What You Need to Know about Video Displays
From plasma to LCD, DLP to CRT, the market is overflowing with TV options. Learn how to pick the technology that works best for you.
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Select the right kind of video system, and it’s bound to be a hit in your home theater—whether you’re a big thinker, perfectionist, progressive thinker or aesthete. Theater by First Impressions, of North Miami, FL.
February 01, 2006 by Steven Castle

Big screen or little screen? Flat-panel TV or traditional set? Front projection or rear projection? CRT, or DLP, LCD or plasma? Do you know what video display is right for you? Maybe you need a video display that matches your personality. Are you a big thinker and big doer or a more frugal, simple person? Are you a perfectionist who demands the highest performance, or are you more interested in maintaining your room design? Are you a progressive thinker? A risk taker? A multitasker? Did you have a happy childhood? (That may be a question for another time!) No matter who you are, there is a video display that fits you and your needs. And fortunately, today there are a lot of choices. Just keep in mind that the right video for you should also take into consideration your budget and the room where you’ll be viewing. Here are our nonlicensed, noncertified, completely free-of-Freudian- analysis recommendations.

Big Thinker, Big Doer
You need a big viewing area, which means a video projector coupled with a screen that’s 90 inches diagonally or more. These components are typically placed in dedicated home theater rooms, but many are appearing in media rooms, multipurpose recreation rooms and even family rooms. You’ll need enough space from the front of the room to the back for a projector to “throw” a big image on a screen. Some projection manufacturers’ web sites have throw distance calculators, and be sure to consult a custom electronics professional as well. The most popular projectors today use DLP (digital light processing) technology, but there’s also CRT (cathode ray tube), LCD (liquid crystal display) and LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon). Warning to big-thinking, big-screen big spenders: Light from windows and room fixtures can wash out many front projection images, especially those from CRT projectors. DLP is brighter, but front projectors work best in darkened rooms.

The Perfectionist
For the person who must have the best of everything, who finds even minor flaws intolerable, the good-old cathode-ray tube (CRT) is the only way to go. CRT is the oldest, most proven video technology available today. It comes in front projectors and rear-projection TVs, and it’s what our big, bulky traditional TVs use. And although other technologies such as DLP are catching up, CRT still provides the smoothest and most fluid image. The problem with all CRTs is their bulk. Rear-projection sets can be 20 inches deep or more and weigh several hundred pounds, while front-projection sets, with their signature red, green and blue “guns,” are also large and heavy. But the perfectionist forgives the CRT’s size and revels in the resulting pictures.

The Progressive
You welcome new technologies and the convenience they bring. And all the better if they become popular and more affordable. That’s why you love the idea of digital light processing (DLP). DLP front projectors are much smaller than CRT projectors, and they are much more portable. The newer rear-projection DLP sets are slimmer than CRTs as well. And most people, short of video experts, see no difference in the image quality, so why not?

The Aesthete
You like the idea of great picture quality, but you have impeccable design standards. You appreciate clean lines and a modern look, and you cannot bear the thought of a huge rear-projection television dominating a room. Your heart beats for slim, wall-hanging flat-panel monitors. These 3- and 4-inch-deep displays can be plasma based or of the LCD variety. Plasma-based monitors generally have screens from 42 to 60 inches diagonally, though a 71-incher is making its way to the market. LCD flat panels aren’t quite as big yet, but a couple have broken the 45-inch barrier. Expect these sets to grow even larger. Note to the aesthete: We’re sure you’ll want to keep wires hidden, so expect to punch a hole in the wall behind a flat-panel screen to route the video and power cables, or look for a stand that can hide the wires. Also watch out for plasma displays below $1,000. These econo-priced screens are probably not capable of showing a high-definition image.

The Speculator
You love technology, and you have to have the latest and greatest innovations, even if they’re expensive and unproven. Liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) front and rear projectors intrigue you the most. The technology can produce a smooth and bright image, combining the best attributes of CRT and DLP technology. LCoS derivatives include D-ILA (direct-drive image light amplifier), but so far the prices remain high, some companies have abandoned the technology and in some cases, the image quality could be improved. Yet the speculator simply can’t resist. 

The Penny-Pincher
You’re frugal, you know the worth of a dollar, and you just can’t see spending thousands of your hard-earned greenbacks for a picture image that may be only marginally bigger or better than a traditional TV. You’d gladly settle for a standard, direct-view CRT for a few hundred to a thousand bucks or so. And you know you’ll get a good picture. But don’t scrimp too much and settle for the same-old analog set. Spend a few hundred extra, and get a digital TV, preferably an HDTV. DTV is not just on its way, it’s already here, and it will likely be the standard by the end of the decade.

Lighthearted
You have a sunny disposition, and you like light, whether it’s from lamps, windows or skylights. You even like watching movies with the lights on. You’ll want a direct-view or rear-projection TV that allows you to see the video images most clearly. Flat-panel plasmas and LCDs will also do the trick. But avoid front projectors.

The Multitasker
You’re an efficiency expert, and you want to catch the morning news, stock reports and sports scores while prepping for the day. How does a small LCD screen in the bathroom grab you (figuratively, of course)? You can shave, maybe even shower while getting a head start on the day. It may not be home theater, but we just had to include it.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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