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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm about to buy the Sharp 26" LCD, LC-26GA5U and have questions about watching standard digital cable tv on it. I've read R Harkness's great "Polish the Turd" and "Steaming Rat" posts on improving one's NTSC picture quality on a plasma and, I assume, on an LCD. And I've read loads of other PQ posts here. But I'm still not getting quite the understanding I'm looking for about the technology. So please pardon my thoroughness here as I attempt to ward off related but unhelpful answers. Skip to the QUESTIONS section if you're not a long post kind of person. Oh but I'm such an engaging writer. Do say you'll read it all. Do say you will.


Now, in a nutshell, I don't care about HD programming. I want an LCD because it's time for me to upgrade my small 20 year old CRT and I might as well get one of these cool new thin units and one with a bigger screen. And I might as well buy HD-ready because that's the direction things are going in eventually, and buying SD now would be bad timing if I plan to keep it for a long time. Plus most of the LCDs I'm seeing are HD-ready, with ED and SD being much rarer and usually smaller. But all I really want is to be able to get the same quality for standard digital cable on the new LCD as on the old CRT. I'll consider anything better than that a pleasant bonus.

So here's what I understand:


- that watching regular cable on an LCD or plasma in a store almost always looks like crap because they split their signal so much and don't set the display settings well. (This makes it really freaking hard to know what I'm getting before I buy it, and I'm going to buy online on top of that, so a return will be unlikely).


- that lots of people go home with their new plasma or LCD and are disappointed with how bad regular cable looks on it.


- that HD programming running through an HD-friendly connection to an HD-ready set looks a lot better than regular cable ever can.


-that you can do a number of things to improve regular cable's PQ (by turd polishing)


-that cable signal strength can have a lot to do with PQ


-that he quality of the scaler, whatever that is, has a lot to do with PQ

What I have yet to figure out is:


-Whether regular cable looks bad on HD-ready displays because the unit is having to upsample 480i to 780p (in my case) and guess as to what pixels to stick in the unsupplied spaces. Different salesmen of varying ineptitude have told me differing and even conflicting things here.


-Whether using R Harkness's various turd polishing techniques can make regular cable programming look as good on my new HD-ready LCD as regular cable currently looks through an RF connection on my 20 year old CRT. In everybody's complaining about NTSC on these babies, I haven't been able to tell whether they are disappointed at how it looks compared to HD programming, or disappointed at how it looks compared to their old CRT.


-Most importantly, I haven't figured out whether it's a waste to get HD cable service (admittedly only $5 more on Comcast) if you're just watching regular non-HD channels most of the time. Do fancy HDMI/DVI cables improve 480i somehow? Does having HD service and HD connections make non-HD channels look any better? R Harkness talked about how, counterintuitively, S-video actually makes standard channels look better than component because that signal was meant to be carried on one wire, not split across three as with component. But I wasn't sure if that also applied to DVI or HDMI.

QUESTIONS


So to sum up, here are some questions that will zero in on what i'm trying to figure out and tell me whether to buy this TV, whether to get a new non-HD cable box with better outs, whether to bother with the fanciest cables, and/or whether to get HD service. RF will obviously not be used but I'm including it to help me understand how this all works. Also, I know there are variables I'm not accounting for below, which could affect the answer. Just anser for how it would most likely be given average conditions.


1. If I have:

-standard digital cable

-RF

-HD-ready LCD

-No Harkness turd tricks

...should I expect it to look worse than standard digital cable + RF + CRT? If so, why?


2. Since my current cable box only has RF and composite outs (Svideo is covered over with a metal plate for some reason), if I have:

-standard digital cable

-composite (not component)

-HD-ready LCD

-no turd tricks

...should I expect it to look worse than standard digital cable + RF + CRT?


3. If I could find a new non-HD cable box that had Svideo out, and if I have:

-standard digital cable

-S-video

-HD-ready LCD

-no turds

...should I expect it to look worse than standard digital cable + RF + CRT?


4. If I get an HD cable box just so I can get a DVI or HDMI out, but keep standard cable service (if that's even possible), and I have:

-standard digital cable

-DVI or HDMI connection

-HD-ready LCD

-no turds

...should I expect it to look worse than standard digital cable + RF + CRT? This one's important because it'll help me understand whether a better connection type matters if the signal type stays the same.


4b. Same as 4 but with Svideo since R Harkness says the regular signal was intended for a cable like Svideo.


4c. Same as 4 but with component, just for the hell of it, to confirm.


5. If I get an HD cable box and I have:

-HD cable service, BUT I'm watching a non-HD channel

-DVI or HDMI connection

-HD-ready LCD

-no turds

...should I expect it to look worse than standard digital cable + RF + CRT? This one's important because it will help me understand whether HD service and an HD connection do anything for regular channels, especially over the best kind of connection. Because if not, what a waste.


5b. Same as 5 but Svideo


5c. Same as 5 but component. (think I know the answer)


For extra credit - now add in turd polishing to the above scenarios. I know this is a relative and varied bag of tricks, not simply an on/off kind of thing. But I figured I'd throw it out there and see what sticks.


Clearly if I've got an HD box, HD service, HD connection, and HD-ready set, that's tops. But that just seems like the least likely scenario given the lack of HD programming. So all of this makes me wonder whether I'm shelling out a lot of dough on TV, cords, and service just to wind up with cable channels that almost always look crappier looking than my ancient CRT. If so... this sucks! Why buy a new tv?! I don't want to take a step down. But damn it, I don't want a big heavy whopper CRT that will soon be a fossil. One salesman, perhaps in a bit of despondent honesty, told me now's not the best time to buy a tv because we are in transition and nothing out there can please everybody yet.


By the way, I'm not much of a DVD guy if that matters. Sound like that's not a problem anyway in terms of image quality.


Bless you for enduring this. It's all been plaguing me.
 

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Having recently purchased that exact model Sharp to replace a standard 25" analog set in my bedroom I think I can ease your mind somewhat.


In my case the tv signal is analog cable direct to the set's RF input. Analog cable is usually not as good as digital cable. The analog cable signal in my bedroom is medocre to good, your digital signal is probably better. The old analog set was a Sony XBR, not a crap walmart set, and pq varied from good to fair on most channels.


Since you'll be using a cable box with RF or composite connections at best, you can see that I don't have any better connection than what you'll be using. The Sharps have excellent comb filters and digital processing and can really make the best of virtually any incoming signal. Certainly use the best connection your cable box allows, but don't stress out over it too much, no matter what it is chances are the SD pq will still be better than what you have now.


With the new Sharp, the pq is actually better than it was on the analog set, and I see no reason why your experience should not be the same. The Sharp not only eliminates visible scanlines, it also noticeably "cleans up" the analog video noise much better than the Sony did. I see no digital artifacting.


Although you have "digital" cable, most cable systems only transmit upper tier channels digitally, your local broadcast stations are almost certainly being sent analog.


Something to keep in mind is that in the vast majority of cases people reporting poorer SD picture quality on their new HD sets than they had on their previous analog sets are replacing analog sets in the 27-32" range with HD models ranging from 42-65". The "poorer picture quality" is almost solely due to the fact that the much larger screen size and improved definition of the new set is vastly magnifying picture defects that were always there but were not nearly as visible on the much smaller screens of their older sets.


Since you are not contemplating a major increase in screen size (the 4/3 image of standard tv on your 16/9 Sharp will not be appreciably larger than that of your current 20" set) you will be dodging the single largest true reason for complaints of poor SD picture on an HD set.


So in short, if you look carefully at your present set and the pq is ok, it should be at least as good and probably actually better on the new Sharp.


DVD does look stunning on these sets.


If this is going to be a primary tv, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you go ahead and get the HD box from your cable company. Almost all of primetime on the major networks is now in HD, and there are a number of other HD cable channels such as INHD, Discovery HD, HDNet, ESPN-HD, TNT HD, and several more. In addition there are HD feeds from HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz that may be available on your cable system. In my opinion having an HD capable set as a primary tv and not having an HD source is penny wise but pound foolish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well thank you, Steve. That was excellent. I wasn't sure anyone would have the patience to wade through my novella of a post. I think I probably will buy this model now.


One complication - I was set to buy the sharp today and even talked the salesman in the sleazy BrandsMart place down to (whoops) from an inflated sticker and then I started comparing it to the Samsung 26 inch next to it. Oh dear. I know these things can look better or worse depending on the settings, but I fiddled with them and the Samsung kept looking better. I couldn't tell quite what it was that was better, but something was better. Another sales guy told me it was blacker blacks but these guys were real lizards so who knows. I actually wonder if it has anything to do with the casing. The sharp has silver and the Samsung has black. I wonder if that black border all around the screen makes any kind of difference and tricks your eye. I don't know, that samsung looked pretty good, even on crap cable. Anyway it was $200 more which I don't know that i want to drop, and I'm not seeing it any better online. But we'll see.


Thanks again for the advice.

 
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