With prices falling fast, now is a great time to think about enhancing your game-playing experience with a new HDTV.
High-definition sets -- which display more lines of resolution than standard analog TVs and are built with widescreen aspect ratios -- bring out the best in next-gen consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And the Nintendo Wii, though not specifically designed with HDTV in mind, looks much better on the new displays, too.
Playing games on a good HDTV is about as big a jump as switching from black-and-white to color television.
But up until recently, if you were a heavy gamer, you probably heard that playing games on HDTV wasn't a good thing -- because game images could be left permanently imprinted on your screen. That's something the TV industry calls "burn-in."
Burn-in was mainly an issue for older rear-projection HDTVs (which were heavy and bulky, and took up half your living room). On the newer flat-screen LCD and plasma models, you don't have much to worry about. LCDs are more resistant to burn-in, and look better in bright rooms, but newer plasmas have special coatings that minimize reflections and deliver smoother pictures.
LCDs come in smaller sizes, whereas plasmas generally start at 37 inches. So if you want a 32-inch or smaller set, you'll have to go LCD.
If you are choosing a larger TV, unless you have an extremely bright room with windows facing the TV, plasma is the way to go. It's generally cheaper than LCD, and you can get plasmas now at the highest resolution available: 1080p.
In terms of picture quality -- for both playing games and watching television -- plasma is king. It provides deeper colors and can process the color black much better (though LCD is improving). And good "blacks" mean better picture quality overall.
"Years ago, the life span on plasmas was short," said Jeff Cove, vice president for technology and alliances for Panasonic. "It might have been 30,000 or 20,000 hours. In those days, if you kept a static picture on plasma, like a game or a Microsoft spreadsheet, you could have an after-image that wouldn't go away." Today, he said, lifespan on plasmas has been increased and the potential for burn-in has been eliminated.
But here's the bottom line: If you're not playing on HDTV, you're not seeing half of what your next-gen console can do.
I don't think I've played an Xbox 360 title that looked as amazing as this one (from Irrational Games, it's rated M for Mature).
The game takes place beneath the sea and starts off with a horrific "Lost"-style plane crash in the North Atlantic.
You are the only survivor. You must swim to a lighthouse as the plane sinks around you. Once there, you find a mini-submarine, which takes you to Rapture, a city hidden beneath the sea (yes, this storyline definitely brought "The Matrix" to my mind).
The city was created by a man named Andrew Ryan (the Architect?), who envisioned an idealistic society of intellectuals. The experiment, you'll find, has failed terribly. The city is full of corpses with little girls looting the dead, and some of the people have morphed into biologically mutated humanoids who want to kill anyone not like them -- or not willing to become that way.
In Rapture, there's a full-scale genetic war going on.
I don't want to give away too many details, because this is really an awesome game. It traps you inside the story and gives you some moralistic choices, but it's probably best to fight first and think second.
To survive, you will have to use some of the genetically enhanced technology you will run into, called plasmids. But like steroids, the side effects aren't good.
And, like Neo from "The Matrix," you'll have to make one ultimate decision that will affect your gameplay.
Here's your first candidate for game of the year. Excellent (Rating: 4 out 4 stars).
Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133; email@example.com