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Scott's Column
LCD vs. Plasma, Time Warner vs. UVerse

August 1, 2009
By Scott Lewis

This month I take a look at Plasma vs. LCD HDTVs. While in a comparison mood I also wanted to see if it is worth switching from Time Warner to AT&T's UVerse service for TV and Internet.

Current Topics:

Time Warner & Road Runner vs. AT&T UVerse

I am contemplating switching from Time Warner with Road Runner for television and Internet access to AT&T's UVerse service. So it's time for a side by side comparison. Time Warner offers deals for people just starting out. Since I am already a subscriber I do not get that "acquisition pricing." So I am going to IGNORE my own bill.

I am going to compare Time Warner's packages against AT&T's packages as offered on their web sites. Who offers the most channels for the money, and the fastest Internet access. You may find that some packages may favor one or the other, so I am going into this looking for some general features and will see how they both size up.

I want to try and find a package that will cost as close to $100 a month as possible. I am currently paying $118.91 a month will all taxes and what not. Since I think an introductory package should be cheaper I hope to find something comparable to the channels and Internet service I have for a little less money.

I am going create a spreadsheet and list all the channels each one has in their package that is closest to $100. I am then going to highlight the channels that I actually watch, or want to watch. If there are other channels than these it hardly matters. Finally I will compare the Internet service, DVRs, etc. I am not looking for phone service, so both will be priced without phone service.

UVerse - Let's list the basics on their TV offering I gleaned from their web site:

  • DVR records up to 4 channels (up to 2 HD channels) and plays back to any receiver.
  • DVR playback on other receivers requires the high speed Internet option.
  • Over 105 HD channels available
  • No contract term required
  • Program guide with 14-day look ahead

Time Warner - And now the competition on TV service (Note: I made this up as it was not a quick page i could look at that provided this comparative information):

  • DVR records up to 2 channels.
  • Each DVR is separate and must record the shows that will be displayed on it.
  • Lots of HD channel (probably close to UVerse)
  • Package price requires a 2 year price lock contract.
  • Programming guide looks ahead 7 days.

The Channels

Click here to download the spreadsheet that compares channels from AT&T's U200 package against Time Warner's Surf & View package.

Channel Spreadsheet

If you look at the channels it is a mess. Let me set some ground rules because some channels are missing. I eliminated any dedicated movie channels, such as HBO, Showtime & Cinemax. I did leave in The Movie Channel because they both listed them. I removed all Spanish stations and made no attempt to match up religious channels. Hey, its my list. You can make your own if you want those. I stayed away from shopping channels as best I could as well.

AT&T wins for providing the best information online. You can view there channel lineup and view only the channels within the U200 package. To see a listing of channels with Time Warner you have to go to an interactive page and remove all the extra cost packages. I removed them and the list still showed HBO, Showtime, etc. That's why I removed those from the merged list of channels in the spreadsheet. (Note: I copied AT&T's UVerse channels and Time Warner's Channels into their own tabs on the spreadsheet. But you will need to go to the Merge tab to see the comparison.)

I am not a sports fan. I watch NASCAR and Spurs Basketball. I have never had to pay for a sports package to get enough of this. It was hard to map all the sports channels from each service. So I will draw no conclusion from the sports channels in the spreadsheet. If you are a sports fan you should check out each service yourself to see which one provides the sports channels you need.

I also passed on looking at any of the music channels. Yea, they both have a bunch of music channels. Big Deal!

I was mainly concerned with channels I watch, or might like to watch. I am also interested in which service gives me more HD channels (again, ones I would watch). It is pointless to have the Golf Channel, and more so to have the Golf Channel HD. So Time Warner and AT&T get no credit for this in my book.

In the Channel description column I highlighted all the HD channels. They share 39 HD Channels. Not that great if you ask me. AT&T had 26 channels to itself and Time Warner had 19. That's a total for AT&T of 65 with Time Warner bringing up the rear with 58. I expected AT&T to come out better since it advertises more than 100 HD channels. I guess that is for other packages.

But are these channels important? Let's see. Surely channels like Food Network, Business Network, Planet Green, Style, Golf, Tennis & The Weather channels are no good to me in HD, since I don't watch those channels anyway. So, lets take a look at the channels in HD that only one provides and I would possibly watch:

Cartoon Network HD (Kids) - Time Warner
FX HD - AT&T
HDNet - AT&T
HDNet Theater - AT&T
MGM HD - Time Warner
Nickelodeon HD (Kids) - AT&T
Outdoor Channel HD - Time Warner
SPEED HD - AT&T
Spike TV HD - AT&T
Universal HD - Time Warner
VH1 HD - AT&T

Remember, this is a very short list of channels I would watch in HD that one one provides in the packages I looked at. AT&T has 7 channels, while Time Warner has 4. I happen to know that HDNet and HDNet Theater are extra cost channels with Time Warner depending on what exact package you get. It is much harder to determine what you get with Time Warner. AT&T is very clear.

AT&T won the HD channel comparison, by only 3 channels. However, I already watch and record shows on Spike and SPEED now, so getting those in HD is bigger than anything Time Warner is offering. I assume that MGM and Universal play movies from those studios. If not those stations have no meaning.

A quick scan down the list of non HD channels that only one vendor provides showed Toon Disney for Time Warner. My youngest son is still very much into cartoons, so that's a plus.

In the end I don't see any real advantage to either company's channel selection. With AT&T I would immediately start enjoying Spike TV and SPEED in High Definition. But that is not enough to sway me from one service to the other.

Internet Service

With TV channels out of the way how to their Internet service packages compare.

Time Warner definitely has the advantage in the Internet speed race. The Surf & View package comes with 7mbps download speed for a price of $86.99, and you can go to 15mbps for an addition $9.99. AT&T's U200 package cost $94.00 and only provides 3mbps download speed. Plus you have to pay $10/month for HD service which is free for Time Warner. To bring AT&T up to 6mbps (close enough not to matter) would cost an extra $5/month. That means AT&T costs $109 to Time Warner's price of $86.99.

Details

But wait... there's more. Time Warner charges $10 for each addition DVR, AT&T charges $7 for additional "receivers." Time Warner requires you sign a 2 year price guaranty to get this price. AT&T does not have an contract. Which seems like a complete reversal of times past. AT&T includes free WiFi at Starbucks and other locations, Time Warner does not. Also, be careful of Time Warner. I believe they charge extra for HD to addition DVRs. Meaning you have to pay for the HD service on each box that gets it. But I am not sure, I could not find this on their web site. AT&T's first receiver is the only DVR, but it can record up to 4 channels at once. All the receivers in the house play off that one DVR.

In the long run it is like comparing apples to oranges. For close to $100 you get over 200 channels from each, with a fair share of HD channels. You also get reasonable Internet download speeds.

Bottom line... it's a toss up. If you have access to both I like Time Warner because I am used to the channels and the Internet speed is a little faster for the price. If you are limited to one or the other due to availability issues don't worry, either is good enough.

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Plasma vs. LCD

This is a hot topic, but one that should have a quick answer. Which flat panel technology is better, Plasma or LCD. I was going to write a long diatribe on this subject. But I just couldn't do it.

Here is the bottom line...

Plasma - Plasma is cheaper for large screens (above 50 inches), but the price difference is eroding. Plasma give much better detail in dark area of the screen. This is known as black level. If you really enjoy a movie experience in a darkened room plasma is the way to go. However, plasma TVs are not as bright as LCD, so if you are getting a TV for a brightly lit room with plenty of windows you may want to stick with LCD. Plasma does have some issues with burn in, but it is so slight and easily avoided I would not worry about it. Plasma also give smoother action on screen, which can benefit action movies and sports.

LCD - LCD's are cheaper at the smaller sizes, and they are getting cheaper at the bigger sizes, too. Since most companies are out of the plasma game LCD is going to take over. LCD provides a brighter picture, which is good for bright rooms, but it pays for that with black areas that look gray and don't show detail as well as plasma. LCD TVs also suffer from off center viewing problems. When viewed from an angle (say 30-45 degrees off center) the colors get washed out. This is improving with LED & OLED backlighting (instead of the typical florescent backlighting), but the LED version cost considerably more.

Personally I will go with plasma for my next TV as I plan to get a better movie experience. Here are some article to help you out:

LCD-Plasma Display Technology Shootout
Plasma vs. LCD: Which is right for you?
Four styles of HDTV
Best 5 HDTVs: Picture Quality
Should I buy a Kuro before it's too late?
Crutchfield on LCD vs. Plasma

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Which Plasma

A friend of mine just bought a 50" plasma TV for his bedroom. He asked me about them and I did a little digging on some models. Here are some reviews and pricing information that was current on 7/23/2009:

Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD

  • CNet's Review - Best HDTV they ever tested.
  • Regularly $4,499 @ BestBuy
  • $2,499 on sale @ BestBuy on 7/18

Panasonic TC-P50V10

  • CNet Review - Excellent TV, best since Pioneer Elite Kuro which is no longer manufactured.
  • Regularly $2,199 @ Best Buy
  • $1,999 on sale @ BestBuy on 7/23

Panasonic TC-P50G10

  • CNet Review - Very Good TV, but 24p mode is at 48Hz with some flicker
  • $1,296.99 @ BestBuy on 7/23

Panasonic TC-P46G10

  • No Review... my friend was a little concerned with a big 50" TV in his bedroom, so I looked up the 46 inch version
  • $1,150.16 @ NewEgg on 7/23

Samsung PN50B550

  • CNet Product Overview - CNet reviewed the PN50B650, but I don't know the difference.
  • $1,199 @ Bestbuy.com on 7/23

I told my friend based on his viewing patterns he should get the Panasonic TC-P50G10. The price was right (he wanted to stay under $1,500) and I don't think he would have cared about the minor flicker issues when playing a Blu-Ray movie in 1080/24p mode.

So.. which model did my friend get. He bought the Panasonic TC-P50G15 (that's G15, not G10 like listed above). He got the G15 for $100 more than the G10 through a little haggling with the store selling the G15. The G15 is technically the same as the G10 with some trim differences.

I listed reviews from CNet because you can read each review from the same perspective. If you do some research you will see that the Pioneer Elite Kuro is a great TV. I wish I had the cash to buy it the day I saw it on sale at BestBuy. I will be looking for it to go on sale again.

If that does not happen I think I will get the Panasonic TC-P50V10. The V10 plays 1080/24p video (from Blu-Ray players) at 96Hz which is fast enough to eliminate flicker and provide a true cinematic cadence to films in that format.

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Conclusion

This is where I wrap up for the month.

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