Considering a new TV? Stand aside to get the full picture of quality

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2012 - 6:44 PM

If you're watching TV to the right or left of your set, the view may not be what it used to be. Here's how to shop for the right model.

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3M Physicist Dr. Dave Lamb stands next to two LCD TV screens with identical on-axis brightness, but varying degrees of wide-angle luminance. Some LCD TVs lose quality when viewed from the side, such as the TV on the right.

Unlike many buyers, Jeff Fritsche of Eden Prairie thought about his living room layout when considering a flat-screen TV. "I want to see the screen from the side just as well as I see it from the front," he said.

Unfortunately, the quality of the picture from a side view is declining, according to a study commissioned by 3M that documents a decline in LCD TV wide-angle luminance, a combination of picture brightness and side viewing. Manufacturers are cutting corners by eliminating filters that improve viewing from the side, said Dave Lamb, a 3M physicist who works on light technology in LCD screens.

While many consumers view their TVs straight on and may not be as affected by side viewing, nearly half of consumers watch TV from a wide axis, according to the 3M study conducted by CBS Vision. And LCD is the dominant technology, with about 82 percent of the worldwide market, according to NPD DisplaySearch.

That's a lot of necks craning to see.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that begins Tuesday, 3M, which makes the filters, hopes to encourage manufacturers to include them in all TVs. "It varies by make, model and manufacturer," said Lamb. "We found that in two identical LCD TVs by the same maker, one might have the filter and another won't." As a result, 3M is recommending a new measurement standard for wide-angle viewing, which must meet viewers' needs while adhering to EnergyStar energy-saving benchmarks.

The filters cost the manufacturer about $10, said Lamb, but the filters get eliminated sometimes as makers squeeze in new features such as 3-D, 240Hz for crisper images and Wi-Fi while trying to keep costs down.

The filters offer a definite advantage for very little cost, said Don Lindich, whose Sound Advice column runs in the Star Tribune. By using the filters, consumers are less likely to maximize the brightness to make side viewing easier, thereby using less energy.

The decline in side viewing quality only affects LCD TVs and LCD/LED TVs, not plasma screens, said Lamb.

CHOOSING A TV WITH BETTER SIDE VIEWING

Lamb and Lindich recommend buyers do the following to get a television with a better picture:

• Tell a salesperson about your room setup and side viewing habits. When comparing models, ask which brightness setting a TV is set to and ask to be shown how to adjust it.

• Stand to the side of the row when comparing TVs in the retail store. Identify which ones look brightest at that angle and then view those screens head-on.

• Check the EnergyGuide label to see how much energy the TV will consume. TVs in retail showrooms are set to maximum brightness, but most TVs come out of the box with a normal setting. TVs set to maximum brightness wear out faster and use more energy, said Lamb, but they may not wear out before the consumer wants to replace it.

• Select a TV with the lowest power usage and the brightest picture, as seen from a variety of angles.

• Turn the TV screen off to check its reflective ability. In a brightly lit room, a matte screen that minimizes glare works better.

• Bring a favorite DVD to test different TVs. Retailers frequently show action sequences with images that change every few seconds. With different viewing habits, you might prefer a different TV.

• Consider a plasma TV for better side views. Plasma TVs, 42 inches and larger, offer a superior picture for color and contrast, but some experts believe they function best in a darker setting such as a basement. In larger sizes, plasma TVs are less expensive than LCD. Compare plasma and LCD side by side to determine what's best for you.

• Watch for deals at the end of January, when retailers try to entice buyers before the Super Bowl (Feb. 5).

JOHN EWOLDT

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633. If you spot a deal, share it at www.startribune.com/dealspotter.

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