Rich Warren | Facts about TVs can get twisted

Rich Warren | Facts about TVs can get twisted

My barber knows more than his way around a clipper. He's a bright guy who would probably make a better governor than the crowd currently running, and we don't share the same political party. Yet, when he went to buy a new TV, he was grievously misled by a salesperson who either was woefully ill-informed or downright lied to him.

Said barber finally decided to upgrade to the latest and greatest TV. He had his eye on a 55-inch 4K Samsung. Samsung makes some of the best TVs on the market. However, my barber walked out of the store with a Sony.

Sony makes a first-rate TV but tends to be a bit more expensive than the comparable Samsung. Sony no longer makes its own LCD display panels. Samsung even manufactures some of Sony's displays. Then again, Samsung doesn't necessarily make all of its own panels, even though it is a major manufacturer of LCD displays. About half a dozen companies manufacture all the TV LCD displays in the world, including Samsung, LG, Sharp (now owned by Foxconn) and a few Chinese companies.

What stopped me in mid-beard trim was when the barber told me that the salesperson claimed that the Samsung TV he wanted would not upconvert regular HD video to 4K resolution. He told the barber that only the Sony would do that. Not true.

At this point, all 4K (UHD) TVs include circuitry that upconverts HD sources to pseudo-4K. The falling cost of the upconverting chip makes it a small factor in the retail cost of the TV. The chip makes intelligent "guesses" at what the lower resolution video would look like in 4K.

Most sets include an "off" setting buried deep in the video setup menu, so you can compare standard HD with the upconverted picture. The upconversion works better with some types of programming than others. Video with rapid motion, such as sports, might look better without upconversion. It can cause some blur and smearing as it tries to calculate the improvement to a rapidly changing picture. The better the original resolution, the better the upconversion works.

Usually, the upconversion works impressively, and many, if not most, viewers appreciate the improvement. Keep in mind that what you're viewing is not native 4K, so you're not seeing true 4K resolution.

Many DVD and Blu-ray players incorporate the same upconversion circuitry, as do some premium home theater receivers. Older DVD players upconverted from DVD resolution of 480p to 720p or 1080i.

In music, a few famous composers started sketches for symphonies and died before completing them. Others attempted to finish them based on these sketches.

For example, several people attempted to flesh out the nearly complete Gustav Mahler Tenth Symphony. Deryck Cooke proved the most successful in the 1960s, and a few major orchestras recorded the completed Cooke version. Trying to upconvert a TV picture is a little similar, except it must be done repeatedly very rapidly in real time.

Not every TV or player manufacturer employs the same chip for the upconversion, so there may be varying degrees of quality. Thus, it's possible, though unlikely, that Sony may use a better chip than Samsung, but rest assured that TVs from both companies offer upconversion from HD to 4K.

Certainly, differences between TV brands (and models within a brand) exist. Critics love to pick apart minor details that range from missing pixels, subtle distortion, color accuracy and range. Yet most of us will squint and scratch our heads trying to differentiate most good TVs.

The biggest difference may be the dealer profit between brands. While TVs don't reward dealers with great markups, unlike the huge markup for furniture for example, different brands may offer different markups. In a given time frame, one company may be overstocked and offer a dealer a bit extra to move its TVs. Thus, you can't always trust the salesperson.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@mchsi.com.