Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

The Joy of Modest Means…

Japanese Garden

Jeff was a man of modest means.  He had a steady job, but it did not pay all that well.  He had a loving wife and two pre-school children.  They lived in an apartment in a typical suburban neighborhood.  They were comfortable but finances were always something they had to watch and manage with care. One day their 20-year old television -- that Jeff had purchased second hand for a very modest sum through a want ad in the Sunday paper -- gave out. 

Watching television was about the only affordable means of entertainment for Jeff and his family.  They couldn’t very well do without one altogether.  And since Jeff had been able to save a few hundred dollars he and his wife decided that they should take a step up and this time go shopping for a new one.  They were hoping they could afford a model that had some of the new “digital” features they had been reading about.  Perhaps they could consider purchasing one of the new “digital high definition flat panel televisions” that seemed to be so popular these days. 

The salesperson at the first major electronic store they visited was full of enthusiasm and full of “information”.  He told them they had come at the perfect time.  Prices were the lowest they had ever been and these “great new digital flat panel televisions” were incredibly popular.  The salesperson quickly pointed out several large screen models they could take home that very day.  Unfortunately, as Jeff and his wife looked at the prices and compared them to their available resources, there was an obvious mismatch.  And being the financially conservative family they had always been, Jeff wasn’t about to accept the salesperson’s offer of interest free extended payments. 

Jeff and his wife both liked the large screens and the contemporary look of the flat panel technologies, but what surprised both of them was that the picture quality did not seem all that different from what they could see on the conventional CRT sets.  Larger yes, but otherwise pretty much the same.  The picture sharpness looked about the same and the colors were also about the same, although his wife commented that on the flat panel sets the colors seemed to “jump out” more than she was used to seeing on their set at home.  And they were really disappointed that the prices seemed to be beyond the reach of their current finances. 

Nevertheless, the couple continued their search hoping they would find something that could meet their needs and also be affordable.  They thought about the fact that their apartment was relatively small so the larger hang-on-the-wall sets were really not all that compatible with their viewing environment.   And while having a flat panel set would be very exciting, they began to look at the available conventional picture tube televisions.  As they compared, they really couldn’t see any disadvantages in the quality of the images.  The older technology sets were just as bright, seemed to have good color capability, and also had flat screens.  The only problem seemed to be that they were bulkier and the salesperson told them that they were not the “new digital technology”.  Well, then that would just have to be something they would have to give up.  Actually, Jeff kept wondering what exactly was this “new digital technology”, but the salesperson seemed so definite in saying these words that Jeff was too embarrassed to ask.

Jeff and his family ended up with a conventional “old style” CRT television that had the required built-in tuner to receive high-definition broadcasts and a flat screen just like the newer flat panel sets.  And since their apartment had a nice alcove, the extra bulk of the CRT was really no problem for Jeff’s family.  Once the TV was delivered they were quite pleased with their purchase.  And they had been able to get a very attractive price because this particular electronics store was in the process of phasing out the sale of CRT based sets.  Management had decided that in the future they would be selling only flat panel technologies.

Jeff and his wife did continue to wonder if they would have been happier if they could have afforded one of the new flat panel technologies.  But they decided to just be appreciative of what they had purchased, since the picture quality seemed to be everything that they could have wished for. 

Had Jeff and his wife met a truly knowledgeable salesperson -- and one who was not driven by commission-based rewards -- they might have had a few more pleasant surprises.  They would have learned that indeed the picture quality of the older style TVs is not inferior.  In fact, in most cases it is either as good or better – especially when it comes to gray scale and color accuracy.

Epilogue – A personal experience.
In my own travels, I am now finding that more and more hotels are switching over to either plasma or LC flat panels TVs – typically in the 40 – 42” sizes.  And most of the time I wish that they had just stayed with the conventional CRT televisions.  I have yet to have a viewing experience that can be compared to what I get at home on my conventional (but high-resolution) 32” flat-screen CRT set.  There are two problems that seem to plague virtually all of the current installations of flat panel technologies.  The first is that the colors are generally set so they are overly saturated and this makes the gray scale performance dismal.  Flat panel technologies already have to work hard to achieve the gray scale capability that comes so easily for a CRT.   When the sets are mis-adjusted, the results can be truly awful.  The second problem with these wide-screen sets is that there is no consistency in how the various program sources are displayed.  Sometimes people and objects appear fat and distorted because they are stretched to fill the horizontal wide screen.  Other times on the same set but on a different program, there will be black bars at the top and bottom.  There is nothing available on the remote controls to correct this.  The combination of poor color fidelity and distorted shapes makes for a truly frustrating viewing experience.  If I have to put up with this in order to appreciate the “great new digital flat panel technologies” then please give me back my old style CRT television. 

Perhaps Jeff and his family will never fully appreciate just how fortunate they were in not being able to afford any of the new flat panel technologies – especially if they are not skilled in doing the careful setup to get the full benefits that these technologies can deliver.  But even at their best the flat panels are no better in picture quality.  For that reason, I find it unfortunate that we seem to be in a worldwide frenzy to close out CRTs in favor of the newer flat panel technologies.  Is the flat panel configuration so important to everyone that the viewing experience becomes a secondary consideration?  Of course the larger screen sizes are something that cannot be achieved with CRT technology.  But is futuristic appearance sufficient justification to spend more on a flat panel television in the smaller sizes?    

I suppose that I should also mention that I am writing this column while looking at a 19” flat-faced CRT monitor.  I would have more space on my desk if I switched to an LCD.  Unfortunately, every time I compare color photos, such as the one at the beginning of this column, I find that this old technology gives me more accurate results than any LCD I have been able to observe.  One of these days, this beast of a monitor may give up on me and then I will have to make the change over, but I hope it’s not anytime soon.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on how you are coping with all this “great new digital technology” – especially if you are doing color sensitive work.  You may contact me from this site, directly by e-mail at, by telephone at 425-898-9117, or by fax at 425-898-1727.