Flat Screen Televisions

My friend Chris is moving into a new apartment in a couple weeks and he asked me the other day whether I had any suggestions on a new television for the place. As a home theater aficionado, I was only too happy to look into that pass along a few ideas.

Thinking ahead—as he does—Chris also shared the floor plan of his apartment to help narrow down an appropriate size set for the room. As it would happen, there are formulas for calculating an appropriate television size based off the dimensions of a room (or vice versa).

The short version is that one can roughly take the diagonal size of the screen and multiply it by 1.5 to get an approximate maximum distance that one would want to sit from the screen in order to be able to fully appreciate 1080p. (At distances past that, one loses starts to lose the ability to discern the finer details within a 1920×1080 image.)

So, I decided to run the numbers on Chris’ living room. The room is 15'9" × 17', although embarrassingly I couldn’t quite remember next to which wall he had wanted to place his television. No matter—once one divides those numbers in two (assuming that a couch may be placed halfway back within the room), that means that Chris’ couch would be approximately 8–9' back from whichever wall would be nearest the television.

I converted those distances to inches (96–110) just so that our final measurements, once we got there, would be appropriate for a television screen. From there, I divided each of those by 1.5 to get an optimum screen size of approximately 64–73 inches.

And here is where the compromises begin. Chris didn’t give me a specific budget, but I’m guessing he has some type of upper limit. And 65" televisions aren't cheap. As well, they can be rather heavy devices and I wasn’t sure whether that may be a factor.

Having said all that, I figured I’d go over a couple ideas, starting first with the cream of the crop and then offering a couple options that may be a bit more budget-friendly.

(But first, a quick caveat: Television manufacturers have ridiculous model-naming schemes. Rather than take an approach of assigning a single name to a series of models and appending a size, they tend to assign unique model numbers to each and every sub-model in their inventory. So, for the televisions below, I list both the specific model number of the television along with a wildcard mask (##) to convey the other sets in that series).

Top Pick: Panasonic’s TC-P65VT30 65" set. (TC-P##VT30 series)

This set isn’t cheap, but it’s a scorcher. C|Net praised the plasma as having the “deepest plasma black levels of the year” and crowned this “the best-performing TV we’ve tested in 2011.” As well, ConsumerSearch—a site that aggregates reviews— placed the 55" version of this set in their “Best 55-inch plasma TV” bucket.

Runner Up: Panasonic’s TC-P55VT30 55" set. (TC-P##VT30 series)

This one is basically the slightly-smaller sibling of 65" TC-P65VT30. With the same components going into this set (albeit with a skosh smaller screen), it’s sure to have fantastic picture quality like its bigger sibling.

Runner Up: Samsung’s PN51D8000 51" set. (PN##D8000 series)

Though this set may not have quite the black levels of Panasonic's finest, C|Net lauded this set for offering “the most accurate color of any TV we’ve ever reviewed.” ConsumerSearch chimed in as well, saying “[in] terms of color performance, there is no quibbling—it’s outstanding.

Closing Remarks

I think the sets here offer some good options, but even if you don’t go with one of these, I’d probably go with a plasma over an LCD-based set as they tend to offer better black levels.

As well, I happened to offer some links to B&H since I've received excellent service there, but I suppose you could order your television from anywhere. From whomever you buy it, though, I’d recommend opting for not just home delivery but also in-home setup or the like. Even if they don’t hook it up for you, just the act of unpacking it and placing it where you want it within the room could be handy (unless you really want to lift those 100-some pounds on your own).

Twitter Back-Channel for the Presidential Debates on Current

If you’ve been to a conference over the last few years, you may have encountered a “back-channel”. A back-channel is simply an alternate communication channel that continues alongside the primary communications channel. For instance, there may be an IRC room where audience members can discuss a panel while the panel is going on.

For the upcoming Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates, the channel Current is doing just that with Twitter in a project that they're calling Hack the Debate. In short, if you tweet during while you’re watching the debates, just include the tag “#current” and your tweet will be overlaid onto the broadcast (probably similar in look to subtitles or closed-captioning, but just with a lot more people contributing to the feed).

In this promo video, the Current team goes over how this might have worked if Twitter had been around for the Kennedy/Nixon debates:

I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds like it could be good fun. And while I might normally watch the debates on CNN or MSNBC, I think I’ll give Current a try. If you’d like to play along, here’s the schedule for the upcoming debates:

First presidential debate:
Friday, September 26
University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
Vice presidential debate:
Thursday, October 2
Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Second presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 7
Belmont University, Nashville, TN
Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 15
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

That news item from the Commission on Presidential Debates goes on to say that all debates will be 90 mins in length and will start at 9 p.m. Eastern / 8 p.m. Central / 6 p.m. Pacific. And, yeah, that first one — on Friday September 26 — is this Friday.

“Furnish” Episode of Big Ideas for a Small Planet

Some coworkers and I went to Gloria’s last night for a going-away party for Garrett since he’ll be working for himself in the New Year. The food was super tasty as always — this wasn't the first time that I had been to Gloria’s and it was a great time.

There was a large-ish flat-panel TV on one of the walls near us and, interestingly enough, it wasn’t tuned into a sports or news broadcast (not that there's anything wrong with that). Instead, it happened to be tuned into a program about furniture making (including what appeared to be a segment featuring some Herman Miller products). And, given that a good chunk of the people at our table have more than a passing interest in productivity pr0n, several of us (myself included) found the show to be a pleasant background accompaniment to our regular conversation.

A few of us eventually tried to figure out what the show was (with the idea that we might be able to catch a re-airing of it later). Confoundingly, though, the channel-identifier which bookended the commercials carried the logos of both Universal HD and The Sundance Channel. After a bit of poking around the web (and a few dead-ends), I think I’ve figured out which show it was. It appears to have been the “Furnish” episode of Big Ideas for a Small Planet which airs on Universal HD under the banner “Sundance Channel on Universal HD” (yeah, your guess is as good as mine on that one).

The “Big Ideas for a Small Planet” page at UniversalHD.com describes it as an “original documentary series from Sundance Channel [which] focuses on environmental topics with features on forward-thinking designers, green products and alternative ideas that may transform our everyday lives.”. More specifically, here’s what’s listed for the “Furnish” episode:

In this episode, a leading furniture company explores the goal of making all new products 100% sustainable; two designers use leftover scrap wood to create recycled furniture; and a Philadelphia-based firm shows off their innovative and stylish home-product designs.

The good news, I suppose, is that we now know what the show was. The bad news, at least for now, is that I checked my TiVo for soon-to-air episodes of the series and I didn’t see “Furnish” among any of those upcoming episodes. Still, my TiVo only keeps track of listings for the next two weeks, so it’s entirely possible that Universal HD might re-run “Furnish” in a few weeks time. (I'm tempted to add a Season Pass for the show just in case that might happen.)

NBC Not Broadcasting Wimbledon in HD?!

TVPredictions.com is reporting that neither NBC nor ESPN will be broadcasting Wimbledon in HD. Are we still living in 2001?

NBC and ESPN both said this morning that they will not broadcast the 2007 Wimbledon Tennis Championship in High-Definition.

Adam Freifeld, a spokesman for NBC Sports, told TVPredictions.com today that NBC would not show Wimbledon in HD. He did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decision. […]

It’s as if NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker just doesn’t care. Well, actually, he said as much himself, commenting that “I’m not overly concerned about it at this point [...] if viewers will be less interested in unscripted programming that’s not in HD when the rest of the programming is in HD.”