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Holiday Tech Guide: HDTV Advice

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Phillip Swann
CEO, TVPredictions.com
Tuesday, December 2, 2008; 12:00 PM

Phillip Swann, CEO of TVPredictions.com, was online Tuesday, Dec. 2 at Noon ET to answer questions about digital television and provide advice for purchasing new TVs for the holidays and beyond.

His site provides digital television news, product reviews, and purchasing advice. Swann is also the author of "TV dot COM: The Future of Interactive Television."

A transcript follows.

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Baltimore, Md.: I don't need to buy a digital flat-screen television before Christmas. Can I expect the prices to fall next year?

Phillip Swann: Prices will fall again next year, but the decrease will be smaller than this year and much smaller than the year before. It's getting to a point where TV makers won't make any profits if they lower the prices any further. And if that starts happening, they might start lining up behind GM and AIG in the government bailout line. (Just kidding, of course.)

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Washington, D.C.: Seems like Cyber Monday was a bust when it came to Blu-ray player deals. Do you think players like the Sony 350 or the Panny 35 will be below $150 before Christmas?

Phillip Swann: You will probably see a Sony or Panasonic Blu-ray player at that price online or in some stores by Xmas. Keep your eyes open.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Will Cablevision keep up with Verizon Fios and Direct TT and get their total of HD Channels to more than 100 soon?

Phillip Swann: Cablevision is adding HD channels -- but slow but sure. They now have around 70; it will probably be awhile before they reach the 100 mark.

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Bethesda, Md.: I do not own an HDTV. Three years ago I saw a 60" TV and the picture was so large and the quality was so nice that I decided right then and there that when prices went down, I'd buy that 60" TV.

The problem is that the 60" size has been seriously whittled down to just a few models and often only one per store. I've seen some really really large screens and they're too big for my space and budget. I've seen really nice 52" TVs, but I just feel like if I didn't get the size I really wanted I'd waste $1800 on something I'd regret. I've waited for 3 years now and was sure that I'd buy one prior to the February 09 switch when deals would be the hottest.

What do you see in store for the 60" size? Is there growth there or is 52" the best we can hope for?

Phillip Swann: There are some nice DLP rear projection sets at 61 inches, 65 inches and even 73 inches. And the prices are better than flat-screen sets of comparable size. For example, Mitsubishi is now selling a 73-inch 1080p DLP set for $1,999.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: A lot is being said about the Big Switch and what types of TV's will be needed but no one has said much about the type of Antennas that may be needed for these new TV'S. Where can this information be found so that a layman can understand it and not have it go over our Heads?

washingtonpost.com: Check out The Post's DTV Coverage here including this story and video, which can help answer some of your questions.

Phillip Swann: Check out antennaweb.org

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Boston, Mass.: I'm trying to buy a flatscreen TV for my parents this Christmas. The problem is that they live in Alaska, and while I've found good deals online at the major chains, none of them - Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. will ship there. I don't understand this considering that all those chains have retail stores in Anchorage. Any advice on getting a 42" TV delivered without paying through the nose for shipping?

Phillip Swann: I'm not an expert on Alaskan mail delivery and rates. Not sure what to tell you. Perhaps someone in the audience can assist.

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Washington, D.C.: I looked at HDTVs recently and part, at least, of the variation in prices among sets was a function of the number of input slots and the type of input slot/connection.

How many input connections of what type are really needed and for what are they needed?

Phillip Swann: You want a set that has at least two HDMI connections, if not three or more. With two HDMI connections, you can connect a cable or satellite box as well as a Blu-ray player at the same time.

And for those not familiar with HDMI cables and connections, they are an upgrade over Component connections. You will get a slightly better picture with an HDMI connection.

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Beltsville, Md.: I got a 32" HDTV this year that supports 1080i or 720p. When I hook up my aerial to the antenna jack, the picture is still 480i, even though it seems to be coming in without snow or other interference. What can I do to get broadcast HDTV?

Phillip Swann: I would get a professional out to take a look. There could be an issue with the signal quality or perhaps the connection.

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Rockville, Md.: Blu-Ray player prices are dropping, but so far, not that dramatically, unless they are old models. What features would you insist on for a Blu-Ray player and when would you buy to get the best price?

Phillip Swann: Unless you absolutely must have a Blu-ray player that can download ringtones and enable you to chat with other Blu-ray owners, the higher priced models (which offer that interactivity) are no better than the lower priced models.

The important thing is the picture. And the picture on those sub $200 Blu-ray players is just as good as the players priced at $399 and above.

Between now and Christmas, you'll see some Blu-ray players for $169, $149. Those are great prices. Buy one and you'll get a great picture.

The interactive stuff is just fluff from the studios, in my opinion, designed to get you to spend more on discs.

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Tucson, Ariz.: I've heard that the higher quality of 1080p is not discernible in flat-panel HDTVs under 42 inches so one should just purchase a 720p set if going smaller than 42 inches. Is this correct? Also, that no digital cable signals currently are broadcast in 1080p--is this correct? Thank you.

Phillip Swann: Another good question.

Yes, for many viewers, the 1080p picture won't look much different on a 42-inch set. The difference starts to become noticeable as the screen size increases.

And, yes, the only 1080p content available on the market are Blu-ray discs -- and some PPV movies from the satellite TV services. (However, buyer beware: many high-def enthusiasts say that the satellite 1080p PPV films are not as sharp as the Blu-ray discs.)

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Fairfax, Va.: Is the 950 Samsung LCD worth $1,000 more than the 850 model? We have the 850 model and have been delighted with it. But we are impressed by Samsung's technology and wonder about the newer 950.

Phillip Swann: I'm not familiar with that model, but if you're pleased with your current set, hold on to that $1,000. Or, if you have a hole in your pocket, use it to buy a Blu-ray player and a Home Theater in a box system. You'll still have some money left over.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I don't see a lot of 1080p Plasma TVs advertised? Is there a reason? I see a lot more LCD and 720p options.

Thanks, - Ajay

Phillip Swann: Look around; they're out there. But it is true that LCD makers were first to market with 1080p sets, and consequently, have a tremendous sales advantage over Plasma in overall 1080p sales.

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Carlsbad, Calif.: Mr. Swann, aside from the tax break, what are the pros and cons of purchasing from online retailers instead of from traditional retail stores?

Phillip Swann: Many online sites offer better prices than retail stores -- and free shipping. Some even offer what they call "white glove delivery" for free. No, they don't send you a white glove so you can pretend to be Michael Jackson. The white glove delivery means they will deliver the set to your home, bring it to the room of your choice and unbox it.

So check out the deals and the offers online; it might be your best option.

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Silverdale, Wash.: Is there any difference in the antenna reqired for digital tv from the current analog signal?

Phillip Swann: Good question.

Yes, you may need a stronger antenna, even a rooftop one, to receive all your local stations in digital. It depends upon where you live; how close you are to the local stations' broadcasting towers, etc.

This is one of the many reasons why people need to prepare now for the transition.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: With so many HD TV's out there, Vizio, Panasonic, Toshiba, Sony, Magnavox, LG, etc., Outside of price and contrast ratio, are'nt they basically the same inside? Aren't the parts purchased from the same manufactures? The reason that I ask is that I recently read a article where a company was getting fined for trying to manipulate the market concerning the glass pannels.

Phillip Swann: Yes, the Justice Department fined a few companies for price collusion on LCD sets -- the old baseball free agent trick.

Many sets have the same parts inside, but not all. Before buying, check out some reviews at CNET.com and Consumer Reports.

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Washington, D.C. : Is a 1080p TV even worth the purchase? Is anything broadcast at 1080p?

Phillip Swann: It's not a must, but if you have the extra dollars, get a 1080p set. On a large screen HDTV, a 1080p Blu-ray disc looks sensational.

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Denver, Colo.: What is your assessment of Walmart's Black Friday offering of Polaroid 42 inch LCD HDTV at $598? A good deal or would not want to have part of it?

Phillip Swann: It's a good deal, particularly if you're looking for a second or third set. Polaroid's ratings are not as high as some (Sony, Samsung, etc.), but their sets offer a solid picture.

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Washington, D.C. : What are your thoughts on LCD vs. Plasma? I have both a plasma TV and a brand new LCD. I have found that my new LCD takes much more effort to attain a good picture. It requires special cables (HDMI, etc) and a lot of tweaking. I'm not sure if this is because it is a 1080p set or 46" or samsung vs. panasonic (my plasma brand). I'm happy with the LCD. But the plasma had an instant fantastic picture, but the LCD took more work (and was more expensive).

Phillip Swann: Okay, I've been asked this question about 1.5 million times over the last five years. But, fortunately, there's a simple answer:

LCD sets normally look better in well lit rooms while Plasma sets look better in dark rooms. So if you're shopping for a flat-panel set and can't decide whether to buy a LCD or Plasma HDTV, keep that in mind.

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Davidsonville, Md.: I guess this is unAmerican to admit, but I don't watch tv (no reception, and too cheap to spring for cable.) Any recommendations for a flat panel that will be used primarily for watching dvds? Is there a big difference in picture quality for that kind of use?

Phillip Swann: You don't watch TV? Dear God in Heaven, Davidsonsville!

Okay, just want to watch DVDs? Get a HDTV 50 inches or larger and buy a Blu-ray player. You'll think you're sitting in a movie theater -- minus the screaming teens and that guy who always sits behind you and comments on why the director should have cut that scene or cast someone else in the picture...you know the guy.

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Washington, D.C.: In your personal opinion, at the 50-52" size: LCD or Plasma?

Phillip Swann: Plasma. If it's in a dark room (see earlier post). But, of course, many things are better in dark rooms. :)

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Excess electronics: So, my VCR is now useless for recording off the air? And I just figured out how to get it to stop blinking...

Phillip Swann: Well, I hope at least it's not a Beta.

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Richmond, Va.: Prices of LCD and plasma TVs dropped significantly shortly after Christmas 2007. Do you forsee another price drop after this Christmas?

Phillip Swann: Very little, if any. Retailers are throwing everything they got at this holiday season. For some, this is a matter of survival. They need sales -- now!

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Dallas, Texas: I need to replace an old 9" black and white TV for my parents. It needs to sit on a specific shelf in their kitchen. I am confused about screen sizes in the digital sets when compared to analogue. I have tried searching for smaller digital screens without much success. Are small digital TVs like their 9" screen even available?

Phillip Swann: There are some small (and even portable) Digital TVs out there, but not many. There's a web site that specializes in them, but I can't remember the name, unfortunately.

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N.Y., N.Y.: I have a 19" tube TV from 1999. I have no idea what to look for in these new fancy TVs. I'd like one that's one or two sizes up, but want to know what things i can't live without and what aren't worth the money. Also what prices points are we talking about? Thanks.

Phillip Swann: You can get a 26-inch HDTV, even a 22-inch one, for less than $400.

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Laurel, Md.: A lot of online electronic discounters have no-name brand HDTV's for $400 for 32" or $500 for 37". Is there a big difference in quality vs name brands costing almost double that?

Phillip Swann: I always recommend going with name brands. However, if you see a real bargain on a brand you've never heard of, do some research and check out its reviews at CNET.com and Consumer Reports. You might be surprised.

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For Alaska: What about trying the service at home depot (I think that is it) where you order online and pick up in the store? I believe I saw this advertised on a commercial. Perhaps you could enlist a friend of your parents to pick it up from the store and bring it to their house if you want them to be surprised. There would be no shipping at all then.

Phillip Swann: Good advice.

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Boston, Mass.: Follow up on the Alaska question - can you generally recommend any websites/stores that have better then average delivery policies? I'm willing to do the digging on my own, but need advice on where to look other than the major chain stores.

Phillip Swann: There were some 'free shipping' offers during Cyber Monday. Check around today at sites like Amazon.com; they may still be available.

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Rockville, Md.: Will my CRT television set look any different when I pick up digital signals from a converter box?

Phillip Swann: The picture might be a bit sharper, but you probably won't notice much difference.

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Bethesda, Md.: Just picked up a new 42-inch Panasonic Plasma on Friday. What protection do I need in terms of surge protectors/battery backup? I'm assuming I don't need Monster cables, but what price range would give me sufficient protection?

Thanks

Phillip Swann: Good question.

People think HDMI cables have to be expensive. They don't. You can get one for less than $10 and it will be just as good as that $60 one the sales clerk tried to push on you.

Surge protectors? Always a good idea, particularly in this area where we have plenty of violent storms.

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HDMI inputs: My TV only has one, but I got an A/V receiver with 3 (in case others only have one).

Phillip Swann: Good point.

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Dallas, Texas: How are so many networks getting away calling themselves HD when only a small portion of programming is actually shot in HD. As a consumer, I feel screwed as I invested to upgrade to a HD TV and HD service from cable provider to have only a few truly HD networks.

Phillip Swann: I agree, although it's improving. Many one-time so-called HD networks are adding real high-def programming. For instance, check out A&E HD and The History Channel HD. I think you'll be surprised at how much programming is now in high-def. When the networks first started, it was very little.

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Saddle Brook, N.J.: Just curious ... Why have the Spanish networks and stations - WXTV (Univision) and WNJU (Telemundo/NBC) here in the NYC area, for example -- not embraced HDTV? Do they plan to do so anytime soon?

Phillip Swann: I know Telemundo has said it will go high-def soon; it's already producing shows in HD in Mexico.

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20782: So, are you saying if I have a 42" Plasma HDTV, it is too small to take advantage of the higher resolution of Blu-Ray?

Phillip Swann: No, not quite. Your picture will be significantly better than a standard-def DVD. But it won't be as good as it would on a larger screen set.

For instance, if a Blu-ray disc on a 50-inch set was a 10, on a scale of 1-10, the 42-inch set rating would be an 8 or 9.

A standard-def DVD would be a 4 or 5.

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For Alaska again: I think I may have written home depot in my earlier message - obviously meant best buy! (If you can't tell I am working on some home renovations right now)

Phillip Swann: For the Alaska crowd...

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Baltimore, Md.: Brand name vs. no-name TVs: my son used to work at Best Buy, and he says the no-name brands came back for returns or repairs way more often than Sony, Panasonic, LG, etc.

Phillip Swann: Good point; another reason to go with name brands.

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TV to alaska: First I would try calling the local store and seeing what the options were.

Second, if there is a circuit city, they have the in-store pickup option which would be free.

Third, I would just buy a gift card, send it to the and tell them to pick it up.

Normally this would seem rude, but it's Alaska, they have to be used to being disconnected from the rest of the country.

Phillip Swann: More input for Alaska -- and, apparently, a slight dig at the home of our GOP vice presidential nominee.

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Portland, Ore.: EXPIRATION DATE FOR CONVERTER BOX REFUNDS: Nowhere on the letter accompanying the refund card for the Federal refund for the "analog to digital" box does it say that the card has only a 90-day life, and is worthless later than that date. Obviously, when I received my refunded card several months ago, I was responding to the published worry that only a limited number of refund cards were available. As a consumer, however, I planned to wait until the holiday sales to buy my conveter box and request my refund. The cover letter fr the government does not mention the limited life of the card. On the card itself-- in the smallest letters imaginable-- the card carries an expiration date--- 90 days out.

Why was this done like this? For seniors with eyesight that it not great, it is nearly a scam. Shouldn't the Congressional Committees on Aging and the FTC look at the very limited way that a consumer is told of the limited life of the refund card? Doesn't this lack of notice on the cover letter-- in type as large as type in the letter body-- a delibverate way to dsiadvantage seniors? Will I haveany luck appealing this to the proper Fed authorities? Thnx--

Phillip Swann: The government says the 90-day restriction was done to eliminate fraud. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez insisted on it. The theory is that the longer the cards are valid, the more likely someone will find a way to use them illegally.

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Manassas, Va.: Are there areas where an analog TV with a rooftop antenna won't work even with the converter box?

Phillip Swann: Absolutely. If you live next to a large mountain, a tall building, etc. you might have trouble getting some signals. This is one reason why February 17, 2009 promises to be one of our nation's most confusing days. Many consumers won't have a clue why they can or can't get certain channels.

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small tv: Maybe look for a larger tv and get it installed on their wall. We did this for my parents and they love it especially since their eyesight is going.

Phillip Swann: Good idea here.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Will my OTA digital reception be better after the February cutover? How can I find out of local broadcasters are already sending out a full strength signal? February is no time to install a bigger antenna.

Phillip Swann: You probably won't notice much difference, if any.

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LCD vs Plasma: For reasons that I can't explain or even understand, I've gotten it into my head that I will someday be able to use my TV as a computer monitor. This would pretty much mean that I'd have to get an LCD right? Or am I experiencing a waking delusion?

Phillip Swann: No, you could use either for that -- right now, in fact. Many sets have PC connections.

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Bethesda, Md.: I'm in the market for a medium size tv for a bedroom with a lot of windows--glare is an issue. We watch a lot of movies, but we won't get blu-ray for a year or so. I'm torn between Sony's 37 inch XBR and the 40 inch W series. What other TV's should I be looking at?

Phillip Swann: I won't recommend specific models, but it sounds like an LCD is right for you.

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Nashville, Tenn.: O.K.--have purchased new digital TV. I do not have cable. Am using my antenna; not all channels are high definition, but the picture is acceptable. Now, am I ready for the switch in February? Or will I have to break down and purchase cable?

Many thanks for your wisdom!

Phillip Swann: You're fine -- the Digital TV will capture the signals.

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Herndon, Va.: Greetings, Swanni.

How do you think the DTV rollover will go - will there be enough converters?

Phillip Swann: I think it will be a mess -- at least for a month or so after the transition. Many consumers don't have a clue how to prepare for the transition. Until their picture goes dark, they won't do a thing.

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Washington, D.C.: Hello,So, my big, old, clunky TV is broken. Time to get a new one. I am not the type to need the best and latest technology -- I just need a decent new TV. I've determined that I should get a 32" LCD, 720p, preferably name-brand. My concern, however, is that I just have regular cable -- not HD service, and I don't have or plan to get a Blu-ray player. So I'm going to be putting non-HD input into an HD set, and from what I've seen, TV programming will actually look -worse- with a new HD set than with the old one! Any suggestions that don't include spending $$$ to get HD cable service?!

Phillip Swann: Depending upon where you live, you might be able to pick up the high-def signals of your local networks with an antenna. Check out antennaweb.org for more information.

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Mitchellville, Md.: I want to put an HDTV in my basement that will be viewed in normal room lighting that is provided by ceiling mounted flourecent 2x4 fixtures. There is no natural light in the basement. I have read that plasmas are best for darker rooms like basements. Does that still apply in my case or would LCD be better.

Phillip Swann: Plasma would be better, but the LCD would be okay, too.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think that the economy or the technology is the biggest roadblock for development of an (affordable) OLED big screen?

Phillip Swann: The technology at this point, but Sony says it's coming.

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Washington, D.C.: I have been holding off buying an HDTV because I've noticed standard definition DVDs are often the wrong size on the screen, and there's no way to adjust the aspect ratio to fix this. Has this been fixed in new HDTVs or new DVD players, or is BlueRay the only option to do away with "squat" or "stretched out" actors?

Thanks

Phillip Swann: If you love watching DVDs at home, I urge you to get a Blu-ray player and a high-def set. You'll just fall in love with the picture.

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Mitchellville, Md.: Are there any LCD or plasma tvs that have the cable card slots? It seems to me that it defeats the purpose of having a flat TV if you still have to have space for a cable box.

Phillip Swann: Yes, flat-screen sets have CableCard slots.

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Washington, D.C.: I was all set to buy an LCD HDTV from crutchfield when I noticed that the unit was a '120 Hz' model. To what does this refer? I don't want to buy a TV and find out that I either needed '120 Hz' and didn't get it or vice versa. Can you explain what this means? Thank you for all the help you give us.

Phillip Swann: 120 Hz is intended to reduce motion blur in LCD sets, but there's disagreement over how important and effective it really is. If you have the money, get one that has it. If not, don't worry about it.

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Beachwood: In a room where you are about 10 feet from the TV what size would you think would be good? It would be viewed from about 30 degrees on each side....

Phillip Swann: 10 feet? I would say at least a 50-inch set.

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Washington, D.C. : Is there any point in using a Blue-ray DVD player that upconverts regular DVDs on an HD plasma TV that only displays 720 pixels?

Phillip Swann: Absolutely. The picture on your standard-def DVDs will still look better.

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Alexandria, Va.: For people considering getting a Blue-ray player, if you have any interest at all in video games, don't rule out getting a PlayStation 3. I'm not a big time gamer, but the PS3 is also a Blue-Ray player, it upconverts standard DVDs (better than the standalone upconverting DVD player I had), it can manage your digital pictures (and displays them nicely on a big HD TV), it plays CDs/MP3s/MPEGs, and you can surf the Internet with it.

Phillip Swann: Here's a message from a Sony employee who's putting his/her lunch hour to good use. :)

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Beltsville, Md.: What should I use to clean an LCD screen? The salesman tried to sell me some rather expensive solvent.

Phillip Swann: When a salesman tries to sell you an expensive TV accessory, run. There are very inexpensive cloths out there that will do the job.

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St. Paul, Minn.: When during the year are prices the lowest on HDTVs? I hear conflicting reports: buy before Christmas; no - buy after Christmas but before the Superbowl; no - wait until after the Superbowl. When is the right time to buy?

Phillip Swann: The holiday season usually brings out the lowest prices.

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Luddite: I bought a new TV 4 years ago. I have just been assuming it is new enough that this February thing won't apply to me. I get digital cable. Do I need to do anything?

Phillip Swann: If you get digital cable, you're all set.

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Irvine, Calif.: I have cable service and my main viewing room faces west with lots of outside light during daylight hours. Should I buy Plasma or DSL?

Phillip Swann: Lots of light? Get a LCD. You won't see as much glare on the screen.

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Allen, Texas just north of Dallas: Similar situation here as Dallas re the small TV but in my case for me. I saw an undercounter digital TV that was the right size but won't work in our kitchen. Wall mount might work but wanted to be able to view from many angles -- currently just turn the TV slightly. Hope you, Phillip, or someone else will remember the small TV Webs site!

Second question -- this set won't be hooked to cable so what are the chances that rabbit ears will pick up stations in a kitchen area?

Phillip Swann: Rabbit ears in the kitchen? Well, it will depend on where you live. If you're close -- thisclose -- to the station's transmitter, you should be okay. But if you're this.......close, not so much.

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Medford, Ore.: Will a radio which currently receives TV audio work after the change?

Phillip Swann: It would depend on the radio. If it receives analog signals, they won't exist after the transition. If it receives digital signals, you should be okay.

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Blu-Ray discs: Hi Phillip,I love movies and very much want to get a Blu-Ray player in the future. My problem is the actual disc price. I own more than 300 DVDs now, and that's because most of them are under $20. Is the price of Blu Ray discs going to come down to that level anytime soon?

Phillip Swann: There is industry pressure on the studios to lower prices; Sony's top electronics exec actually said they are too costly in a recent interview.

I think if Blu-ray player sales do well this holiday season, you'll see disc prices come down in early 2009. And as president of TVPredictions.com, I predict both will happen.

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Alaska: They are by no means disconnected. I was in Denali for 5 months and ordered everything I needed/wanted off the Internet and had it shipped to the post office in Healy. Everything. Including electronics.

Phillip Swann: Score one for Alaska.

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Springfield, Mass.: Hi Phil,I enjoy your daily emails, very informative. A couple things. I recently bought a new Samsung 52" from Amazon. I've found their prices pretty hard to beat and they've been offering free shipping with the white glove thing for a while. In fact the TV price was hundreds less than I could find anywhere and they threw in a Samsung Blu-Ray for an extra $80!

Following up on the question about antennas. There is no difference in antennas for digital vs analog. Its still a VHS or UHF signal your trying to pick up, just containing different kind of data, so the antennas needed are the same. What I think you are alluding to, is that if you were getting by with a noisy or snowy analog signal, than you may have trouble receiving a digital signal, since its an all or nothing. Either you get it and its a clear picture or you don't. If the signal isn't strong enough and you receiver can't lock it in, you just don't get anything. In that case yes, you'll want a better antenna or in many cases adding a relatively inexpensive antenna amplifier can help boost the signal enough to take care of it. I work for the PBS station here in western Mass and we shut down our analog transmitter a few weeks ago, so we've been dealing with these questions a lot.

Phillip Swann: Yes, sorry if I confused anyone. What I was saying is that you may need a larger antenna, perhaps a rooftop antenna, to capture certain digital signals.

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Bowie, Md.: I am confused. Does Verizon FIOS or Comcast have more HD channels? I want to get one and I don't like Comcast's customer service, but I am not sure if FIOS has more HD channels.

Phillip Swann: Depends on the market. But Fios now has 100 HD channels in several markets, such as New York and the Philly suburban area. In others, it has anywhere from 40-50 to 75 or so.

Comcast does not have 100 HD channels in any market. In fact, in most markets, it has around 35 or 40. It said earlier this year that it planned to offer 50-60 HD channels in major markets by year's end. We'll see.

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Washington, D.C.: For the person looking to get a TV in Alaska, I have had success buying online from Best Buy and picking it up in the store locally. Have done this in Texas with Christmas gifts many times.

Phillip Swann: More on Alaska...

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Mitchellville, Md.: Follow up about the HDTV I want to put in the basement under flourecent lighting. I'm kind of surprised by your answer since the flourecents light the basement pretty well. Is the amount of "natural" lighting the deciding factor?

Also, any idea when cable cards will be interactive so you use them to do pay perview on on demand?

Phillip Swann: Generally speaking, lighting is lighting when it comes to choosing a LCD or Plasma. If the room will be dark, go Plasma. If it will be well lit, go LCD.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm so conflicted about all the HDTV buying advice! Rob Pegoraro says with LCDs go after the 120 Hz technology, but then Consumer Reports doesn't seem to care too much about this. Further, I had just started from the default assumption I should get an LCD because of the energy savings (I'm not much of an environmentalist, but I figured might as well), but then I read an article that said plasma screens have much better pictures and the energy differences are negligible. And right now, I sit about 6' (a little less) away from the TV and am worried about a 42" being overwhelming, but don't want to get one too small if I move to a bigger place. Any advice?

Phillip Swann: Studies have shown that Plasma sets burn more energy than LCD, although many have the Energy Star designation from the Commerce Department.

Rob and the Consumer Reports differ? Just like I noted before. There is disagreement in the industry on how important 120 Hz is. Generally, if you have the disposable dollars, go for it, If not, don't worry about it.

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Germantown, Md.: Hello - I have analog sets with set-top antennas and the converter box. They get the digital signal, marginally. Do you think a Digital TV, using the same antennas, would pick up the signals any stronger? Thanks!

Phillip Swann: Hard to say without testing it. Unfortunately, picking up digital signals is not a science. Depends on where you live; where the set and antenna is, etc. etc.

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Phillip Swann: Okay, boys and girls, it looks like I'm outta here. Don't forget to go to TVPredictions.com for the latest high-def news and views. And Go Nats!

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