Q: I need a big television for my game room, primarily to be used for movies with an existing sound system. What would you recommend for less than $1,000?
A: I wish I had a great flat-panel TV recommendation for you. Unfortunately, the market has taken a gigantic nose dive in terms of affordable quality. Today's $1,000 LED-LCD sets with their cartoonish color, unnatural motion rendition and fuzzy, soft detail are awful compared with what you could buy a few years ago. Dealers can tout "4K Ultra HD" and play all the custom-made demo material they want, but if you connect the TV to the HDMI connection from a cable box or Blu-ray player, the picture is not as accurate and pleasing as a 720p Samsung plasma from 2007.
If I had to buy a flat-panel TV, I would I buy an OLED. Unfortunately, there are no sub-$1,000 OLEDs. I suggest looking at Samsung and LG televisions, considering only the actual picture quality as you see it, and ignoring sales pitches and marketing buzzwords about scan rates and video processing modes. The TVs often look better with the extra processing turned off in the settings menu.
I'd avoid Vizio because many of their TVs come without tuners. Without a tuner, you can't receive over-the-air broadcasts, cutting you off from lots of free content. Over-the-air television also has the best picture quality available from the networks and provides a backup if your internet, cable or satellite signal goes out. Insist that your TV include one.
Though I can't get excited about any inexpensive flat-panel TVs these days, there is something under $1,000 I can enthusiastically recommend. For $549, Optoma's HD142x 1080p video projector (optoma.com) is a great performer and a great buy.
I tried one for a month and loved it. Even in a well-lit room, projecting a 126-inch image on a white wall, the picture was fantastic. It has a preset picture setting that provides good color with natural flesh tones, and it displayed moving objects naturally and realistically.
Combine these qualities with the size of the image, and it really sucks you in. Network TV from DISH looked great, and Blu-ray was spectacular, especially with the lights out for a theater experience. Even DVDs looked better than I thought they would, given they are not HD like Blu-ray. Lamps last 5,000 to 8,000 hours and are only $179 to replace.
Though you can project on a wall, for the best results you should use a screen. A 120-inch fixed frame Visual Apex screen (visualapex.com) is only $249. Combine it with the $549 projector, and for $798 you have a combo that produces a huge, great-looking television image. (A tip of the hat to Al Griffin at Sound & Vision magazine, who discovered this combo. I have not tried the screen, but he knows his stuff, and I trust his judgment.)
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.