Rich Warren | Today's TVs still have limitations

Rich Warren | Today's TVs still have limitations

In my youth, our 23-inch TV screen looked huge. Even the 16-inch screen in my bedroom seemed substantial. The maximum home TV screen size settled at 25 inches for decades.

Then, in the 1980s, TVs developed elephantitis. First came the 27-inch set as the new standard size, followed by 31 inches and ultimately 36. One just about needed a crane to move the latter. These were 4:3 aspect ratio sets, making the screens nearly square.

In the quest for still larger screens, manufacturers switched to projection sets, most commonly rear-screen projection, which, using mirrors, incorporated the projector in the same box as the screen. Many of these did not fit through doorways.

No matter how large the screen, no analog TV threatened the quality seen in movie theaters. The fuzziness of 480i and the poor color rendition of the NTSC analog system required viewers to imagine they looked good. Certainly, I wrote many reviews praising the best of these sets.

The simultaneous arrival of HDTV and affordable LCD screens blew the walls off TV screen size. Suddenly, the average person could easily own a 55-inch TV that reproduced dazzling pictures.

Subsequent improvements in display technology, such LED illumination, OLED and quantum dots all stepped up picture quality another notch. Broadcasters finally improved their game, delivering great 1080i video to these sets. Meanwhile, Blu-ray and 4K Blu-ray disc players, along with internet delivered 1080P and 4K programming, created true movie theater quality at home. As mentioned here in a recent column, even if the source is not 4K, computer enhancement circuitry within the TV created a mostly credible pseudo-4K picture.

Acknowledging all of these advances, there's one category where home viewing can't compete with movie theaters. It's what I call "big screen movies." Most of these are shot in 70mm or its equivalent. Directors envision them viewed on screens measured in feet, not inches.

This struck me while viewing the Blu-ray of "Dunkirk" on my 55-inch OLED TV. Everything seemed a bit too small and a bit too distant. Director Christopher Nolan shot this movie in IMAX, and while the plot and the acting remain powerful, the impact dramatically shrinks on a home TV. Other directors also shoot movies for IMAX and/or other large-screen formats. Even the 50-year-old "2001" looks far better on a big screen than on the best home TV, unless you are one of the rare people with a 100-inch screen.

I queried the Virginia Theatre last spring about the technical specifications of its projector but never received a reply. Assuming the theater uses an actual film projector, we're lucky to have a movie palace in town with the capability of showing 70mm prints. The Goodrich Savoy 16 includes a digital IMAX theater.

Question on resolution

Here's a reader question that involves video resolution: "I live in Monticello and have DIRECTV. When is WCIX going to start sending a hi def signal to DIRECTV? We get a 480 signal on DIRECTV; Dish Network is sending out a 1080 signal. I can get a decent 1080 over-the-air picture using basic rabbit ears. I talked to DIRECTV, and they said the signal upgrade will be up to WCIX. I have reached out to WCIX, but they will not respond."

It's not up to the TV station to determine the resolution of a cable or satellite feed. Each cable and satellite company maintains its own priorities in allocating bandwidth. The subsidiary broadcast channels are the lowest on the totem pole. It would require a full page of this newspaper to explain the strange relationship between WCIA, WCIX and WCFN. WCIX is a subsidiary channel of WCIA, but also has its own transmitter in Springfield, where WCIA is a subsidiary channel of WCIX. So if DIRECTV or Dish chooses the subsidiary WCIX from WCIA rather than the primary WCIX broadcast channel in Springfield, the resolution may be different.

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

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