HDTV your Xbox 360

You're going to need an HDTV to the get the most out of your Xbox 360.

by

By David Katzmaier
Edited by Sarju Shah


Now that you've spent roughly $600 to get a nicely equipped Xbox 360 system, prepare to spend twice that amount to get a HDTV to go along with it. If you're on a budget and don't need a screen the size of Utah, don't fret, because surprisingly, you can still find options that won't have you on an all ramen diet.

Playing your Xbox 360 without an HDTV is like wading in a kiddie pool. You might be technically swimming depending on how shallow the pool is and how careful you are about keeping water from running over the edge, but it's still no comparison to doing laps in an Olympic sized swimming pool. Maybe we're being too harsh. We're not saying the Xbox 360's regular picture is eye-stabbingly ugly, it's still better than a normal Xbox, but the HD 720p resolution offers twice as much detail as a normal resolution television. Once you go HD, there's no going back.

Your mantra into the HDTV world should be, "Give me 720p." The Xbox 360 renders all games natively at 720p, so it's only natural that everything coming out of the 360 looks great at that resolution. Since all of us aren't made out of piles of money, your next best bet is to get a display that supports 480p or 1080i.

Size and your room

Before we even get to the benefits of getting one kind of TV over another, you have to figure out what size TV works best for you. There's no sense in researching the benefits of a 65-inch LCoS HDTV if you have a room that's 10x10.

We're guessing many of you have dorm rooms or bedrooms to take into consideration, in which case, space is of the utmost concern. You might want to consider getting a large LCD monitor, or even a CRT monitor if space isn't that much of an issue. Generally, 24-inch and smaller sets are great in these situations, but they're too small for a main living room.

If you have the space, go large with a big screen; just make sure it doesn't take over the room. Remember that tube TVs are also fairly deep and get bulkier as the screen size increases. You'll want to pick out a spot that's deep enough for the TV so that it doesn't protrude awkwardly into the room.

If you're mounting the set inside an entertainment center, be sure it fits in every dimension. Also, leave an inch or two on all sides so that the TV has enough ventilation. If you're getting a bigger set, you may want to consider a dedicated stand. Many TV makers sell matching stands that increase the aesthetic appeal of their hefty boxes.

Widescreen TV-viewing distances

With widescreen HDTVs you can sit as close as 1.5 times the screen's diagonal measurement and still not notice much of a loss in quality, while sitting farther away than three times the screen size means you're likely to miss out on the immersive feel. Here's a rundown of both minimum and maximum recommended viewing distances for widescreen sets.

16:9 TV diagonal screen sizeMin. viewing distance (in feet)Max. viewing distance (in feet)
263.36.5
303.87.6
344.38.5
425.310.5
475.911.8
506.312.5
556.912.8
607.515
658.116.2

Now that you've spent roughly $600 to get a nicely equipped Xbox 360 system, prepare to spend twice that amount to get a HDTV to go along with it. If you're on a budget and don't need a screen the size of Utah, don't fret, because surprisingly, you can still find options that won't have you on an all ramen diet.

Budget Ranges

Televisions are expensive beasts, but they fall into a few distinct price categories. Here's a cheat sheet that will help better align the set of your dreams with the reality of your bank account. You can spend exorbitant amounts of cash on the TV of your dreams, or as little as $50 on a CRT monitor. Keep in mind that TV prices only go one way over time -- down. We'd recommend you buy a TV that fits your needs now, than try to fit in a more expensive set that takes into account the future, especially if it means you're going to save a few thousand dollars.

The Prices What you can get
Less than $300
CRT Monitors: up to 19 inches
LCD HDTVs: up to 15 inches
LCD Monitors: up to 19 inches
$300 to $500
CRT Monitors: up to 21 inches
HDTV Tubes: up to 27 inches
LCD Monitors: up to 20 inches
LCD HDTVs: up to 17 inches
$500 to $750
HDTV Tubes: up to 32 inches
LCD Monitors: up to 20 inches
LCD HDTVs: up to 27 inches
$750 to $1000
CRT Rear-Projections: up to 51 inches
HDTV Tubes: up to 34 inches
LCDs: up to 32 inches
$1000 to $1500
CRT Rear-Projections: up to 61 inches
HDTV Tubes: up to 34 inches
LCDs: up to 37 inches
$1500 to $3000
HDTV Tubes: up to 40 inches
CRT Rear-Projections: up to 65 inches
LCDs: up to 40 inches
DLP, LCD, LCoS Rear-Projections: up to 62 inches
Plasmas: up to 50 inches
More than $3000
Plasma: 42 inches or larger
LCD HDTVs: up to 15 inches
DLP, LCD, LCoS Rear-Projections: 45 inches or larger
LCDs: 40 inches or larger

Now that you've spent roughly $600 to get a nicely equipped Xbox 360 system, prepare to spend twice that amount to get a HDTV to go along with it. If you're on a budget and don't need a screen the size of Utah, don't fret, because surprisingly, you can still find options that won't have you on an all ramen diet.

CRTs

Direct-view is how industry insiders refer to any television that doesn't use projection technology. Most of them are the familiar tube TVs you see everywhere--they're called tubes because the glass forms the business end of a cathode-ray tube (CRT). Direct-view tube TVs can be found in sizes up to 36 inches diagonal, and as their screen sizes increase, so does their heft and depth. Sony's 34-inch KD-34XBR960, for example, tips the scales at nearly 200 pounds, measures 24 inches deep, and requires a minimum of two--and probably three--burly guys to lift it onto a stand. Because of size and weight issues, it doesn't pay for companies to make larger tube TVs; they simply aren't practical.

High-end tube TVs can give a great-looking picture. CRTs are still the kings of black level, a term used to describe the quality and the depth of black and other very dark colors. Direct-view tube sets look good from any angle, so the picture quality doesn't change depending on where you sit. These TVs can also easily last 10 years before experiencing a noticeable drop in picture quality.

On the cheaper end of the spectrum, you can easily pick up a solid CRT monitor for well under $200. The screen won't be as large as a conventional TV, but the clarity and image quality will be very hard to top. Samsung's 19-inch SyncMaster 997MB provides all the resolutions you'll ever need with a super-low .20mm dot pitch. If you really want to save some cash, check out the classifieds. People are dumping more than passable CRT monitors at insanely low prices, sometimes even as low as $15.

UpsideDownsideForecast
Relatively inexpensive; excellent picture quality; wide viewing angle; long life; can be viewed in brightly lit environments.Bulky and heavy; limited screen size.These sets are still going strong, and their low prices will keep them around in smaller screen sizes for years to come.

LCDs

Flat LCDs are extremely popular in screen sizes below 37 inches, thanks to their stylish looks, and the fact they can fit just about anywhere. Larger LCDs (sizes up to 57 inches have been announced) remain quite expensive compared to plasma and rear-projection models. Not coincidentally, the smallest plasmas are 37 inches.

The picture quality of LCD has historically suffered from poor black levels, but the latest versions are much improved, if not quite up to the best plasmas. LCDs cannot achieve a true black, since there's always some light leaking through the pixels. Color saturation is also generally inferior to plasma, again as a result of the inability to completely blacken (turn off) the pixels. Light leakage affects the purity of the color.

Viewing angle is another weakness of LCD compared to plasma. When watching from an angle far from the sweet spot right in front of the TV, LCDs display brightness and color shifts. In comparison, plasmas look equally good from very wide angles. On the other hand, LCDs will generally have higher native resolution than plasmas of the same size, leading to better detail with HD and computer sources.

On the smaller end of the spectrum, LCD computer monitors offer an extra avenue upon which to travel. If you can live with sub-20-inch screen sizes, you can find numerous options that can use the Xbox 360's VGA output. Cramped spaces like bedrooms or dorm rooms benefit from a dual-input LCD like Dell's 20.1 widescreen UltraSharp 2005FPW.

UpsideDownsideForecast
Higher resolution than comparably sized plasmas; no danger of burn-in.Expensive in larger sizes; home-theater image quality not as good as plasma; relatively narrow viewing anglePrices on this technology should fall precipitously over the next couple of years, following the computer LCD trend. Meanwhile, image quality will go up.

Now that you've spent roughly $600 to get a nicely equipped Xbox 360 system, prepare to spend twice that amount to get a HDTV to go along with it. If you're on a budget and don't need a screen the size of Utah, don't fret, because surprisingly, you can still find options that won't have you on an all ramen diet.

Plasmas

With prices starting at about $1,500, owning a coveted plasma TV is within reach of most shoppers. Compare that to the $4,000 or so that you'll have to pay for a 42-inch flat-panel LCD, and you'll see why plasma continues to surge in popularity.

More than any other type of display technology, picture quality varies greatly between different makes of plasma, so be sure to read reviews before you plunk down your cash. Despite significant advances, plasma panels still can't quite replicate the deep blacks that tubes can. Otherwise, the best plasmas can produce nearly CRT-quality images, with excellent color and viewing angles. LCDs generally have higher resolution at similar screen sizes, however, which does affect visible detail with HD and computer sources.

You may have heard that plasma has a couple of drawbacks. One such downside is called burn-in, which occurs when an image--such as a stock ticker, a network logo, or letterbox bars--gets etched permanently onto the screen because it sits in one place too long. In our experience, the danger of burn-in has been greatly exaggerated, and people with normal viewing habits have nothing to worry about. The potential for burn-in is greatest during the first 100 or so hours of use, during which time you should keep contrast rather low (less than 50 percent) and avoid showing static images or letterbox bars on the screen for hours at a time. After this initial phase, plasma should be as durable as any television technology. Many panels also have burn-in-reduction features, such as screensavers and pixel orbiting, or settings to treat burn-in once it occurs, such as causing the screen to go all white.

The life span of plasma TVs is another area that's improved dramatically over the last few generations of the technology. Partly in response to claims made by LCD TV makers, plasma manufacturers now claim their panels have a life span of 60,000 hours before the panel fades to half its brightness. Even if the real figure is closer to 30,000 hours, and you watch roughly eight hours of TV a day, it works out to more than 10 years before the plasma loses half its brightness--about what you'd expect from a direct-view CRT.

In short, plasma is a perfectly durable technology that's still a much better value than LCD in larger screen sizes.

UpsideDownsideForecast
As little as 3 inches thick; very good home-theater image quality in best examples; wide viewing angle.Relatively expensive; slight potential for burn-in.Prices have fallen, and pictures have improved dramatically, perpetuating plasma's place as king of the flat-panel home-theater hill.

RPTVs

Thinking of going big? Sure, you could buy an 80-inch plasma, but most people who want to maintain a good credit rating will opt for a rear-projection television (RPTV) instead. These sets start at about 42 inches diagonal and have built-in HDTV tuners. Their big screens hide two basic varieties of display technology: old-fashioned CRT tubes, and microdisplays that use DLP, LCD, or LCoS technology.

CRT

Tube-based RPTVs used to rule the big-screen roost, but unless you're strapped for cash or willing to get professional calibration to achieve the best home-theater image quality, we recommend skipping the tube in favor of a microdisplay. They still have better black levels than any microdisplay and generally have deep, well-saturated color. Plus, they can achieve a sharp picture if adjusted properly. Due to their significant bulk, these beasts are destined to die off sooner rather than later.


UpsideDownsideForecast
Relatively inexpensive; excellent black-level performance; still the best picture quality in a proper environment with proper setup.Deep cabinets; needs periodic maintenance; not ideal for bright rooms; narrow viewing angle; softer image than microdisplays; most cannot display computer signals.These dinosaurs are quickly being phased out in favor of lighter, lamp-driven microdisplays, and their demise is clearly in sight.

Microdisplays

A new generation of rear-projection televisions is taking over floor space at the electronics stores, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. These sets are called microdisplays, because they essentially consist of a lamp that bounces light off of or through a tiny pixel-filled microchip and onto a big screen. The lamps inside these sets, which cost $200 and up, must be replaced every 3,000 to 10,000 hours, depending on technology and conditions of use. You can replace most lamp assemblies yourself. The TVs are generally lighter and slimmer than CRTs, and you almost always need a stand to get them to eye level.

Most can display computer, as well as high-def and standard TV and usually look better when fed a digital (DVI, HDMI, or FireWire) rather than an analog connection. Unlike rear-projection CRT sets, all microdisplays can get quite bright without losing detail, so they're perfectly watchable in brightly lit rooms.

DLP

We've been talking about black levels a lot, so let's finish the discussion right here: Aside from CRT models (and possibly SXRD LCoS designs; see below), DLP sets currently provide the deepest blacks of any projection technology. Recent advancements in LCD have narrowed the gap considerably, but DLP still has a slight lead. Almost all DLP-based RPTVs use a 1,280x720-native resolution chip that shows every pixel of 720p HDTV, resulting in a very sharp picture with high-definition sources. A new generation of higher-resolution DLP displays is also hitting stores in 2005, offering 1,920x1,080 resolution that should be able to display every pixel of 1080i HDTV. These so-called 1080p DLPs cost quite a bit more than their 720p counterparts.

One potential problem with DLP sets is known as the rainbow effect. Some people can see brief streaks of color on these TVs, especially when moving their eyes across the screen. This is caused by the fact that the single DLP chip uses a color wheel to create red, green, and blue, and hence all colors. The occurrence of these rainbows has been significantly reduced with the advent of newer, faster color wheels, and most people who watch a DLP never see rainbows at all (and the few who do usually see them only occasionally). DLP HDTVs do introduce a bit more low-level video noise--which can look like tiny dancing pixels or motes in shadowy areas--than other microdisplay TVs.

LCD

While DLP still holds the lead in producing the deepest blacks, LCD chips have made serious improvements recently, bringing their black-level performance to within striking distance of DLP. Translation: Unless you have them side by side, you probably won't be able to tell which of the two delivers the deepest blacks. Prices for similarly sized DLP and LCD TVs will likely remain close as big-brand behemoths face off and try to outdo one another.

If you sit close to an LCD, you may notice a faint grid of pixels, much like a screen door, overlaid atop the image. You're seeing the space between the pixels, which is more visible on LCD than on the other two microdisplay technologies. It's generally not noticeable, even on LCDs, unless you sit closer than twice the diagonal measurement of the screen. LCD's big advantage over DLP, and one that it shares with LCoS, is lack of the rainbow effect--a big deal if you see rainbows on DLP sets, and a moot point if you don't.

LCoS

JVC has been producing LCoS-based front projectors for years under the D-ILA (Direct-drive Image Light Amplifier) brand, and in 2004 the company proffered a line of rear-projection sets, exemplified by the HD-52Z575 , and employing yet another abbreviation: HD-ILA. They're priced very competitively with DLP and LCD sets and offer the same resolution (1,280x720), as well as the brightest picture and best interpixel fill we've seen on a projection TV. Unfortunately, black level wasn't as good as either LCD or DLP.

Unlike JVC, Sony decided to charge an arm and a leg for its LCoS variant, dubbed SXRD (Silicon X-tal Reflective Display or Silicon Crystal Reflective Display). Available in the Qualia 006 70-inch rear-projector ($13,000), the 1,920x1,080 SXRD chip looks to be an excellent candidate for the best microdisplay technology yet. Initial reports indicate that it delivers excellent black levels, a minimum of video noise, and numerous other refinements. We expect the company will officially announce lower-priced SXRD-based HDTVs by January 2006.

DLPLCDLCoS
Full NameDigital Light ProcessingLiquid Crystal DisplayLiquid Crystal on Silicon
Chipsets, variations, brandingsHD2, HD2+, HD3, xHD33-LCD, H-LCDHD-ILA, SXRD
Principal brandsTexas Instruments (chip producer), Samsung, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, LG, RCASony, Hitachi, Panasonic, MitsubishiJVC (HD-ILA), Sony (SXRD), Hitachi
UpsideGood black-level performance; no maintenance required to preserve sharpness; often computer-capable; thin and light compared to CRT.No rainbow effect; no maintenance required to preserve sharpness; often computer-capable; thin and light compared to CRT.Excellent interpixel fill; no maintenance required to preserve sharpness; thin and light compared to CRT; more dependent on variants.
DownsideExpensive; some rainbow effects; video noise in dark areas; periodic lamp replacement required.Expensive; blacks not quite as deep as DLP; periodic lamp replacement required.Periodic lamp replacement required; more dependent on variants.
ForecastDLP is only getting cheaper and more popular, although LCD will give it plenty of competition.LCD has made some tremendous leaps in performance and will continue to challenge DLP as prices fall fast.LCoS is back from the dead, and two radically different variants prove the technology has plenty of staying power.

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