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The Shopping Guy: Dream Screens

Looking to supersize your TV screen in time for the Ryder Cup?Your choices are plasma and rear-projection sets, the differences being size, picture quality and price. Plasmas—so called because their screens contain tiny cells full of gases that take on color when electrified—are thin, flicker-free and far more expensive than rear-projection models. I scanned the world for the best sets in each category. The prices below are the lowest I found online, but don't buy rashly. With big-ticket toys like these, it is often wise to find a local dealer who'll install your set and provide service if you need it.

Fujitsu PDS5002
Suggested retail: $14,999
Lowest price online: $11,899
(plasmaoutlet.com)

Fujitsu tops the plasma category—its 61-inch screen is the largest plasma on the market. This 50-inch unit weighs only 99 pounds and is just 3.8 inches thick, making wall mounting easy. Images are enhanced by a proprietary video-signal processor that makes sports on-screen almost as good as being there.

Top of the Line: Like many plasma screens, this one is not plug-in-and-watch. You'll need speakers and a TV tuner just to get started. But for picture quality, the PDS5002 is the true tele-Tiger. You'll feel you can walk right into the image. And if you feel like showing off, upgrade to the 61-inch model, which sells for $25,000.

Sharp PZ50HVZU
Suggested retail: $13,999
Lowest price online: $8,995
(audiosound.com)

Sharp makes some of the best all-inclusive plasma televisions; at 50 inches this is its jumbo model. It's a breeze to install—just plug in the cable and you're ready to watch. Various display modes—side bar, smart stretch, zoom and stretch—offer options to max out your viewing pleasure.

Unveiled in January, the PZ50HVZU has won awards for its design and engineering. Its images are gorgeous and its no-hassle installation makes it an attractive buy. Another plus is the universal remote. Its audio, however, is less pure than you'd get from a full-scale home-entertainment system.

Pioneer Elite Pro 1000HD
Suggested retail: $17,500
Lowest price online: $9,999
(dtvcity.com)

Pioneer brought out one of the first great 50-inch plasmas, and this baby is 60 percent brighter—a giant leap in quality. The 1000HD is a beautiful set with a handsome frame, but it's the picture that will dazzle you. Even analogue images are processed to look better than you would expect. This is HDTV at its most modern.

Four inches thick, tipping the scale at just 88 pounds, the set is impressively lean. Better yet are those swear-you-were-there images. The Pioneer's price might be a bit higher than those of some other models, but if you're willing to spend $10,000 on a TV, why not spend it on an incomparable picture?

Sony Grand Wega KF60DX1000
Suggested retail: $5,999
Lowest price online: $5,159
(mydigitaluniverse.com)

The picture-quality gap between high-end plasma screens and rear-projection models is obvious when you see them side by side, but rear-projection TVs like the 60-inch Wega are making strides. If price matters, it's a good option. Prime drawback: It's chunky. You will need nearly 20 inches of depth, so there's no wall-mounting option here.

Compared to the 61-inch $25,000 Fujitsu, the Wega checks in as a relative bargain. Its Twin View system permits simultaneous analogue and HDTV viewing. For a rear-projection set it is also fairly light—only 138 pounds.

Mitsubishi WS55859
Suggested retail: $3,499
Lowest price online: $2,889
(crazyeddieonline.com)

This 55-incher is the bargain of the bunch. With a superb rear-projection picture and a built-in HDTV tuner as well as NetCommand— a universal remote that controls audio and video from many different brands—the WS55859 is a snap to operate. Though too large for wall mounting, it's a spectacular find.

Best Value: The universal remote is rare for this price range. Add the Mitsubishi's fine image quality, sound system and HDTV readiness, and you've got a low-price leader. The set is heavy, though. It weighs 276 pounds. So ask a few friends over to watch the Ryder Cup ... and to help with installation.

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