If you've read our reports on LCD TVs and plasma TVs, you know that one of the keys to great picture quality is deep black levels. That's especially true if, like most, you watch television under relatively dim lighting.
But according to HDGuru.com, some retailers are throwing their customers a deliberate curve ball by cranking up store lighting to way beyond reasonable levels, making it hard to accurately judge picture quality on the showroom floor. The site backs up its claims with some light meter measurements in stores and homes, and the differences are startling -- with some stores having lighting levels that are as much as 50 times brighter at the extremes.
As the article points out, under normal viewing conditions the TV with the the deepest blacks and the best contrast ratio -- the intensity difference between the blackest blacks and whitest whites -- will generally have the best picture quality. Crank up the lights, however, and the same picture won't look nearly as good. Instead, the best picture will appear to be the one that's brightest, regardless of black levels. But once the lights are turned back down to normal levels, that bright image could look washed out, with blacks that fade toward gray and lost shadow detail.
Retailers know this, but they also know that shoppers love a bargain. Additionally, HDGuru.com notes that driving a buyer toward a less-expensive TV leaves some money on the table for other things -- such as high-priced accessories and extended warranties -- which add far more to the bottom line than the TV itself. While there's usually not much you can do about a retailer's lighting levels, HDGuru.com does suggest a simple trick for comparing black levels in the store, so be sure to visit the site to check the article out for yourself.