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HDTV Demo: Showroom Pitfalls

Have you ever wondered why most of the HDTVs on display in Comet and Currys look so bad (even if they're good TVs), making it almost impossible for you to properly assess their qualities?

For starters, these HDTVs are most likely using the default out-of-the-box settings, and have never been calibrated properly. In order to attract more customers and compete better on the sales floor, manufacturers deliberately insert default settings that deviate significantly from the industry standard used by movie studios and broadcasters. As a result, contrast is boosted to the point of clipping, the colour temperature is through the roof (as the image will be brighter), red push is introduced to make skin tones look real... and you'll NEVER get a realistic and natural film-like picture so long as you continue using the default settings.

Furthermore, the output signal is distributed to so many HDTVs that degradation in signal strength is unavoidable, resulting in fuzzy and unstable image. To add insult to injury, these retail chains have a baffling fetish for feeding the video signals using lower-quality analogue connections like scart or (gasp) RF coaxial rather than digital HDMI connections.

The brightly-lit showrooms tend to reduce perceived contrast on HDTVs, while the noisy environment hampers accurate assessment of the onboard audio system. An ugly duckling of a plasma may well transform into a beautiful swan after calibration within the normal viewing conditions in your home, but would you have even considered buying it in the first place having seen how bad it was in the showroom?

It is precisely because of these reasons that we undertook this project so that we can all look at the things that matter in a controlled environment to help us make the correct decision before buying a HDTV.

Each of our HDTVs is tested in a typical home environment, calibrated to the D65 imaging standards adopted by the AV industry, and connected using the best available interface (usually HDMI and component) so that we can judge its true potential. For side-by-side comparison of the picture qualities of the HDTVs tested, a Gefen distribution amplifier is used to feed the the same source material to all of them without signal degradation.