Girls Like 'Em Big: Televisions That Is

BlogHer Original Post

Before I offer some hopefully useful information, if you would, please indulge me a little rant.

Marketers, advertisers and reporters of the world - listen up: The next time you attempt to insult my intelligence by stating that women appreciate the aesthetics of product design because of some girly pink radar hardwired into our brains or that men seek size and performance specs because it makes them feel good about the size of their genitalia, I will hunt you down and smack you upside the head with either a gorgeous designer handbag or a large phallic-shaped object - your choice.

For father's day K-Mart's new blue light advertising icon suggests to a female shopper that she buy her husband a high definition television so he can see the stitches on a baseball because if she does there's a good chance her husband will buy her some shiny jewelry in exchange. I trust you need no commentary to grasp how truly sexist and repugnant that ad is.

Several months ago Sony advertised their Bravia line of televisions as the first designed for both men and women. Why? Because they claimed the television provided an excellent picture when turned on (for men) and looked attractive when turned off (for women). Interestingly, Sony had a gender neutral ad for the Bravia brand involving a clever stunt with a bunch of brightly colored balls bouncing down a street and conveying the message that Bravia televisions provide stunning images with gorgeous color and capture heart-stopping action. That ad has been viewed millions of time on sites like YouTube whereas the girls vs. boys ad campaign was quickly shelved after complaints from men and women.

Recently, the New York Times offered up this breaking news - women, just like men, want nicely designed objects that work well and do what they are supposed to do.

That hard-hitting expose did not stop the Times article from quoting Mike Brady, the quaintly-named editor of "DigitalAdvisor (www.digitaladvisor.com), an online information and shopping site for consumer electronics" who suggests:

... that men and women tended to have radically different approaches to televisions in the home. “Men want the TV to dominate the room,” he said “Women look more at the TV to not be the centerpiece of the room, but more of an accent piece.”

Wow! Thanks for letting me know that apparently neither men nor women seek a television that provides a great picture so, you know, we can watch stuff. Silly me.

OK, sarcasm aside, I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that anyone, male or female, shopping for a new television might want some helpful hints on how to choose from the multitude of choices on the market these days, how to evaluate competing technologies and what, if anything, they have to be concerned with when the government-mandated switch to digital television occurs in a couple of years.

Having gone through this process a couple of times myself (most recently purchasing a 42" wide screen, high definition plasma set and drooling over this 70" budget buster) and never once worrying my pretty little head about which television might make the cutest accessory for my living room, I offer some tips to buying the television of your dreams.

The Coming Digital Revolution

Soon you will be bombarded with messages that in 2009 television broadcasts will switch from analog to digital and that you must get ready! The good news is that this change will not affect the vast majority of television viewers. Your television will not suddenly become obsolete and inoperable overnight. It simply means that if you receive your television signal with an antenna rather than cable or satellite - known as "over the air" (OTA) - you will will need an adapter which the government will help you pay for. More info here and here.

This also means that you've got a great excuse for purchasing a fancy new digital TV so you can take full advantage of the digital signals and of the growing amount of high definition programming which offers a greatly enhanced viewing experience.

Prepare to go Shopping

There are a few decisions you'll want to make at home and which will be important to put on your shopping list.

1. Size

It does matter. The reasons why are the same for men and women. Determine where in you home the TV will go and how far away from the screen you'll be sitting. There are lots of different formulas you can find for calculating the maximum screen size you should pick. I found that simply counting my steps between couch and screen and then recreating that in the store and seeing what looked good to my eyes was a great approach.

2. Set up
There's a good chance you're going to end up with a bigger, wider and possibly heavier set than you have now so think about whether or not you'll need new furniture to hold your new set or if you're going to get a flat panel set and install it on a wall. In either case you'll need to factor into your budget the cost of a new stand, media center or mounting hardware and installation.

What to Look For When Shopping

3. Resolution
When you look at screens you'll want to check out three high definition resolutions: 720p, 1080i and 1080p. There are lower resolution non-high definition sets and an interim standard known as enhanced definition, but given how much prices have dropped for high definition and the growing amount of HD programming, you probably won't save or benefit much by sticking with standard or enhanced definition. I'm not going to overwhelm you with a technical discussion of p (progressive scan) vs. i (interlaced). Each has fans and proponents. However, ultimately what matters most is what looks best to your eyes. 1080p is the highest resolution you can currently buy but there isn't yet any programming at that resolution. So unless you can see the difference, it isn't worth paying the higher price tag.

4. Technology and Specs
LCD, LCoS, DLP, CRT, rear projection, plasma... which one to choose? First, you'll see lots of advertising that touts "flat screen." Flat screen, however, is often talked about as synonymous as with "flat panel." If you are dreaming of a thin slab of screen that will attach to the wall then you want flat panel. If you are certain of that choice then it will narrow down your choices (e.g. no CRT which is considered superior nor any rear projection which can be considerably less expensive). If you're not sure then check everything out and again use and trust your eyes.

If you plan to receive your HD programming OTA then you'll either need a HD capable (not ready) set or a set top converter box. If you plan to use satellite or cable HD ready is sufficient but you'll need to purchase an upgraded HD programming package. Also, check with your provider to ensure they offer the HD channels you want.

Another spec to keep in mind is the number and type of connections. HDMI is the future (good for upconverting, Hi-def and Blu-Ray DVD players for instance) and at this point you'll want as many of these connections as you can get for your buck. Also consider what else you might want to do with your set. For instance I have a USB connection on my set from which I could run a picture slide show from a thumb drive. I also have a connection that I could connect a computer to and use my set as a ginormous monitor. Check out where and how you're going to connect your gaming system.

Some technologies are better with fast motion and will render the images sharper and less blurry. This is important if you plan to watch lots of sports. For other, more static images, you'll want to focus on other features such as the depth of blacks (blacker blacks are better). Other things to look for are artifacts such as the "screen door effect" (like there is a grid on the screen or as if you are seeing the outdoors through a screen door) or rainbow flashes (which can be visible to some people from technology that uses a series of small oscillating mirrors to bounce light and create the image).

Look at different screens, narrow down your choices and then watch some fast moving sports or action and, if possible, bring a favorite DVD to see how it compares and looks to you. Another option is to bring a test or calibration DVD.

Be aware that at many stores certain tricks are employed to make images stand out and look artificially good such as turning the brightness control up high and dimming the ambient light. Try as best you can to check the sets out under conditions that will more closely mimic your home.

5. Sound
Picture is more important than sound and, in my experience, I haven't yet heard a television with awesome sound. So, if sound is important to you, factor in the cost of a home theater sound system to go with your television.

Your Shopping Checklist

-Establish your budget including the cost of the television, new furniture or mounting hardware, new high definition service (cable, satellite or antenna) and installation

-Count off the distance between where you'll sit and where the screen will be and then stand that far away as you evaluate sets in the store

-Look at the various types of television technologies and resolutions and narrow down your choices

-Shop around for bargains and read reviews from Amazon, Circuit City and geek sites like AVS Forum to get a sense of real world performance and satisfaction

Enjoy the TV of your dreams!

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