Perhaps the biggest news in our just-posted LCD and plasma TV Ratings (available to subscribers) is that we have now tested 13 3D models from LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony. We have a fairly even mix of LCD and plasma 3D sets, and we continue to find that plasma TVs outperform LCD TVs for 3D, primarily because they exhibit less ghosting and have wider viewing angles.
Here are some of the other trends evident in our latest TV Ratings.
- More TVs with access to online content. More than one-third of the sets in our Ratings now offer access to online content, such as streaming movies from Amazon, Netflix, or Vudu, and online Internet music from services such as Pandora and Slacker. And that percentage jumps to about half for the TVs 40 inches or larger in our Ratings.
- More TVs that can connect wirelessly. While all the Internet TVs in our Ratings allow you to connect to a network via an Ethernet cable, more now come either with built-in Wi-Fi or the ability to add an optional Wi-Fi adapter. This can be a real benefit for those without a nearby wired connection, or if the connection is already being used by another device, such as a cable or satellite box or a Web-enabled Blu-ray player.
- 120Hz technology is now standard on all but the cheapest and smallest LCD TVs. Once a step-up feature, 120Hz technology is now found on most larger-size and many smaller LCD TV sets. 240Hz has emerged as a step-up feature, and we've now seen the first 480Hz sets. By speeding up a TV's frame rate, this technology addresses a weakness of LCD technology: motion blur. It can minimize the problem when implemented well but doesn't eliminate it. Sometimes it's paired with an anti-judder feature that can smooth the jerkiness of film-based content but may also make it look more like video. A few new sets let viewers control motion-blur reduction and image smoothing separately, a plus in our opinion.
- More LCD TVs with LED backlights. We're seeing energy-efficient LED backlights gradually replace conventional fluorescent lamps as light sources in LCD TVs of all sizes. Most of the LED-based sets in our Ratings use edge LED backlights, where the LEDs are placed around the perimeter or sides of the panel. Some higher-price models use full-array LED backlights, in which the LEDs are placed across the entire back panel of the LCD. All of the full-array models and a some of the edge-lit sets offer local dimming, which allows some areas of images to be dimmed while other areas remain illuminated. Perhaps the biggest change from previous TV Ratings is that we're now seeing more LED backlights in smaller sets.
- Many smaller-size LCD TVs don't perform as well as larger models. Although many smaller-size TVs (with screens 27 inches or less) still offer very good picture quality—and far fewer have excellent picture quality—a fair number also don't perform as well. Of the 19 smaller-size sets in our Ratings, seven have picture quality rated only good or less. Perhaps as important, all but one of these sets had a fairly narrow viewing angle, so the picture deteriorated even further when viewed off-angle. Poor sound quality was another issue with small TVs, as eight of the sets had only fair sound, and seven had sound deemed poor, the worst score we award.
—James K. Willcox