The Holiday Project: Upgrading Mom's Television

The Holiday Project: Upgrading Mom's Television

Gregory Han
Dec 22, 2010

While my sister and I exchanged and opened our holiday gifts in advance of Christmas (she lives in another city, so we exchange earlier while together), giving one another some home design/decor accessories, it was my mom who came away with the tech upgrade: a brand new Blu-ray player, capable of not only playing full 1080p video in all its glory, but also able to stream Netflix wirelessly. One big problem: a Jurassic age CRT television. 1998 called and wants its tech back, Mom!

The television was actually one of the top tier consumer models before HDTV and flat panels came on the scene and kicked bulky CRTs to the curbside, a television I purchased during the heydays of the DotCom bubble. It was a period when the idea of home theater for the masses was just starting to hit the consumer market, but 40" was the upper limit of flat screen CRT displays. We're talking about an era of 960i or progressive-scan 480p resolution, baby! Just in case you didn't know, connecting a Blu-ray player to most any CRT display is an unimpressive combination of visible pixels and letterbox images, so even Mom remarked, "I think it's time to get a new television."

Replacing the 234-pound 36" screen will be easy enough; we're arranging to have it hauled off for donation or picked up for tech recycling. Without its squat imposing presence, the living room will regain a bit of breathing room and we can untangle the snake's den of cables and wires that we've yet to brave.

My Mom isn't a cinephile by any means; until recently she was still watching her Korean dramas on VHS tapes and has happily migrated to watching these shows streaming online. Yet I'm debating whether to purchase a fairly modest (by today's standards) 47" 120Hz model or go one step further up to a 55" display. Either would work according to the viewing distance guide, but of course, the incremental screen upgrade comes at a price…approximately $375 more for those few extra inches of diagonal viewing area.

There's a glut of of LCD displays out there, meaning if you research online or even visit brick and mortar retailers, there are some notable deals to be had. With CES 2011 just around the corner, models will soon be upgraded/replaced, and the excess inventory has resulted in some excellent prices due to the previous year's weak economy. Of course the best deals have already passed right after Thanksgiving, but my own research the last few days has brought up some tantalizing prices even now, near the end of the year. A respected brand 47" HDTV display originally offered at $1,200 is now selling for $760; slightly downgrade to second tier brands and you can shave off a few extra dollars (and performance/features).

Does my Mom need an LED backlit, 240Hz, 3D-ready, online widget-enabled display? Probably not. But she still wants an eye-pleasing picture. So here's what I'm looking for when purchasing an LCD HDTV display these days:

1080p native resolution display: The days of 720p/1080i displays are numbered, especially if you plan to use a Blu-ray or modern video gaming system with the television.

Minimum of 120Hz refresh rate: This refers to the speed that frames are displayed in succession, affecting the clarity of fast moving scenes and smoothing out motion, especially important for action movies and sports viewing. If your budget allows, consider the even faster 240hz rated displays; the difference is not as pronounced as when upgrading from a 60Hz display to 120Hz, but some keen eyed viewers may notice.

Consider slimmer profile sets: Every year HDTV sets become slimmer and slimmer. The latest slim profile displays are so slim, they now require new mounts compared to our older 40" LCD display purchased a few years back; in fact, you could stack three of the newest models together and the combination would still be slimmer than our HDTV. Lighter, slimmer models will make wall mounting easier, and even if the option to mount is not available, the slimmer profile will lessen the physical impact on a room. LG and Samsung LCD displays are particularly thin.

Be sure to check out the remote: Hopefully you're a universal remote type of person, but other users like parents or grandparents will likely use the included remote regardless of how much you want them to use the nice touchscreen remote you got them. (Physical buttons still win out compared to touchscreen for a great number of older folks.) We're getting around this issue by matching the brand of the Blu-ray player brand with the HDTV display for remote compatibility so she can use either remote for both devices. Some displays are armed with remotes with user interfaces that may actually require reading instructions [gasp!].

In any case, whether it's 120Hz or 240Hz, 47" or 55", or .09" compared to 1.5" depth, my dear ole Mum is going to be well served by the upgrade. By considering the features and specs above, her upgrade should keep her happy until they get this newfangled 3D technology sorted out a few years from now. Or until CES 2012.

(Top image: Flickr member Luca Rossato licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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