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HDTV gets lost on small screens

Smaller sets with 1080p resolution have become more common, but if you use the monitor just to watch television and movies, the benefits are minuscule.

August 16, 2010|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times

1080p, the maximum image resolution for high-definition television, used to be found only on big-screen models with price tags in the thousands.

But 1080p resolution has become so commonplace that it's being offered on models in the low 20-inch range, with prices down to $300.

"It has been a big trend over the last year," said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with Display Search. "You used to not see any sub-32-inch sets offered with 1080p resolution. Now about a third of them are."

That sounds great for TV watchers on a budget or with limited space for a set. But there's a catch: On a relatively small screen, the benefits of this resolution level -- which crams 1,080 lines of digital information onto the display -- are minuscule.

"To see 1,080 vertical lines of resolution you need at least a TV of about 46 inches to fully see it," said Gary Merson, editor of "At 26 inches, forget it, you won't tell the difference."

But increased availability of smaller sets with 1080p displays can't be attributed solely to hype. In part, it happened because of who was making the TVs.

Television manufacturers such as ViewSonic Corp., based in Walnut, Calif., and Hannspree, based in Taiwan, used to be known primarily for their computer monitors.

And 1080p does make sense, visually, for monitors.

"It's really easy to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p when you're on a computer because text and graphics have lots of hard edges and the resolution difference there," said Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies Corp. "If you're hooking it up to a computer, no ifs ands or buts, get your 1080p."

Making the leap into TVs was not difficult for these manufacturers. "If you're already making computer monitors, adding a TV tuner isn't very expensive," Gagnon said, "and it gets you into a whole new market."

Westinghouse Digital Electronics, based in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is another of the smaller manufacturers. It's going after young consumers who are used to thinking of a TV as a multipurpose device.

"Many people nowadays, especially at the smaller screen sizes like 26 inches, are using displays as both a TV, but also a computer monitor and a display for video game consoles," said Rey Roque, Westinghouse's vice president of marketing.

"And the technology now is affordable enough that we can offer features like 1080p across our line," he said. "That just wasn't affordable a few years ago."

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