Plasma TV + PC? Make them Pixel Perfect

There is a lot of bad advice going around about hooking up a PC to a Plasma TV + I have seen several people driving their Plasma TV at 800×600 from their PC. Last week I bought an ED Maxent Plasma ($1200) so can finally comment:


What I knew people were missing is that most modern video cards allow you to set a custom resolution which matches exactly that of your Plasma TV. I took several screen shots when using my year old GForce 4000MX with the latest NVIDIA common driver, but don’t have time to make a decent post and decided to just blog the basics:


If you have a regular ED Plasma set the resolution to 852×480 (16:9 480p) and preferably connect via DVI/hdmi which is 100% digital from your video card to the TV so there is no need to buy those expensive ‘monster’ cables unless the distance is more than a few meters. Note that HDMI is backwards compatible with DVI and adapters are cheap. If you get it connected and the picture is not perfect try 854×480 or lookup the exact resolution of your TV; when you hit the right numbers you will know as the result will pixel perfect.


My Plasma has 2 component, 2 s-video, one DVI and one RGB input that I could use with the PC. DVI is perfect. RGB is very good, but not all pixels are crisp, s-video was not so good and I don’t have an adapter to try the component. Just use DVI/ HDMI and demote the PVR to component video as TV. Hopefully it won’t be too long before TVs have at least three hdmi inputs.


 


Other randon Geek AV Tips:


Running out of digital amplifier inputs like I was? New amps are expensive so just use TosLink splitters/ combiners which are cheap. I ordered a whole bunch of 3′ and 6′ toslinks cables for next to nothing at the same time. Obviously only one device can be on at once or the optical signals collide. Oh yeah many people don’t realize that their laptop probably outputs a digital signal too; if bought the standard Phillips $16 toslink cable then you already have a 3.5mm toslink adapter. Look for a red light in your laptops 3.5mm outputs – that’ll be the digital signal.


Are you now planning to run DVI cables through your walls to the media-server closet? Use hdmi and adapters instead because the connectors are much smaller and you’ll get a much neater looking faceplate + be more future-proof; I am doing this soon and will have two video cards in the same media PC to drive a TV in the family room and one in the media room. I use Powermids to control the PC via infra-red keyboards and it works great. Powermids will also be used when I finally get a decent entertainment center to hide the front speakers + ugly PVR, amp, xbox etc (look for optional mesh door fronts to hide speakers behind if you are in the market; Haverty’s are good value). When the xbox-360 is hackable each room will get a 360 and the PC will become a real server; until then it is needed to view content like h.264 as the old xbox with xbmc does not have the horsepower to play higher bitrates.


NVidia is the card I recommend mainly because some buddies from my first Masters degree are kicking ass for them right now. Other cards should let you set a custom resolution, but I am no expert in video cards. Unless you play PC games I recommend just buying the cheapest Nvidia based card that supports DVI out and I’ll bet it will support custom resolution.


 


Finally, why did I buy a cheap Maxent? Well it was $500 cheaper than the Panasonic ED I really wanted + it whatever I buy today will be replaced when 1080p 50″ Plasma’s are affordable, which I estimate will be a reality in about two years. For fellow cheapskates the Maxent is a very good TV; not quite as crisp as the Panasonic ED, but when viewing from 13 feet away you will barely notice the difference. The Maxent has removable speakers too which was must-have along with the stack of video inputs. Real geeks buy LCDs for the true 1080p, but unless you play games from a few away you are better off looking at 42″ Plasma for TV viewing today (Jan 2006). LCD prices are dropping very quickly so you can maybe bur the true 1080p 42″ screen later in the year for under $1000?

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