Sunday, December 14, 2008

The big picture, for big bucks

In this economy, a high-end HDTV might be little more than a pleasant thought or a daydream at the local electronics store. But the holidays could present an opportunity to make your dreams come true.

The Globe tested three displays: the 50" Pioneer Elite Kuro, at $4,500, the 46" Sony Bravia XBR 6 at $2,800, and the 65" Bang and Olufsen BeoVision 4 at about $18,000. We watched our favorite television shows, movies on Blu-ray, and video games. This was not a technical analysis, but rather we simply watched the TVs as a typical consumer would.

All three televisions are 1080p resolution, the top standard now for such media as Blu-ray movies. And all three products also are breathtaking to behold.

But some features stood out. The Pioneer Elite was a visual masterpiece, but the BeoLab 10 audio package that came on the Bang and Olufsen BeoVision 4 really took the cake.

While our amateur eyes and ears were dazzled with the Bang and Olufsen, Jared O'Mara of Smarthome and Theater Systems, a leading installer of home theater and audio-visual setups based in Milford, Conn., preferred the Pioneer Elite.

"It's far better than most plasmas out there," he said. "There are few very good sets out there, and a Pioneer is going to look the best no matter what you plug into it."

What about the Sony Bravia XBR? Years ago, audio features were what the Sony XBR line was built on, according to O'Mara. Originally, the Sony "Extended Bass Range" products had better sound, but now that brand has come to signify the general high-end product line from Sony, O'Mara said.

The problem from a professional standpoint is that Sony televisions haven't been able to bust into the super-high-end-audiophile-videophile market, even though people who own Sony products tend to be fiercely loyal. Regardless, the Sony 46" XBR looks sharp, vivid, and clear and it's priced for an entry-level high-end consumer.

Now, the ultimate question for those considering buying HD TVs: LCD or Plasma? Which is better? There's little difference between the two types of flat-panel display anymore, O'Mara said.

"At one time it was size, and there were really no LCDs above 42 inches," he said.

Then came discussions about ambient light - experts said to avoid plasmas in rooms with a lot of windows because of glare from the glass panels on the displays. Now, plasmas tend toward glare-resistant glass, making that less of a worry.

One sticking point remains, O'Mara said. Plasma is better for sports and fast-moving action movies.

"LCDs have slower response times than plasmas - how quickly they can draw the picture on the screen. It takes longer on an LCD," he said.

Pros: It has a crisp, clear, beautiful display, a real delight.
Cons: Price is a worry in a recession.
The final word: Our pro says it's the best.

Pros: It looks great. It sounds great.
Cons: Bang and Olufsen is the brand you saw in Bruce Wayne's apartment in "Dark Knight." He can afford it.
The final word: We were really impressed with the audio/visual experience on the Bang and Olufsen. If you already have a top-of-the-line audio system, you can get just the monitor, without the audio, for $13,500.

46" SONY BRAVIA XBR 6 AT $2,800
Pros: Price is the pro here. A normal person might be able to throw this on a credit card or save up for HD glory.
Cons: It was the smallest television we tested. They do make a 52-inch if you're feeing saucy.
The final word: If we had a few grand lying around, we'd buy it.

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