If your spring means staying inside to watch TV, then the world's HDTV makers have you covered. Their rollouts of new 2009 lines begin just as as flowers bloom, and this year the petals will open to reveal Yahoo widgets, Netflix Watch Now, 240Hz, LED backlighting, and wireless connectivity--among other buzzwords. And as you tiptoe through the high-def tulips, don't forget to stop and smell the accurate reproduction of red (0.64/0.33, if you're counting).
JVC LT-P300 series
Price: $850 for the 32-inch model
Screen sizes in series: 32-inch, 42-inch, 46-inch
The outlook: The company's second generation of iPod-friendly HDTVs includes better iPod integration (multiple aspect ratios for iPod video playback; iPod charges whether TV is on or off; song and artist info displayed on TV during song playback; photo slide shows from iPod or USB drive can be displayed during music playback) as well as better integration with connected PCs (sync iTunes with a docked iPod via USB; powering up the PC will automatically activate the TV).
The outlook: LG will put Netflix and a host of other broadband content options into one series of LCD TVs, the LH50 models detailed here, as well as the PS80 of plasmas. In addition to Netflix streaming, the sets will be able to access YouTube videos, utilize Yahoo widgets--on-screen applications with real-time info like weather, stock tickers, financial news, Yahoo Video, Flickr images, etc--and connect to a networked PC or USB device via a port on the TV to access photos and music (but not video). They utilize an Ethernet connection for all this broadband content.
Price: TBD Screen sizes in series: 37-inch, 42-inch, 47-inch, 55-inch
The outlook: Now that 240Hz technology is appearing in TVs from most major manufacturers in 2009, LG is interested in touting its own version, a so-called scanning backlight that, according to the company, outperforms other 240Hz methods. LG first introduced us to its scanning backlight technology at a private demo in December, where it compared a so-equipped LG model directly with a 240Hz Sony. We found it difficult to tell the difference once the TVs were comparably adjusted, but that was with LG's test patterns and setup. We'll perform a more thorough evaluation once I have some comparable models in the lab, but at first sniff, the two 240Hz technologies seem to produce very similar results.
The outlook: This is LG's series of LCD TVs with wireless capability, where external components connect to a separate module that sends the signals over-the-air to the TV. "Wireless" HDTV has been tried before, but it has never seemed to take off, although the latest third-party solutions we tested worked relatively well. LG promises uncompressed delivery of 1080p content without wires, courtesy of a proprietary 60GHz radio and multi-element antenna array.
The outlook: The LH90 series is LG's 2009 entrant into the LED-backlit marketplace. LED-backlit LCDs offer superior picture quality in most ways compared to standard LCD models, due mainly to their ability to dim parts of the picture selectively--a technology known as "local dimming"--and thus improve black-level performance. Compared to last year's LG sets with 120 dimmable zones, the new models have 240, which should cut down on the blooming we've seen on other LED models. Note that the slim, edge-lit LED models that will be introduced by Samsung in 2009 don't employ local dimming, and if our review of the edge-lit Sony KLV-40ZX1M is any indication, they won't match the black-level performance of models that do.
The outlook: LG's PS80 plasmas join the company's LH55 LCDs in offering Netflix streaming and other broadband content such as Yahoo widgets and YouTube. These plasmas also offer THX display certification, which in last year's PG60 series resulted in improved color accuracy.
Screen sizes in series: 42-inch, 46-inch, 50-inch, 54-inch
The outlook: Successor to our favorite TH-PZ800U series plasmas from last year, the G10 models keep THX display certification and add the company's VieraCast service, which offers broadband content like news, weather, YouTube and Picasa access, and, new for 2009, Amazon Video on Demand. We've already reviewed the less-expensive TC-PS1 series, and aside from THX, we expect the G10 models to offer similar picture quality.
Screen sizes in series: 50-inch, 54-inch, 58-inch, 65-inch
The outlook: As step-ups to the G10 series, the V10 models offer the company's one-sheet-of-glass design in the 50- and 54-inch sizes (but not in the two larger sizes). The big picture quality improvement, according to the company, is a 96Hz refresh rate, which should eliminate the flicker we noticed on the 1080p/24-specific processing modes of company's 2008 plasmas. Like the G10s, the V10 models also incorporate THX display certification, but add Digital Cinema Color, a feature we found less than stellar on the 2008 PZ850 series.
The outlook: Although not LED-backlit like the company's more expensive LCDs, the LNB750 series is still festooned with a gaudy feature set--much like its predecessor, the LNA750 series. It starts with a 240Hz refresh rate and continues with an inch-thick panel and broadband content access anchored by Yahoo widgets. An optional wireless dongle makes accessing that content easier. The TV also offers Wide Color Enhancer Pro, a feature that supposedly matches a source's color space to the HD color space--we haven't seen a feature like this yet, so it will be interesting to test in the labs.
The outlook: The UNB6000V series is Samsung's least expensive to employ edge-lit LED technology, which allows the panels to be about an inch thick. Don't confuse edge-lit LED with its "local dimming" cousin; however, given the performance of the edge-lit Sony KLV-40ZX1M we tested, we don't expect LN-B6000 series to rival the picture quality of local dimming models like the A950 series. According to Samsung, the UNB6000V's do use 40 percent less power than conventional LCDs, and put further focus on curtailing energy usage with a power indicator menu and an optimized energy-saving mode, which dynamically adjusts settings to conserve power.
The outlook: The most expensive of Samsung's edge-lit LED displays for 2009, the B8000V series adds a few major features to the B6000V models. In addition to a 240Hz refresh rate, you get access to Yahoo widgets. The B8000V series is Wi-Fi-ready, but you'll need to purchase an additional adapter. These models also feature Samsung's "Ultra Clear" panel, designed to reduce reflection and increase contrast, according to the company, although in our tests we've found their reflective screens distracting.
The outlook: Much like Panasonic's S1 series of plasma TVs, the B550 models from Samsung claim improved efficiency--they're said to use 50 percent less power than previous models. The company also touts 1080p/24 compatibility and a 600Hz subfield drive that should improve plasmas' already superb motion resolution a bit.
Screen sizes in series: 32-inch, 37-inch, 42-inch, 46-inch, 52-inch
The outlook: The only HDTVs we know about so far with built-in Blu-ray players, the BD80U series conveniently eliminates the need for a separate player--either Blu-ray or DVD. These models also feature dejudder processing, which was missing from the company's 2008 120Hz models like the LC-46D85U.
The outlook: The replacement for Sony's KDL-W4100 series from 2008, the W5100 models add one major improvement: Yahoo widgets. Identical to the widgets found on TVs from Samsung and LG, according to Sony they "expand and personalize the experience by allowing you to interact with your favorite Internet content like Yahoo News, Video, Finance, and Flickr while watching TV shows. Track your favorite sports team, check your stocks, and share photos with friends and family as you watch television." These sets are also compatible with the company's Bravia Internet Video Link.
Screen sizes in series: 32-inch, 40-inch, 46-inch, 52-inch
The outlook: Aside from the 120Hz 32-inch model, all of the sizes in the XBR9 series get Sony's 240Hz processing. Of course, if the 240Hz KDL-52XBR7 from 2008 is any indication, the 32-incher isn't missing much by having only half the Hz. All four sizes get Yahoo widgets, although the 32 is excluded from another potentially cool feature: Internet-powered TV Guide Onscreen. It should be an improvement over the standard TV Guide EPG, and we're looking forward to testing it.
The outlook: Combining 240Hz and local dimming LED backlighting, Toshiba's flagship pair of LCD TVs hits the two big picture-related high notes for this year. Like LG and Vizio, Toshiba's 240Hz sets use the scanning backlight version of 240Hz, which turns the backlight on and off very rapidly. Toshiba will also be among the first to incorporate Dolby Volume, an automatic volume limiter designed to level out peaks and valleys in volume. New for 2009, the company is adding an "expert" mode with user-menu gains and cuts, a "special backlight control" and the kind of shiny screen first seen on Samsung LCDs, which should improve bright room black level performance at the expense of creating more reflections. We prefer matte screen, but we understand people like shiny things.
The outlook: Not to be confused with Vizio's current VF550XVT, the 551 is much more appealing from a picture-quality standpoint. That's because it offers local dimming LED backlighting at a price and screen size that should send shivers of fear down major-name TV makers' spines. Vizio also throws in 240Hz processing, for what that's worth, along with a video-capable USB port.