720p bargains

May 23, 2006

SamsungIt’s almost impossible to escape the 1080p buzz lately. Whether it’s from manufacturers, the media, or those lucky enough to already own one, it seems almost everyone knows the ultimate in HD is 1080p.

From Sony’s VPL-VW100 and Qualia 004 front projectors to Samsung’s “HL” 1080p series and even onto Toshiba’s recently announced “MX” series, it’s quite obvious that 1080p is here and here to stay.

But what about 1080p’s little brother? Surely 720p displays must be on their way out right? I mean why would anyone want less resolution? Let’s think about this objectively for a second and take into consideration real world budgets and requirements.

Yes 1080p displays are fantastic; they offer the best of both worlds full 1080×1920 resolution with progressive scan to boot but whether you should rule out 720p (720×1280) based displays altogether is another subject.

First off I’ve seen some questionable vernacular thrown around when it comes to 720p based displays and its worth clearing up before you consider displays based on either resolution.

The terms “Full HDTV” and “True HDTV” are often juxtaposed on top of each other and quite honestly it can be a little misleading. When someone says true-HDTV often what they’re talking about are 1080×1920 displays that will render all the resolution possible from a 1080i/p source. Alternatively 720p is still “True HDTV” even though it may not be “full HDTV”.

A more accurate use of these terms would go something like “1080×1920 is full HDTV” and “480p (EDTV) isn’t true HDTV”. Make no mistake both 1080i/p and 720p are considered HDTV. But often other sources of confusion enter the picture (double pun)

Not all HDTV material is broadcast in 1080i… Several video sources and even some of the networks operate/broadcast in 720p. Would it be fair to describe a 720p display being fed a 720p broadcast as “not HDTV? Of course not. It may not be highest overall resolution possible but it is the highest resolution possible from that particular source.

Granted examples of 720p only sources are rare and only getting rarer but they do exist. I know this can be a bit confusing and admittedly I might be crossing into hair-splitting territory but I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Let’s talk a little more about those sources.

Other Considerations:

Currently Fox, ABC, and ESPN all broadcast in 720p while NBC, CBS, HBO-HD, INHD, HDNet and TNT currently broadcast in 1080i. So you won’t technically be “missing” anything with a 720p based display while viewing Fox, ABC, and ESPN and or HD video from discs or games encoded in 720p.

I’m not knocking 1080p here, lets be clear on that. All I’m doing is pointing out that everything isn’t broadcast in 1080i just yet. However that doesn’t mean I’m proposing you should rule out 1080i/p displays but more on that in a second.

Where am I going with all this? I’ll cut to the chase. We’re going to have a few months to a year where we’ll see some really good bargains on 720p based displays. For example a 50″-1080p Samsung HLS5087WX lists for $2,699.99 right now while its 720p counterpart (HLS5086WX) lists for $2,199.99 a full $600 less and I’m willing to bet we’re not the only ones discounting what remaining 720p stock we have even further.

We’re seeing these kind of pricing tiers and discounts across the board from manufacturers who offer both 720p and 1080p displays. Obviously 1080p sets are all the rage right now and manufacturers are charging accordingly; with that 720p based displays are somewhat seen as a liability sitting around in warehouses and manufacturers are eager to price them to move.

But do you really want to sacrifice that extra resolution to save a few hundred dollars? Unfortunately this is a question I can’t answer for you but I can hopefully point out a few scenarios that might help you decide. More importantly than that I want to assure you that 720p is still considered “HDTV” and is more than capable of displaying jaw dropping images (I just happen to own one) so don’t let the lower resolution worry you out of something that could provide you years of enjoyment.

Summary:

I’ll tell you exactly what I would tell a client seated across from me; if we were deciding on the final displays for their whole-house A/V system.

A 1080×1920 display (specifically one capable of 1080p) be it either rear-pro DLP, front projection, plasma or LCD is going to offer you the maximum resolution available from current HDTV sources. However 720×1280 (720p) displays are just fine for secondary rooms and or situations where budget constraints just won’t allow otherwise.

If this is your first HDTV you’re going to be blown away by the image and I doubt that second thoughts will ever creep into your mind. If you do wind up going with a 720p display you’ll have something that will provide you with years of enjoyment and you’ll always be able to move it into the bedroom or kids room when you finally do upgrade to 1080p.

Either way, it’s hard to consider either format a “mistake” in my book. It’s all just a matter of requirements and budget constraints. In the end especially if this is your first HDTV, you’re in for quite a treat no matter which way you go.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under High Definition Televisions


Comments

  • Brian Hoyt

    Just wanted to add pricing on the FP front. Really nice 720p projectors can be had for less than $2000. On the other hand the cheapest true 1080p projector is still $10000. I love my 106″ of 720p. One other note is on the gaming systems. On the low end is the Wii at 480p (that is what most think, maybe 480i). The XBox 360 is targeting 720p and all games support it. It also supports 1080i, however I would rather the higher fps. As for Sony they were talking up 1080p for the last year, however now they have dropped HDMI on the low end model. As of this years E3 though only some games were claiming even 720p capability.

  • Brian Hoyt

    Just wanted to add pricing on the FP front. Really nice 720p projectors can be had for less than $2000. On the other hand the cheapest true 1080p projector is still $10000. I love my 106″ of 720p. One other note is on the gaming systems. On the low end is the Wii at 480p (that is what most think, maybe 480i). The XBox 360 is targeting 720p and all games support it. It also supports 1080i, however I would rather the higher fps. As for Sony they were talking up 1080p for the last year, however now they have dropped HDMI on the low end model. As of this years E3 though only some games were claiming even 720p capability.