That time is upon us again, when we start spending far more than we make, to make people like us…
I’m kidding.. but, we DO spend a lot of money this time of year for our loved ones. And since times are getting a little harder financially, I’ve decided to try and help out a little bit with a guide for what you should drop your precious coin on.
First thing we are going to do is get the bigger ticket items out of the way..TV’s
LCD: LCD or Liquid Crystal Display are the most popular right now, and come in sizes ranging from 7-inches all the way up to an insane 108 inches. The sweet spot though, in terms of price is anywhere from 27” to 47” above that and you’re more likely to find a Plasma for cheaper. a 50” LCD runs as low as $900 if you’re lucky, while a plasma is about the same price, but once we get past 50” the price for a plasma will usually be lower than an LCD.
60hz vs 120hz vs 240hz: Honestly… this doesn’t make a big difference. the blurriness of an LCD is not attributed to the refresh rate. and I’m not sure why TV manufacturers are pushing these numbers so much, other than to find ways to keep people interested and to feel the need to get the latest and greatest. The most important number to look at when worried about motion blur is response time. for an LCD TV, you want this to be at 5ms and below, anything lower is only going to be better. above 5 and you’ll begin seeing ghosting a streaking. I’m not saying it’s impossible to view, but, if you have a sharp eye and are a videophile, that is about when you’ll start to notice. What 120hz and 240hz DOES bring to the table is the super smooth frame doubling/tripling circuitary. each brand calls it something different but it’s all the same thing. MotionFlow, Smoothvision, Smooth Motion, etc. This is only available on 120hz and 240hz TV’s. when turned on, the TV with estimate the next frame that would be inbetween the actual frames of the video (movie, game, doesn’t matter.) and create another frame to fill in the gaps. what this does, is make the film silky smooth. MANY people do not like this feature at ALL.. arguing, it takes away from the film like quality and makes it look like a cheap video. I was one of these people too. But, I have warmed to the feature. especially with CGI movies such as Pixar’s UP!. with the motionflow (whatever.) turned on, it’s beautiful.
But again, 60hz vs 120hz, doesn’t remove blur all that much. 240hz does it even less. And I’ve seen video and read reports that the “motionflow” feature of 240hz isn’t up to par. as the sets abilities to estimate more frames to fill in adds more artifacting and visual anomalies to the image. Verdict?. if you can find a REALLY cheap 60hz, go for it, if you can find a 120hz for a little more, that is more advisable.
The Good: LCD’s come in a huge range of sizes and prices. bulb life has increased to anywhere from 60,000 hours to 100,0000 hours for higher end models. to put that into perspective. if you ran the TV 24hrs a day non-stop, it would last you anywhere from 8-13 years. That’s not bad at all.
Viewing angles have gotten better throughout the years as well. screens are viewable from all angles, although contrasts change as you move further to the side.
LCD’s are thin and can easily be wall mounted, Hell, even a single person can move a 52” TV around without much risk to damage, try that with a CRT!
Prices for TV’s in the 25” to 50” range are very low, especially this time of year.
While they aren’t as energy efficient as SOME LED TV’s they are far more efficient then CRT’s, RPTV and Plasmas.
The Bad: Worst black level of any TV type you can get. Don’t take that too harshly, they still look very good and have gotten considerably better than past models. But compared to Plasma, LED, or Rear Projections. They aren’t quite at the same level.
“Image Memory” is a fancy term for temporary burn-in. which many LCD TV’s can get. This is when you have a static image on screen for too long and it causes a ghost image to appear after the static image has been removed, this usually happens after hours of an image being on screen. LCD’s don’t permanently burn in, they will eventually go away.
Wild build qualities. With LCD technology becoming cheaper and cheaper, some unknown brands of snuck up with super cheap LCD TV’s. be careful of these. while it may seem like a great deal at the time. These screen’s may have very poor image quality, terrible black levels, blurring (high response times.) or simply won’t last long. I’m looking at you Coby…Emerson!..
Plasma: Plasma’s have been around awhile now, and where once the crown of luxury and social status. Once only available for a buttload of cash, Plasma’s are actually cheaper than LCD at sizes from 47” and up. (plasmas do come in smaller sizes, but LCD’s at those sizes are actually cheaper still.”)
Plasma, as ripped directly from this wiki I found…
is a type of flat panel display common to large TV displays (32″ inches or larger). Many tiny cells between two panels of glass hold a mixture of noble gases. The gas in the cells is electrically turned into a plasma which then excites phosphors to emitlight. Plasma displays should not be confused with LCDs, another lightweight flatscreen display using different technology.
(Told ya I ripped it.)
So, what are some of the benefits of going plasma?
The Good: Some of the best black levels of any displays available. color accuracies are very good.
No need to worry about “60hz, vs 120hz vs 240hz” non-sense, as the Plasma uses a different technology that already doesn’t show blurring! (Although, many plasma’s now advertise a “600hz sub-field”.. seriously, this is just to combat LCD’s 120hz and 240hz advertising.)
Also very thin and wall-mountable. higher viewing angle than LCD.
larger model of Plasma’s are cheaper than LCD’s of the same size.
New plasmas have a much higher longevity than original models.
The Bad: Run much hotter than LCD or other TV sets and use the most amount of electricity.
Plasmas, although not nearly as bad as original plasma models, do suffer from Burn-in as previously mentioned in the LCD section, but suffer from the effect far worse than LCD. if run properly though (30% screen brightness for the 1st 100hours of use.) this effect is very minimal.
Unless you are going for over a 50” screen, a plasma probably isn’t the best choice as an LCD will be cheaper, and you won’t really be losing out on image quality.
Backlight vs. edge lighting: a backlight LED TV will be about the same size as a traditional LCD TV, but instead of using a bulb to light the screen, it uses an array of LED lights that will light the screen more evenly, what this also allows is localized dimming on the screen to produce darker blacks without losing detail. Some brands even use tri-colored arrays to create more vibrant and more accurate colors.
edge lit LED TV’s do not use a backlight, instead, as you might guess, they use LED lighting around the edge of the screen. this allows the TV to be much thinner than even traditional LCD TV’s. some being thinner than 1 inch!. allowing you to, theoretically, use a wire to hang the TV like a picture frame. while that might look rugged and cool, I would feel stupid having my 2K plus dollar screen fall because I was a dumbass. image quality of these screens, while not as good as a backlit LED, are still a bit better than LCD in terms of clarity.
The Good: Black levels are near, or better in some cases (Sony’s backlight LED’s) than plasma screens.
Viewing angles are extremely high.
image clarity and sharpness are fantastic.
edge lit screens are extremely thin and sexy looking.
LED lighting can far outlast bulb lighting.
The Bad: Still very expensive when compared to an equally feature rich LCD or Plasma.
Still too new to fully grasp what it’s lifespan may be or what quirks have yet to be unfound.
Did I mention there ‘spensive?
Final Verdict: Black Friday is upon us, and I have seen a LOT of big Plasmas under the $1,000. I would have to say, if you can find one, a Plasma is going to be your best bet this time of year if you’re looking for a great deal.. something to maybe hold you over until the price of LED Tv’s come down next year. if you have about $1,500 I would try and find an LED TV. While I personally found a great deal on an LCD this year, the majority I have found haven’t been all that fantastic. and most of the smaller sets are off brands with poor quality
Let’s move on to the next topic of business.. consoles.. what console are you going to buy this year?. a couple years ago I suggested people completely skip the PS3 and head into a Wii AND an Xbox360, this was the same price as buying just a PS3. (dubbed, a Thwii360.)
This year, I have to change my position.
Xbox 360: The xbox 360 released a year before the Wii and Ps3, and with that time, took a strong stance in this generation with some great features that Sony has been catching up on ever since. such as the Achievement Point System, cross-game chat, video chatting, Netflix integration, Facebook, etc etc. Which such Triple A titles as Gears of War and Halo 3, the system has gained a nice head start in the new generation and has stayed ahead of the pack this time around.
The Good: Still, superior online presence when compared to the other consoles. With a seamless online intergration and an always on, always connected setup. Live will pop up all the latest news, offers, etc. when your profile connects. it’s very streamlined and easy to use.
Low price, the 360 now has a very low entry price of only $199. This allows people to jump in and give one of the best systems out right now an affordable try at least.
Semi-Backwards compatible. For anyone who still has some original xbox games, the likelihood that they will work with the 360 is good. The 360 can emulated the original xbox with some games. this requires a download patch..which means a hard drive is required. But if you have the original Halo and Halo2, they will run on the 360 with a quick download.
the 360 has a huge list of games available, and a good list of exclusives which makes the 360 a great selection for any game fan. With a wide variety of games from every genres to choose from.
The Bad: While it has a superior online presence and integration then the other systems. You have to pay for some of the better features, like Facebook, Twitter, and even to play others online. While not a large fee (49.95 a year)
Although, it’s probably not an issue anymore, there is the subject of the built quality of the older systems, which is still worrying new buyers. The new systems contain the “Jasper” core, which is a smaller graphics chip that is said to produce less heat, which was the big issue with the faulty original builds.
Accessorizing. although it’s the “cheapest” of the 3 systems, it’s nearly the least feature rich at that price, getting a harddrive and a wireless adapter will add at least $150-200. bringing up past the price of a PS3. the wireless adapter is a spendy $99.99, and a 60gb hard drive is also $99.99. a hard drive is required to download demos and most Arcade games.
this year didn’t bring many must have exclusives to the system, while overall, many great games where released, the 360 didn’t have a long list of exclusives.
Must own Exclusive: Forza Motorsports 3 (great racing game for any subgenre lover, Arcade or Sim.)
Gears of War Series. (3rd person duck-n-cover shooter.)
Dead Rising (very cheap now, Zombie 3rd person shooter.)
Halo series. (Future based First person Shooter.)
Grand Theft Auto 4 (Not exclusive, but the 2 released episodes are.)
Playstation 3: The Ps3 had a rough start. with few and far between good exclusives, lower detailed and slow cross platform releases that only made the 360’s version of each game look better by comparison. And a price tag of $600 that made anybody gasp for air at the thought of dropping that much coin on a “vida game”. As of the year though, it’s a much different story. With a sleaker, slimmed down re-release of the system with a larger hard drive, but a much lower price tag,and a slew of great exclusives for the system, it’s hard to not recommend a Ps3 this year.
The Good: It only does “everything”: while not totally true, is still a good catch phrase for the system. It’s still one of the best blu-ray players you can buy, comes with a Harddrive, wireless adapter built-in, free online play.
Great list of exclusives this year. LittleBIGPlanet, Metal gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, Uncharted 2, etc etc. the PS3 had more must have titles then the 360 in terms of exclusive releases.
Media streaming. the PS3 is the best system to use for media streaming from a computer, or network attached storage device. With the ability to play many more file types then either the 360 or Wii, with a wired connection, or a Wireless N network bridge, the system can stream HD movies with ease such as m2ts files.
Device recognition. the Ps3 can use many more USB device types then the 360 or the Wii. USB keyboards, cameras, even older Ps2 peripherals like steering wheels and joysticks can be used on the Ps3 with ease, no need to upgrade your old “Driving Force Pro” wheel, it works great on the Ps3!
7.1 Audio. this is something the 360 simply can not do, and probably won’t ever be able to do without a hardware change. 7.1 audio requires more space than can fit on a regular DVD. If you have a 7.1 audio receiver or surround system, with the few movies and the growing handful of games that can games that support 7.1 audio, it’s a great thing to behold.
The Bad: The original PS3’s use to play Ps2 games, this is something that has been missing for a long time now, and it’s a missed feature by a lot of different people. so, while they say it “does everything”. it really doesn’t.
Lacking in the online department. while the PS3 has a completely online component right now, it isn’t nearly as user friendly or integrating as the Xbox Live experience. and while gaming online is free, it’s not quite as stable, lag free or smooth as Live either.
while becoming less and less of a problem, it’s still worth mentioning. While every other HD-device will display in 1080i. either through upscaling or natively, the Ps3 can not upscale in many cases, and will only display in 720p or 480p. if you are an owner of a 1080i only television, with many upon many Ps3 games, you will be stuck at 480p resolution. this does not effect the 360, it has a proper scaling chip that will display every game in 1080p and lower.
Must own Exclusives: LittleBIGPlanet (3D side scroller, in much the same vein as Mario Bros.)
Resistance Series (First Person Shooter, much like Halo.)
Metal gear Solid 4. (If you are a fan, then this is a no brain purchase.)
Uncharted Series (Much like Tomb Raider, far more cinematic.)
Demon Souls (RPG action/fantasy game. Very difficult though.)
MotorStorm Series (action packed arcade style racing game.)
Nintendo Wii: The Wii sets itself apart from the crowd with a very unique play style that, when it works, it really works. This is the system that is still great when friends are around. Many games are great at parties. With the ability to play gamecube games, and the added benefit of being able to emulate many older systems such as the NEs, SNES, Genesis, Neo-Geo, etc etc. the wii is a good addition for the casual or nostalgic.
The Good: The Wii has an extremely strong list of 1st party titles, such as New Super Mario Bros. Smash Bros Brawl, Zelda, etc. Making it a good choice for those that love nintendo games.
for a nominal fee, you can download many older titles from the Wii Shop Channel from a wide assortment of systems.
The wii-mote gives the system a very unique way to play games. requiring the user to not just move a stick to estimate an aim, but to actually point the wiimote onto the screen and aim physically, it can bring an all new type of immersion to games.
The Bad: This year wasn’t the best for the little white box. Not many exclusives where released, and cross platform ports suffered from either poor coding,or too drastic of a change to the game itself.
The Wii is not capable of displaying in anything but 480p resolution, if you have a larger, HD TV, games on the system don’t look all that great.
The system is now beginning to suffer from the lack of proper storage, no Harddrive, and no plans for one, Music games, that have the option to download additional songs, fill up memory cards quickly.
the online capabilities are pretty slim, and not as easy to use as the other systems. The Wii uses “friend codes” that must be exchanged in order to add people to your friends list, and then again per each game you want to play with them.
Lacking quality control. Although there where a lot of games you could call “exclusive” to the system, Nintendos severely lacking quality control has shown a rush of low quality games that, many, aren’t worth the plastic there etched on.
“Kiddie” image back in full force. While the system may have had a fresh start, it quickly became apparent that Nintendo was more interested in the Casual gamer rush then the “gamer”. with utter tripe like “Game Party 2” selling 8 times the copies of triple A titles like Madworld and Dead Space: Extraction, it’s a bad trend that shows developers there is no audience for the more mature age group on the Wii.
Must own Exclusives: Super Mario Bros. Wii (Do I need to explain it?)
Smash Bros Brawl (a platform based fighting game.)
Mario Kart Wii (Racing game based on the Mario Characters.)
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Again, do I need to explain Zelda?)
Dead Space: Extraction (3D, Rail based shooter based on Dead Space.)
Wario Ware (Hyper fast series of Minigames)
Final Verdict: PS3.. by a hair. Last year, I recommended people stay away from the PS3 and go with the xbox…I also said that nobody would listen to that advice because they would blindly go with a PS3 anyways, based only on the Playstation name, and not the experience they would get. Loyalty is a bitch sometimes. This year though, it’s a little hard to say, but, the PS3, with the drop in price and great list of games now, is the better deal. The 360 comes a very close second, but the blu-ray, built in wireless and competitive price brings the Ps3 to the front of the class. The Wii.. sadly, drops to the back. with a flood of garbage games, a sparse amount of decent games, and a void of Triple A titles, it’s hard to recommend anymore.
Games to Stay away from:
Tony Hawk RIDE: This new games gimmick is a 120 dollar price tag and a plastic board to stand on. While this seems like the best way to experience an actual skateboard. Many reviews have giving the game bad scores, citing it’s frustrating controls scheme, poor menu system and level design.
Band Hero: Unless you haven’t purchased Guitar Hero 5, Rock Band 2, or any other Band game,.. and you prefer a fluffier, less heavy style of music, than totally pass on this game and it’s 200 dollar price tag. the best this game is for is a 6 dollar rental, and than to import them to your collection via Guitar Hero 5, if you have it.
I might add more to this guide as the holiday gets closer, right now.. I’m done. I’ve attempted to update this thing 2 separate occasions, taking a few hours on each attempt to post more information and I’ve had both attempts fail due to iPhone crash (yes, I tried from an iPhone.) to a software error that killed my latest attempt.