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HDTV Buyer's Guide 2008

A roundup of the most popular high-definition televisions from Sharp, Samsung, Sony, Hitachi, and more, along with a guide to HDTV technology basics.

High-definition television is taking center stage at the 2008 International CES. The consumer-electronics show will spotlight innovations such as Pioneer's self-proclaimed "world thinnest" plasma HTDV (it's only 9-mm thick), a fully integrated wireless set from Westinghouse, where the power cord is the only tethered connection, and even the first laser televisions.


Sony Bravia S

(click image for larger view)


Sony's 26-inch Bravia S LCD HDTV sells for $900.

View the entire HTDV directory

The pervasiveness of high-def at CES emphasizes the arrival of a technology which is finally taking off, after numerous false starts and failed predictions that its ubiquity was imminent. Now, that moment is indeed upon us. HDTVs flew off store shelves during the recent Christmas shopping season, and the U.S. installed base now estimated at 30 million sets, according to TVPredictions.com.

Notwithstanding its rising profile, the fine points of HDTV shopping are still a mystery to most consumers. There are questions of screen size, resolution, scanning method (interlaced or progressive), and how the picture is created (LCD, plasma, or projection). Most importantly, there's price, with sets ranging from as little as $500 up to many thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, there's no longer the dearth of programming, which formerly caused many consumers to defer their HDTV purchasing decisions. All the major networks offer high-def sports and news, as well as dramas such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and even many sit-coms. PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer went high-def in December. On the delivery side, satellite-provider DirectTV is among the most aggressive marketers of HD, and traditional cable providers also offer the service to their customers.

Still, separating supporters' expectations for HDTV from today's reality isn't always easy. Many proponents of the technology continue to conflate high definition with digital TV (DTV). For example, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently pegged the number of households owning a digital TV at 50 percent. However, it didn't say what proportion are true high-def sets and how many are older, standard-resolution digital TVs. (Also in the mix, but rarely discussed, are standard-def models fitted with digital tuners. These are widely deployed; for example, all customers of Time-Warner Cable in New York City who don't have HDTV are using digital cable boxes.)

The CEA gave some harder data in its 2008 predictions, forecasting 32-million total DTV shipments and then stating that "high definition [is] expected to account for 79 percent of total DTV shipments." This would place the 2008 HDTV forecast at 25.3-million units.

Which means that now might be an ideal time to purchase yours. Accordingly, we've assembled this guide, which points you to some of the most popular options in the different screen-size and price-point categories. Before we get to the HDTV models themselves, let's go over some basic terminology.

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