12 months before I even started researching digital displays and, frankly, we'd be missing out on a lot of enjoyment.
Me and my wallet and my 36" CRT don't want to hear that! Posted Image

What did you do with your CRT? How much did you pay your friends to help you move it?

#20 of 20 OFFLINE   Brent Hutto

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Posted October 02 2008 - 01:34 PM

We've asked around and haven't found any takers for a "free" Sony 36" HDTV. So it's still sitting forlorn in the corner, alas. Not sure what we'll try if nobody comes forward this week.

To answer my original question, here's what $2,000 buys...

Panasonic TH-50PX80U television
Panasonic BD30 Blu-Ray player
Onkyo TX-SR606 receiver to decode TrueHD/DTS-HD

although including three HDMI cables bumps me about 1-2% over budget. I replaced a perfectly good 'SR505 receiver because we wanted to decode the HD audio formats in 7.1 and because Circuit City craftily sent me a 10% off coupon this morning just two hours before I had an appointment less than a mile from their store. Go figure.


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