26" LCD TVs: Are They Ready for Prime Time?

Viewing Angles

Viewing angles are a real problem for LCD TVs, yet they often go unmentioned in discussions of this technology. If the viewing angles are too narrow, viewers who aren't directly in front of the TV won't see the same high-quality picture. Often, those on the sides will see an image that is duller and has less contrast, and with colors that may even appear altered. This was especially the case with the first generation of LCD TVs; things have improved since then, and we should congratulate manufacturers on the effort they've made. A narrow viewing angle may be acceptable for a computer monitor, where there is usually just one person positioned directly in front, but it's the kiss of death for a TV set!


Some folks are fortunate enough to have a home theater setup, but for those who do not, good sound quality is always a plus in a TV set. It's a more important criterion than you might think, because the thinness of LCD panels makes it difficult to build in decent speakers. Some manufacturers make an effort to include quality speakers, but others include tiny speakers that do little more than make noise, and that's a shame.

Interpolation: The Unmentionable

Who mentions interpolation when you try to find information on LCD TVs for a future purchase? Nobody! Yet it's a fundamental problem that every LCD TV must deal with, and the differences between models are significant.

What is interpolation? LCD TVs have very high resolution: 1280x768. That's very good... except that the equipment you use at home is most often in one of the older PAL/SECAM/NTSC formats. Which means that only 625 lines are sent to the TV set, using PAL as an example. That means that there are 768 - 625 = 143 lines that have to be filled in. So the TV has to 'invent' content to fill those 143 lines, based on the 625 lines it receives. We call that interpolating, and if it is done poorly, the image will be jagged or blurred . The quality of the interpolation will directly determine the picture quality of the TV set, but unfortunately, in most cases the resulting image is significantly less enjoyable to watch than on a CRT model.

This problem comes up for TV broadcasts, but also for images from equipment that uses Peritel/SCART, RGB, S-Video, or composite video outputs. That essentially means all the equipment you probably already have: living-room DVD players, DivX players, game consoles, computer TV outputs, digital cameras, camcorders, and so on.

This is an important issue, and we've decided to evaluate the quality of the interpolation of LCD TVs as accurately as we can.

Some will say we're exaggerating, and that with a $300 DVD player with a high-quality scaler, the problem can be corrected. Or that it's possible to connect a PC via DVI. Maybe, but that only applies to DVD videos. It doesn't solve the problem of TV - it requires you to change equipment, and in fact it's still just a workaround.

Only HDTV (High-Definition Television) can get everybody to agree...