The Suck Of Store TV Displays

Wandering around our local Dick Smith’s at lunchtime today, the posse spotted a dark new disturbance in the LCD TV market.

The new vendor was Trio, the model the TTH-32L.

Dickie’s doing a bunch of Trio products: the 82CM/32L is $1800 (ish), their 42″ Plasma is $1900, and the smaller LCD TV (26 or 27 inches? can’t remember) is about $1300, if memory serves.

I’ve been waiting for LCD TVs to become affordable, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening fast enough. Today was the first time I’ve seen a 32″ wide LCD TV for under $2000.

I nearly bought it to replace my aging-but-once-beautiful 68″ 4:3 CRT.

What stopped me? Presentation.

There was one of the TTH-32Ls showing the same Digital TV broadcast as another group of LCDs on one wall, and it had a greenish tinge, and was oversaturated. I fiddled the controls back to “normal”, but the contrast was high enough that subtle detail was lost. And slightly greenish. The other display model 32L was hooked up to a Hilary Duff movie, and either it or the movie had a fisheye thing going on, and either it or the movie had terrible skin tone “washing” issues – subtle shifts in colour just wouldn’t happen; skintones in people’s cheeks would appear to very subtly ghost if they moved.

Either might have been caused by long/overutilized/crappy cabling, a low-bitrate DVD, a one-off manufacturing defect and so on, but surely the idea when selling something is to make it look as good as possible? Not here.

I walked around staring at each LCD and Plasma TV on display in turn. Each TV looked sucky in a different way:

  • physical picture-breaking defects (big lines missing across the screen)
  • interference meandering its diagonal way across the screen
  • chunky compression/rendering artifacts (bad DTV set top box? Low number of available colours?)
  • poor motion and colour fidelity

There was one really (apparently) impressive TV there – a 106cm (too huge for my current living room) Plasma High Def TV, and they’d actually hooked it up to a laptop and were playing WMV-HD samples through it. That is a Good Way to Sell A Product. It looked great. Not perfect, but the best I’d seen.

Next to it, all the others looked… well, sucky.

I might go back on the weekend and see if we can’t hook that WMV-HD laptop up to some other TVs, like the TTH-32L and see whether it really is a good price for a good product. I hope it is. I want it to be good, so I can buy it and feel good about it, not constantly be picking out artifacts, thinking a cheap plasma might have been better…

(LCD is meant to be where it’s at, right? If so, resolution aside, why do Plasmas still seem to look “richer”?)

7 thoughts on “The Suck Of Store TV Displays

  1. Pingback: Darryn's Blog
  2. Spong,

    You’ve observed the oldest trick in the book. You say you were looking at the cheapest LCD TV there and, what do you know, it has the worst picture.

    Now had you have actually approach a sales person and inquired about LCD TV the first thing he would do is evaluate you as a buyer and work out what price bracket you were in (I’m sure there is a marketing name for this).

    You would say “I’ve been looking for LCDs to fall below $2000” and so they he immediately knows there are probably only 2 brands, sorry “price points” — that might be the work I’m looking for? — to show you. The one you thought you wanted, nah needed, at $2000 (A), the one maybe up to $2500 (B).

    So now he has you looking at A and shows you all the features, etc, etc. But, your a discerning shopper right! You’re not going to fall for the first thing the salesman tells you, right? So you ask, “What is better about the next model up”. So he takes you to B and immediately, your thinking “Well the picture looks better” but, like getting your palm read for the first time, you don’t give him anything to work with.

    So he explains the technical jargon as to why B > A — cause he has also worked out that your a geek and will need to feel you made the decision to buy B based on your own geekdom, not cause some Dick told you it was better — but then he closes by challenging your geekiness by saying “I guess it just depends if you can tell the difference in picture quality”.

    OF COURSE you fucking can!! An there is no geek in the world that is going to go back to A after (s)he has admitted to themselves that B looks better than A, but they don’t really need nice picture quality after all.

    So you buy B and feel good that your smarter that the other shmucks that either (a) don’t realise the picture of A is worse, or (b) can’t explain WHY it is worse (In fact, you a probably a geek just because you alphabetically number the thoughts in your head).

    Now you get home and actually play with your new shiny LCD TV and figure out that those Dicks (mithies) don’t even know how to configure their TVs to get the best picture quality, cause in 5 minutes you have B looking like the top of the range picture in the shop. So your feeling pretty good about yourself.

    But then one day your starting to think, I wonder if I could have made A look as good as B+ with a bit of playing – maybe even reading the manual inside out?

    And this it hits you — All LCD looks good (or at least similar). Maybe the Dicks (mithies) aren’t so dumb after all and they have tuned the pictures across their whole range to provide subtle price point upsell features.

    So this leads me (we not really, but reminds me) to a little theory I wish to claim (if it hasn’t been already) I will call “The Paradox of Gadgets”.

    The Paradox of Gadgets: As the cost and features of a gadget increase, the geekfactor of anybody that can afford said gadget decreases.*

    * Feel free to rewrite if you can make that sound better.

    Or to put it into formula:

    h00t! = —————–
    f($Y, (l)user )


    1) Old rich people that buy big ass wide screen TVs and then watch Letterbox movies in 4:3 to get “full screen”. Arrgghh!!

    2) Corporate executives with the latest Nokia phone with Series 60 Symbian OS with support for all the J2ME APIs that won’t know a JAR if they were bottled in one!

    3) People that can actually affort to get Satellite Foxtel as a solution to getting digital free-to-air channels.

    4) Yuppie scum that get Unlimited ADSL2 broadband plans to read the Internet (aka as “NineMSN” to them) and check their Hotmail.

    5) Anybody that actually PAYS for a ringtone!

    Feel free to list your own examples of The Paradox of Gadgets in the comments below.

    A related observation — Have you ever noticed that the sample picture on TVs in a showroom also attempts to establish your price point. I was in “2nds World” in Cremorne the other day (an oxymoron really) and they had two sample movies playing across the range of TVs:
    1) WWF Smackdown – for the CRT TVs
    2) Aspen backbowl skiing — for the LCD screens.
    I must admit the temperature dropped about 2 degrees from where I was watching.

  3. You mean that their near-total incompetence was somehow part of a larger plot to sell me more expensive kit?

    Perhaps I’ve been played. By a Dick. Let’s not go with the logical reversal of that (as it might scare off our currently-still-sighted Catholic readership), but perhaps both are true.

    I like that theory. I think it might even be a provable law.

  4. I saw that same LCD today and it’s easily the pick of the bunch. And I also immediately wondered what it’d look like if I had set it up instead of DSE. The picture could probably be a lot better with some tweaking.

    What I especially liked about the TRIO lcd’s is the nice, almost bland, silver surround. Instead of overdoing it like most of the units, it’s just simple. And just one colour! How many manufacturers make their units dual colour and it just looks wrong. By going simple it actually looks like a more expensive unit, kinda like what I’d expect Apple to make if they did TV’s.

    That said I just bought a Mac mini and everything in my house now needs to look like it “belongs” with the mini 😉

    I saw someone grab the 27″ model on ebay for $1000. Lucky bastard.

    Which DSE were you in?

  5. I was at the Macquarie Centre one, in North Ryde – I liked the plain surroundings too.

    I had a bit of a play with the controls on the monitor, and got the fisheye effect to stop, but still wasn’t really happy with the overall image quality in-store.

    I’m going to (er, trying to) hold off on a purchase until nearer Christmas – that seems to be when price drops are generally expected…

  6. Hehe… cool thats the same store I was in. The coffee at the cafe just outside is great (hmmm illy).

    There is a tevion unit with the same size screen for $940 but the viewing angle is 85/85/85/85… and I’m not sure whether that is the same as 170/170 on the Trio unit. Still a surprising price point for a 27″ lcd tv. They have a demo model in their store… somewhere down south syndey although I havn’t seen it in person [yet].

    I suspect that any LCD tv is going to have a better picture than any CRT at least in terms of crispness. CRT’s generally suck with displaying detail accurately. And these days the LCD’s are catching up in the colour reproduction stakes, and even getting quite bright too.

    One question I have yet to have answered is how you plug component RGB/RCA out of a DVD player into those ugly scart things.

  7. Haven’t tried the coffee there, but I definitely will now!

    I went back on the weekend, and fell in love with a Sharp Aquos display, for only $4200 for a 37 incher. That’s pretty cool. Easily visually the best LCD of the selection, for my money (it’s also in JB HiFi, but a $4800 model).

    Unfortunately, no support for HDCP or HDMI. I’m now obsessed with future-proofing my next telly, and with the buzz around HDCP (and Windows Vista, and other HD DVD formats and/or Blu-Ray), I can’t afford not to get an HDCP TV now. Bugger.

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