We went to see Minority Report this past weekend in two different muliplexes (first hour in one, whole movie in another a few hours later, long story). For the first time since setting up a DVD player and surround sound at home, I noticed how narrow the screen on our 27" TV seems in comparison. (As an aside, I noticed this only because the dialog was muddy in the first theater and the picture was jittery in the second, making me think "Wow, I'd sure rather be watching this at home".) So inevitably, when I went by Circuit City at lunchtime to pick up a couple of DVD's I was drawn against my will to their display of bigger screens. This was literally the first time I've ever examined a TV larger than 32" for more than a minute. I thought I'd share my initial observations, although with God as my witness I am *not* going to buy a new TV! Well not before Christmas, at least ;-). Observation 1: Whether it's variability in quality from unit to unit or the setup differences in the store, there is a wide range of picture quality among similar TV's in the store. For instance, their 40" Sony XBR had a decent picture but not critically sharp The 36" XBR ten feet away had just about the sharpest picture I've ever seen on a TV screen, both showing video from the same source. Observation 1a: Man, that 36" XBR had a sharp, contrasty picture. Especially when I found the remote and took it off "Vivid" mode. I mean, that was a good-looking picture, you know? Observation 2: At least in this store, the 53" and 61" Sony rear-projection HDTV's were the cream of the mid-size crop. On some of the bigger screens, the differences were harder to discern. On the smaller 43" ones, the Sony and Hitachi had virtually identical pictures but sharpness and shadow richness on the 61" Sony was excellent and the 53" was very similar. Observation 2a: The Sony RPTV's looked cleaner when taken out of "Vivid" mode, but the tradeoff was that the 53" was a bit on the darkish side in "Pro" mode. Observation 2b: You really, really need to have your eye vertically centered on all of the RPTV's I saw. Even being six inches high or low (standing seven feet back from the screen) makes a huge difference. Observation 3: The width difference between a 43" RPTV and a 36" direct-view tube is not sufficient to be worth the price in sharpness and brightness. If you're going to make the (IMO) large tradeoff in viewability to get past the large end of the direct-view range, you really need to get that wraparound effect from a 25 degree or more picture width (note that this is all based on the screen-to-eyeball distance of around 77" in my home theater, which I tried to approximate in the store). Observation 4: A little over $2,200 gets a bigger screen for our home theater. That buys a 36" XBR or a 53" Sony RPTV, although there's a pricey stand to buy for any direct-view tube. Adding in a progressive-scan DVD player ($180 for a Panasonic), a few cables, tax and delivery gets to $3K+ right quickly. Observation 4a: I don't think either option is truly worth it. A 53" RPTV would just absolutely dominate our little 14-foot square TV-viewing room. And then you've got to get situated right in the sweet spot for it to look its best and at the end of the day it won't even be as sharp-looking as our plain-vanilla 27" Sony. OTOH, a 36" XBR would be an improvement in both size and sharpness (at least viewing DVD's) but we're still talking about a apparent width that's narrower than even the back row of a tiny multiplex theater. For three kilobucks, the width of the screen ought to increase by more than a mere 30% or so. Non-Observation: This store didn't have a Hitachi 36" tube on display. The picture on their 32" looked great and the curved screen is no big deal. I suppose it's possible that a 36" Hitachi TV on a generic stand of some sort would get us up to that size for more like $1,500. I'd have to figure out a way to sit a foot closer to the screen to get a nice theater-like viewing angle but it is a possibility if the picture quality is there. Questions: Why do some RPTV's have a swirling grain pattern superimposed on the picture? It looks almost like a dirty lens or mirror. Actually, it looks most like the grainy effect on the viewfinder of a cheap SLR camara. It was the worst on "widescreen" models. The source they were feeding seemed to some sort of high-definition 4:3 so maybe it was because most of them were set to either "stretch" or "zoom" mode. Sure was a crappy picture, especially if you get up too close to the screen. Second question, how long do the RGB tubes in an RPTV last, assuming a reasonable "contrast" setting? Maybe a few hundred hours? More than that?