Rich Warren: Sony has been surpassed as a TV titan
Here's a question from one reader, and it's a common query:
"I have a Sony WEGA 24-inch television set that is 13 years old and has never needed any service on it. It still has a good picture and very good audio. Of course, the picture is small compared to today's sets, and I'm contemplating buying a new one.
"Would you recommend the Sony brand again in view of my good experience? I've noticed lately you seem to endorse Samsung in your articles. Also, would you recommend an LED set over an LCD set, and what about the new slim or thin sets as opposed to regular sets?
"The room where this would be located is 16 feet square, and I'm looking at about a 40-inch screen. I don't necessarily need all the bells and whistles, just good quality picture and sound. Would I need the extra sound bar for good sound?"
TV production underwent a sea change during the past 13 years. Before the turn of the millennium more than 50 percent of the cathode ray tubes, more commonly known as picture tubes, were made in the U.S. Many TVs were assembled here or in Mexico.
Currently, the U.S. manufactures extremely few LCD or plasma panels, and the overwhelming majority of TVs are assembled overseas (although there are still factories in Mexico).
Sony suffered an enormous change, from being one of the most successful consumer electronics companies to flirting with bankruptcy. Thus, choosing a Sony TV based on the good experience with your 13-year-old model would not necessarily be valid.
Sony designed and manufactured one of the finest picture tubes in the industry for the WEGA.
Not only does it no longer manufacture picture tubes, but it also does not manufacture LCD panels. Until recently, it shared a joint production line with Samsung in Korea. That grew too costly, so Sony now contracts out LCD panel production to factories in China.
Meanwhile, in Korea, Samsung and LG continue trying to one-up each other with better LCD TVs. Samsung is where Sony was at its prime, leading the pack in TV technology. (I have no relationship with, or fondness for, Samsung as a company.)
Other first-rate TV manufacturers include Samsung's nemesis LG, as well as Sharp in Japan, and if you're looking for a good quality bargain, Vizio, which frequently is No. 1 in U.S. TV sales. Apple has invested a lot of money in Sharp.
If you will be sitting 8 feet from the TV, a 40-inch screen size is reasonable, but you could go as large as 46 inches. I recommend a 42-inch screen for that viewing distance as well as an LCD set illuminated by LEDs. All LCD sets are slim, especially the LED models.
As to whether or not you'll need a sound bar for the audio, choose the TV with the picture and features appealing to you, take it home and enjoy it for a few weeks. If you think the sound deficient, then buy a sound bar or small home theater system.
I'd like to apologize to Peter Brown, my high school geometry teacher, who was a superb instructor and one of the best teachers from whom I learned (or failed to learn).
This correction from a reader: "UHDTV does not provide twice the resolution of existing HDTV, as asserted in your first sentence. It instead provides FOUR times the resolution.
"The reason has to do with high school geometry. The number of horizontal lines is indeed doubled, but the number of vertical columns is also doubled. That's something the human eye can quite easily discern, especially when viewed on a very large screen or when viewed at a close distance.
"This is confirmed by the fact that UHDTV transmission requires four times the digital bandwidth, not twice."
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.