Hunting for the great white

I’ve been on the hunt for a flat-screen television for a quite a while now. One of the requirements was that the set should fit our home decor. Secondarily I wanted to find a LED backlighted set that had AVCHD support.  After scavenging the Internet forums for a while it became evident finding the right one would not be easy.

As far as the technical specification goes the only real requirement in addition to cable (DVB-C) support was that h.264 video in mpeg-2 wrappers from my camcorder should be viewable. Sounds simple enough? Unfortunately browsing vendors and manufacturers sites I found it very hard to distinguish what are the protocols and file types that are really supported. Searching through different AV-enthusiasts forums gave very little additional information so to gather some reliable data for backup my decision making process the only option was to hit the shops.

To prepare for my excursion I initially prepared an USB stick with folders for images and videos. In the images folder I had .jpg pictures from my phone, old digital camera (Canon s90) and from the new DSLR (Canon 550d). In the video folder I had videos from my camcorder (Panasonic DSC-SD9) and DSLR (Canon 550d). While preparing I came to the conclusion that I should test at least models from LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony.

Before hitting the local electronics store I gave the USB stick a try on a relative’s Samsung. It became apparent very soon that I would need to rename the .mts files produced by the camcorder to .ts and .mov files from the DSLR needed a new wrapper. Once in the high street the good news was that generally both images and renamed avchd videos tended play fairly well out of the box. Unfortunately .movs are not supported and there were some usability issues.

The most notable usability problem was that video playback each clip would require an annoying loading time. Initially I thought I had exceeded USB1.1 maximum throughput of 12Mbit/s with 18Mbit/s HD video. I found out later that the stick and interface were indeed USB 2.0 compatible so that was not the problem. It became evident I would need to try accessing files over the 100Mbit/s home network wired LAN using DLNA.

In the end I tried Samsung 7 series, Sony x800 and Panasonic Viera sets. In Samsung it was possible to select multiple files, but you need to select between video, audio and images instead of events. Sony was able to open the files, but the user interface wasn’t really all that intuitive despite all the awards. Panasonic Viera-range of televisions sounded interesting since our camcorder is from the same company. Unfortunately Viera seems to support AVCHD only from SDHC card. That just didn’t make any sense, because it would be very cumbersome switching between tiny memory cards.

In the end I came to the conclusion that my purchasing decision should be based on general looks. Sad fact is that none of the devices really were all that great as media players and I could not really see differences in image quality. There is clearly space for more innovation in the television industry. Despite strong focus on product development it seems the manufactures have forgotten the users needs. None of the vendors could provide playlist saving functionality for example. I went ahead and splurged on the prettiest set I could find.

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