Well, it's almost that time again, that dreaded and wonderful time when the awesome and chaotic mix either to make total disappointment or a total triumph. Nope, not a console launch (thank God we won't have to deal with that again for awhile). No, not Christmas, although you're getting warmer. Black Friday is coming really soon and with it, possibly the best Christmas season ever for game releases. It's also a great time to get a HDTV
to really enjoy those games to their full potential. I've been researching and planning this for a long time and actually went ahead and got one since I got a great deal on an outgoing model. I figure I can put some of that knowledge to good use and help my friends at Destructoid.
Part 1 will cover the knowledge you need to buy the best HDTV for your gaming purposes. Part 2 (coming soon) will go more in-depth on the types of connectors for hooking up your consoles to the HDTV and how to get the best quality picture out of your retro or modern console.
DISCLAIMER: I'm not responsible for you getting the wrong HDTV or wrong cable or whatever. This is meant to help people, but I am human (as far as you know) and I might not have everything 100% right. I am pretty confident on most of this though. On that note, if any of this needs to be corrected, please let me know in the comments so I can make the changes. Thanks. Also, keep in mind this guide is meant for US readers. I'm not versed in the different cable types and resolutions of other countries.
Resolution and Progressive Scan vs. Interlaced
Old non-HD consoles run at the standard definition, which is 480i, also known as SDTV (for standard definition). The 480 stands for the resolution (in this case 640X480) and the "i" stands for interlaced. This is the method it uses to draw the screen. The other method is progressive scan that is represented by a "p". Progressive scan results in a nicer, sharper picture. As you can imagine, 480p looks significantly better but it doesn't look near as good as HD. 480p is considered "EDTV" which is a step between SDTV and HDTV. 720p and 1080p look better still. Some older HDTVs run at 1080i but pretty much every new TV is 720p or 1080p now. You’ll want to avoid 1080i because of gaming lag (discussed below) and also because you can’t get the most out of the Wii and the last gen consoles since you won’t be able to run progressive scan, meaning they will still run at 480i. 720p is a major difference over 480i and 480p and is considered "HD". There is not as big of a difference between 720p and 1080p. Most say it isn't really noticeable on a TV that is under 50". 720p TVs are really coming down in price now so that's probably the way to go for most people. I'd only get a 1080p set if I was getting a much bigger screen than 50" and had a whole lot of money (I don't).
A major thing for retro console gamers to worry about with HDTVs is gaming lag
. This is something that you don't have to worry about on a old-school SDTV but you should definitely be aware of in HDTVs. It won't affect modern console gamers using the better types of cables but it can still happen. Non-CRT 720p HDTVs have to scale up from 720p to their native resolution which is a little higher still. If the content you have hooked up to your HDTV isn't in 720p or 1080p, your HDTV has to scale it up to 720p or 1080p to display it. These scalers work fine for DVDs and TV content. Games, however are more demanding. Because most scalers in TVs aren't that fast and really aren't designed for gaming, it can be an issue. On some HDTVs this creates what's known as gaming lag. Basically the image on the screen isn't being updated fast enough to match up with what you're doing on the controller which can make an annoying disconnect between you and the action. This is the most notable on fast-paced games where timing is key (fighting, FPS, sports games and Guitar Hero for example - although Guitar Hero II actually has a setting to adjust for this) so if you're really into these, pay close attention. The biggest thing that causes lag is when the TV has to switch a 480i signal into progressive scan. This makes more of a difference than the resolution. As such, this affects the PlayStation 2 (most games run at 480i) and older consoles the most (consoles that came out before 2000). As long as you're using component cables on them, it shouldn't affect the original Xbox, GameCube and Wii too much as they will run at 480p for most games. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 can both display at 720p or 1080p natively so it's not as much of a problem for them. Note: the Xbox 360 needs to be hooked up with a VGA or HDMI connection (not available on earlier models) and the PS3 needs to be hooked up with a HDMI connection to output 1080p natively. A creative way around gaming lag problems is to use the Wii's Virtual Console or the Xbox 360's or PS3's backwards compatibility. All Virtual Console games are displayed in 480p even though the original games were not in progressive scan. GameCube games that support 480p (most of them) will also display in 480p on the Wii. Original Xbox games that are backwards compatible in the Xbox 360
will display at 720p, 1080i or 1080p. This is true for PS1 and PS2 games
in the 60GB and 80GB PS3 as well. The upcoming 40GB PS3 is not backwards compatible. When the console itself does the scaling instead of the TV, it's much faster, making the gaming lag noticably less. It would be a good idea to bring in your oldest console and hook it up to the TV you're considering buying. Yeah, you might get some weird looks but hey, it's the only way to see for sure and it's a good chunk of money. The sales rep/manager should understand.
LCDs, plasmas, DLP and CRTs oh my! Which to get? Here's the breakdown:
Most are familiar with this type of display because we use them for computer monitors. If you have a flat computer monitor, this is what it is. LCD TVs are the same thing really. You know how if you set the resolution too low on your monitor, it looks like crap on a LCD but it looks great if it's on the right resolution? The same goes for LCD TVs. If you're running a lot of old consoles, don't expect them to look really great on a LCD. Also, some fast movement is blurred on LCDs, which you may have noticed on your computer monitor. Watch during fast moving scenes on the store demos (watch the crowd in a football game for instance) to see if it's bad enough to cause a problem with you on the particular TV that you're looking at. Newer LCDs are getting better about this. On the bright side, these displays are really coming down in price, they are thin and have great viewing angles (you don't have to be directly in front of the TV).
These tend to be the most expensive TVs but even these are coming down in price and sometimes they are comparible to LCD prices. They are thin like LCD TVs. They don't have the motion blurring problem which is nice, the blacks look the best on these and they also have a great viewing angle. Unfortunately though, they are prone to what's known as "burn-in". Basically if one image stays on the screen for long enough (like the HUD or a pause screen), it will burn itself into the display and stay there, leaving that part of the TV a little darker. Supposedly newer TVs only have a problem with this when they are left at the same screen for hours or if something on the display stays the same for hours such as the HUD or the TV station logo. The Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 have burn-in protection that can be turned on in the settings. Basically the screen goes darker when you haven't touched the controller for awhile which helps prevent screen burn-in. On the PS3, you can set the time before it dims to 5, 10 or 30 minutes in the Display Settings. If you get a plasma, it's a good idea to turn off the TV if you're playing an older console and plan to be away from the TV for awhile, just in case.
Grandma's Boy! I love that movie! Oh sorry. These seem to be being discontinued thanks to LCDs coming down in price, but you may find a really good deal on one of these as I did. These TVs look flat from the front but they are about 5-6 inches deep, unlike the really thin LCD and plasma TVs. The picture is great but there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. On most DLPs, they don't have that great of a viewing angle. You will find some though that are a lot closer to the viewing angle of a LCD or plasma. The other one is bulb replacement. DLPs have a $200 bulb that needs to be replaced every 5000-6000 hours of use (every few years or so). Supposedly this will make the TV itself last even longer though since once a LCD or plasma is dead, nothing can easily be replaced like this and it will cost a lot more.
Note: the image does NOT look that good on CRTs.. These are the really old-school big-screen TVs and are all but gone now on the bigger TVs. They are deeper than DLPs, have poor viewing angles, are not very bright and a lot of them run at 1080i. As they are old news now, you will probably find these a lot in classifieds and other used sources. It's best to stay away from these now that the other display technologies are cheaper.
There are a lot of different connections used to hook up game consoles which I will go over much more in-depth on Part 2. For now, know that you need a TV with component connections and it would be a very good idea to get one with HDMI connections also, especially for the future. Luckily, all HDTVs now pretty much have these connections. The amount of connections aren't really important as you can use a switch box. If you can find a TV with a VGA connection, that's a plus. If you are hooking up consoles made before 2000, it'd be good to find one that has a S-Video connection as well.
Amazon's HD 101 guide
is a good guide to look at for more HDTV info, as well as CNET's HDTV World
. The AVS forums
are a great place to go as well.
No type of HDTV is perfect so you just have to decide what's best for you.
Phew. That took awhile. Look for Part 2 to come soon!