Fact or fiction? 8 HDTV claims demystified

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5. Claim: Brand-name cables are worth the extra money.

Status: False

Don’t buy cables strictly on the basis of their brand name. A cable’s connector type, length, and gauge are the most important factors in signal quality. As a first criterion, choose a digital cable if possible—either HDMI or DVI (just about any new HDTV will include a digital connection). Such cables can carry a 1080p signal if your content supports it, they’ll play nicely with DRM, and they won’t pick up interference the way an analog cable can.

If you don’t have a digital connection, you can still obtain signals at up to 1080p via component cables. The resulting picture quality should still be first-rate. However, if you drop down to a lesser cable type—S-video or a single, composite RCA cable—say goodbye to your HD signal. At a minimum,your HD-compatible devices should have component, HDMI, or DVI ports. In addition, they probably have S-video and composite ports for compatibility with older televisions. Avoid those ports.

In any situation, get the shortest cables that can make the connection you need. Extra loops of cabling may pick up interference and distort analog signals, and image quality may degrade as cable length increases, especially if the cabling runs across entire rooms.

Thicker cables can improve quality, but the difference is greatest in speaker wire. Consider buying thicker-gauge cabling if you plan to run it across a distance of 50 feet or more.

If you take these steps, instead of reaching for a brand name, you’ll get great video and audio connections for a reasonable price. You can save even more on cables at a site such as Monoprice, where you can expect to pay a few dollars for nearly any cable type, rather than $20 to $50 for a single, brand-name HDMI cable.

6. Claim: You’re in imminent danger of burn-in from letterboxing and on-screen graphics.

Status: False

Burn-in is no longer a serious issue for HDTVs. Years ago, static on-screen graphics from network TV logos, stock tickers, videogames, letterbox bars, and other patterns could wear unevenly on a TV. If you left your set on and tuned to a station that showed such stationary elements for hours at a time, you might have been able to see them lingering when you tried to watch other content. First-generation plasma screens were the ones most susceptible to this effect.

LCDs and other TV types haven’t exhibited this issue, and recent plasmas have incorporated effective countermeasures against the problem. If you’re buying a new set, don’t worry about burn-in.

Plasma TV watchers may encounter temporary image retention—which can look the same as permanent burn-in—but the images eventually go away. Static images imprint themselves in a way reminiscent of permanent burn-in. But in this case, the pattern fades away with normal use. To speed up the process, play a station with a static pattern or activate the TV’s built-in mode to clear the problem.

7. Claim: HDTVs can cause audio-sync problems with games.

Status: True

Music videogames such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero require perfect timing between audio cues and on-screen graphics. If the two are not aligned, the most likely cause is that the TV is performing extra image processing but audio is being routed directly to a receiver. As a result, the picture gets slowed down, and the audio plays too soon.

The tiny delay that some TVs add may be perceptible only in these games, but you can turn off extra video processing in the TV’s menu system. Look for a “game mode” setting. Most recent music games can recalibrate to take the delay into account. Look for those settings in the game’s options.

Alternatively, you can solve the problem through the audio; receivers often give users the option of adding their own compensatory delay. If your HDTV set feels a little slow when you use it for gaming, read about how to reduce your input lag.

8. Claim: A TV with a faster refresh rate can look better than a slower TV.

Status: True

In the past few years, vendors have marketed TVs with refresh rates of 120Hz, 240Hz, and beyond. These sets can interpolate frames between the ones you’d normally see, thereby smoothing out motion through enhanced picture processing.

PCWorld’s HDTV testing has demonstrated a correlation between high refresh rates and smoother image quality in TVs. However, we occasionally see high-refresh-rate TVs whose images look more jittery than those on 60Hz sets. These discrepancies arise because smooth motion performance depends on the combined operation of the panel’s refresh rate and the software algorithms inside the set.

As 3D-capable TVs come to market, refresh rate will play an increasingly important role in picture quality. One technique used to produce 3D effects requires input and playback of a 120Hz signal. (Practically all current TVs accept only a 60Hz signal, regardless of their advertised refresh rate.) Look for 3D branding and a 120Hz input in those cases.

More About HDTVs

For recent PCWorld assessments of HDTVs, see our HDTV Product Center and our charts listing the Top 40- and 42-Inch HDTVs, Top 46- and 47-Inch HDTVs, and Top 50-, 52-, and 55-Inch HDTVs.

This story, "Fact or fiction? 8 HDTV claims demystified" was originally published by PCWorld.

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