In less than 15 months, the transition to digital TV will be a done deal. For anyone shopping TVs today, the question isn't whether you'll buy a high-definition TV, but rather which type, format, and feature set you'll choose. Consumers used to just pick a screen size and style. These days, you have to pick from an alphabet soup of technologies, too: DLP (Digital Light Processing), D-ILA (Digital Direct Drive Image Light Amplifier), LCD (Liquid Crystal Display). There's also plasma to consider, and then projector or standalone varieties on top of that.

The plethora of options is good news for modern homeowners who want TVs in several rooms. In fact, today's custom home can easily accommodate several different types of TVs, depending on the room and the application. Flat-panel TVs may be all the rage, but clients will likely never tire of the cinemalike experience of a projector system for their home theater room. An affordable rear-projection model might be the best option for a family room, where homeowners don't want to commit to a full-blown installation. And an LCD TV might be the preferred choice for the prime real estate above the fireplace, since its lighter weight requires less bracing than other high-definition models.

Manufacturers certainly are doing their part to make HDTV too good to pass up. Price wars at the end of 2006 sent consumers scurrying to stores in search of $1,000 42-inch plasma TVs—a price not fathomable a few short years ago. And TVs today simply fit better in a room. Design is as much a part of the engineering process as picture quality and features. Flat displays are no longer a marketing craze but the holy grail of TV design. The big, bulky TV of the past will soon be a relic of the analog age, and though not all TVs are flat-panels (yet), this much is certain: competing technologies had better be thin if they want to take on plasma and LCD.

  • The picture display of Panasonic's 103-inch plasma HDTV measures 4 feet tall by nearly 7-1/2 feet wide. The manufacturer notes that the 485-pound unit is large enough to contain the equivalent of 50 basketballs, lined up edge to edge, or four 42-inch plas

    Credit: Panasonic

    The picture display of Panasonic's 103-inch plasma HDTV measures 4 feet tall by nearly 7-1/2 feet wide. The manufacturer notes that the 485-pound unit is large enough to contain the equivalent of 50 basketballs, lined up edge to edge, or four 42-inch plas
worth the weight

As the television market continues its shift, there are certain things homeowners should know about their choices now and in the immediate future. Flat-panel TVs will continue to expand into new and larger screen sizes to meet a variety of placement options. Panasonic held 2006 bragging rights for the largest flat-panel TV—a 103-inch plasma model that sells for roughly $70,000—and Sharp is next in line for the trophy. (Its 108-inch LCD TV is due to ship sometime next year.) Back on earth, homeowners will see more screen sizes in the 40-inch to 60-inch range and high-definition models replacing the old projection-tube TVs.

The main differentiator between flat-panel TVs used to be screen size, with LCD taking the “42-inch and smaller” segment and plasma accounting for larger screen sizes. Plasma models likely won't go down in size because of manufacturing issues, so expect to see LCD TV sizes increase to keep pace. Sharp currently produces 46-inch, 52-inch, 57-inch, and 65-inch LCD TVs (with the 108-inch model looming large), and Samsung will ship a 70-inch LCD in December.

An alternative to plasma and LCD is DLP, an optical semiconductor technology based on Texas Instruments components and built to the specs of many manufacturers, including LG, Mitsubishi, Samsung, and Toshiba. DLP TVs tend to be larger and less expensive than their flat-panel counterparts. Mitsubishi's DLP TVs, for example, measure 52 inches, 57 inches, 65 inches, and 73 inches diagonally.