You’ve seen the words “Broadcast in HDTV” at the start of some of your favorite television shows. Your newspaper is flooded with ads from local electronics stores plugging the newest “must have” HDTV sets. But, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), while more than 60 percent of American television viewers recognize the abbreviation “HDTV,” they are very confused about all of the new TV terminology and what they will actually see when they invite high-definition television into their home.
HDTV is all about the experience. The improvement in picture image and clarity between standard or enhanced definition and high definition is dramatic. Whether watching sporting events or television shows, when you experience true HD quality, you see the difference as clearly as when you switched from VHS to DVD.
A trip to an electronics store today can prove overwhelming, A range of choices is quickly replacing traditional televisions. Plasma televisions, LCDs and projection televisions come in sizes ranging from 13 inches to greater than 70 inches with price tags from the low hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some products come equipped with “plug-and-play” technology for immediate reception of the HD signal, while others claim they are HD-ready or offer enhanced definition TV. Consumers are asked to compare standards and formats they don’t understand and try to differentiate between monitors and integrated sets.
The key to demystifying this technology and making sure you are investing your money in a television that will give you the best HD quality now and in the future, is to do some research and figure out which questions to ask before going into the store. Before making the final decision, you shouldn’t settle on price alone, but also make sure that your new TV lives up to its billing by comparing it to other displays.
We recommend that consumers think about and ask the following questions when preparing to incorporate HDTV into their home.
How do I get HDTV programming in my home?
You can get HD programming the same ways you get regular television shows right now – via cable, satellite or simply over-the-air. Think about how you view your programs and then check the website of your local cable or satellite provider to find out about HDTV services in your local area.
- Cable: If your local cable provider currently supports HDTV, you simply need to ask them for a HD decoder box that will replace your current cable box and provide easy access to HD. In the near future, you will be able to purchase high definition televisions with the cable box built in (called digital cable-ready). With these new televisions, you simply call your cable company and let them know you have a cable-ready TV and they will provide you with a credit-card sized card that you insert into the television to begin receiving service. Pioneer begins offering digital cable-ready plasma televisions this fall.
- Over-The-Air: This method involves setting up an antenna and receiving HD programming from local broadcast towers. If you are in a large metropolitan area, chances are good that you can already receive many free HDTV channels over the air.
- Satellite: Almost anyone can receive HDTV via satellite and all satellite companies currently carry high definition channels. You will need to get a special HD decoder and dish from the satellite provider to watch HD programming and there’s usually a small price increase for this service.
Digital vs. True HD
Just because a television is digital, does not necessarily mean that it offers true HD. The FCC has mandated that all televisions eventually switch from analog to digital so eventually everyone will need a digital set to watch TV. If you’re going to invest in a new television and are considering getting a standard definition digital set, be aware that this does not mean high definition. Now: here are the critical differences in the three levels of digital television.
SDTV: Better Than Regular TV
Standard Definition TV broadcasting has eliminated those annoying “ghost” images and “snow” sometimes seen in analog broadcasts. SDTV’s picture resolution can range from about the same as analog TV to about twice the resolution-a noticeable improvement. The audio is digital, too, so the sound is of higher quality than on analog TV (like a CD compared to FM radio) and can even feature multiple channels of surround sound.
EDTV: Really getting good
The next level of digital television is Enhanced Definition TV, EDTV. EDTV features a minimum of 480p scanning lines, for a more detailed picture than SDTV. You can see the difference. EDTV also can reproduce Dolby® Digital audio.
HDTV: the best you can get
HDTV has all the benefits of EDTV, but goes far beyond it in picture resolution and audio features. The HDTV specification requires a minimum of 720 horizontal scanning lines, far higher than EDTV and about five times the resolution as analog TV! It’s a level of detail that you’ve never seen before.
Another way to compare the two is by looking at their pixel count (pixel is short for “picture elements”, the individually addressable areas of light and shadow on your screen). The 720p format creates an image with 720 lines, each with 1280 pixels, so it has a resolution of 1280 x 720. The 1080i format creates an image with 1080 lines, each with 1920 pixels, so its resolution is a higher 1920 x 1080. Denser pixels = a better picture.
When you’re shopping for a new TV, remember this: at a minimum, an HDTV television-whether it’s a projection television, plasma display, or traditional CRT type-must be able to display images at a minimum of 1080i or 720p. A “digital TV” or “digital-ready TV” or “EDTV-ready TV” that doesn’t meet this spec cannot deliver HDTV! You would still get the improvement of digital TV over analog, but you wouldn’t be ready for HDTV, which is the future of broadcasting.
You Can See the Difference
As we said, the HDTV difference is clearly visible. On the best sets, you will see details that you’ve never seen before on a television. Here are a few examples.
- Actor’s faces look more expressive and you’ll see more detail in costumes and clothing.
- When watching sports, you can follow the ball, the puck, or a racecar more easily and see subtle details in an athlete’s movements, even the fuzz on a tennis ball.
- A forest looks like a group of individual trees, not a brown and green clump.
- Concerts in HDTV feature incredible visual detail and digital sound.
In short, everything looks and sounds far more life-like and more realistic. The first time you experience HDTV, on a true HDTV television and a good surround sound system, is almost unbelievable.
HD “Compatible” or HD-”Ready”?
Some televisions are digital and HD-ready, which means that you can add a tuner to the television at some later date in order to receive HD signals. These sets are generally called HD-compatible or HD-ready and are somewhat less expensive than a true HDTV. However be aware that not all TVs being promoted as “HD-compatible” are truly capable of displaying HD signals. If the television display is not true HD the signal must be downgraded for an image to be displayed. This difference needs to be understood before purchasing an HDTV in order for a consumer’s expectations to be met.
Which display is right for me?
Each television technology has its benefits and draw backs depending on what you want to watch the most:
- Traditional CRT (cathode ray tube) based TVs have been in homes across America for more than 50 years. It is the cheapest television technology, but it can be bulky and the image being reproduced is high quality although commonly shrunk to fit the square screen. The range of screen sizes for CRT TVs spans from just a few inches to large-size rear projection televisions.
- LCD TVs are slim monitors that are available in screen sizes up to 36 inches. Because LCDs were originally designed for computer monitors rather than televisions, they are better suited for viewing data than video. The response time of an LCD television is slower than other technologies, which means you may get a blurring effect when images move quickly across the screen. Because LCD televisions tend to be smaller, they are easy to fit in most home kitchens, workshops and the like. However, it’s important to remember that the biggest benefit of high definition television is enhancing an image so it seems that you are immersed in the picture. This quality is much more effective on larger screen sizes. The bigger the television, the more dramatic the improvement in picture quality from standard to high definition. If you’re looking at a 13-inch screen, you might not notice much difference at all.
- Plasma is one of the newest television technologies, but has been on the market just long enough to become the latest craze. Newer model plasma televisions offer picture quality and color reproduction as good as any projection television, while being thin enough to fit almost anywhere. Plasma also has a wider viewing angle than many other televisions, which means you don’t have to sit in the “sweet spot” in the living room to get a good view of the TV. The larger-size plasma televisions provide the most dramatic difference when viewing HDTV.
- Digital Light Processing (DLP) Although DLP is much slimmer than a typical rear projection television, they don’t have the viewing angle, size or brightness to be hung on a wall or perched on a stand easily. DLP technology uses micro mirrors and a color wheel to create an image. Viewing angles, life span, depth and brightness have plagued the technology. The upside is that these large screen displays are relatively inexpensive compared to other technologies.
- Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) technology is similar to how DLP works, however it uses liquid crystals (LCDs) on silicon wafers (rather then small mirrors) to reproduce images. enabling the display to show high quality image reproduction when watching movies and playing video games. Price and size of the displays are slowing the growth of the technology.