Solving the mystery of HDTV

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by Curt Bucy
Gadget Guru

It seems the world of TVs gets more complicated every day. We have plasma, LCD, DLP, projection screens, HDTV in 720p, 1080i and 1080p, and a million other options. While I could spend all day explaining the difference between televisions, I plan to tackle only one issue today — High Definition Television or simply HDTV. This is not meant to be an all–encompassing guide to HDTV, but more of a “dummy’s guide” to the basics of the HDTV world.

Until recently, regular TV sets (known as CRTs or Cathode Ray Tubes) received signals in analog. In the U.S., this standard is being converted to digital signals. These older CRT TVs are able to decode only the digital signal if a digital converter is used. Newer TVs have digital signal receivers built in, and some can decode high definition signals. Digital signals allow the picture to be displayed in better quality, support a higher resolution, can be progressive and not interlaced (meaning that the screen shows the entire picture every frame and not every other line of the video every frame), and best of all—it can be broadcast in high definition.

The biggest misconception with high definition TV is that all you need is an HDTV to watch everything in high definition. There are several things that go into making a picture high definition. Here are a few:

1) The signal must be broadcast in high definition (HD).

2) High definition programming may be limited depending on your cable provider. Check with them on the availability of your HD programming. Comcast in Nashville has several HD channels—and most of the network channels broadcast prime time shows in HD on these channels. However, many of the HD channels are not included in your digital package and are considered premium channels and cost extra (such as HBO).

3) You will need a HD digital cable box or tuner (unless your TV has one built in) to decode the signal. *Warning: since many programs are not broadcast in HD, your picture quality will suffer when watched on a true HDTV. This doesn’t mean it looks BAD, just that you will notice a slight grainy effect when watching them. This is because the signal isn’t as advanced as the TV. The HD channels’ clarity will more than make up for it. More HD channels will come in the future and your HDTV will be ready.

Finally – here is some terminology you will find helpful in your search for the perfect TV picture.

1) Aspect Ratio—Most standard TVs have an aspect ratio of 4:3, that it is four units by three units high. HDTV has an aspect ratio of 16:9, making it widescreen (or like a movie screen).

2) Resolution – The normal standard of resolution on a non-HDTV is 480 pixels or lines of resolution. HDTV has two standards right now—720 lines of resolution and 1080 lines of resolution. The higher the resolution number, the better the picture. The highest HDTV resolution currently on the market is 1080p. This is the “to-be” standard and is not supported by anything but HD DVD players such as the ones made by Sony or Toshiba — they will, however, work with all the current 1080i broadcast signals (this is called down-converting).  If you buy a 1080p set, you are buying for the future of HD signals—consider it an investment. Again, the higher the resolution number, the sharper and clearer the picture. The “i” and “p” refer to interlaced or progressive scan (defined above).

3) Frame Rate – The frame rate is how often the TV creates a complete picture every second. This number is 24, 30 or 60 fps (frames per second). The higher the frame rate number, the sharper and clearer the picture.

4) HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) —This is a type of input/output cable that is quickly becoming the standard for HDTV. It takes the place of your old three-pronged (red, yellow and white) component video cables. The research suggests that they deliver a better and more stable picture than component video cables. Get ready for some sticker shock on these those; the cables can cost up to $100 in the local technology stores. Better deals are available on the Internet though; do your research and buy one before you buy your TV so you aren’t forced to buy one at the electronics store for an elevated price. Some of the high-end HDTVs will not convert the signal correctly unless a HDMI cable is used (mine was one of these). *Tip on cable boxes and TVs: Make sure your HD cable box and HDTV have HDMI connections.  If your cable box doesn’t have HDMI, call your provider and find out how you can trade yours in for one that has it.  

Locally NewsChannel 5 has started broadcasting it’s newscasts in HD – and they have more than six times the resolution of standard definition (SD) broadcasts, providing the most detailed and clear images ever seen on local news in Nashville. HD owners will also view the newscast on a widescreen format (16:9) similar to a movie theatre experience. 

The station has been rebuilt from the inside out, including a new cutting edge, sleek set which will be unveiled after the Super Bowl. It is also outfitted with an entirely new digital core, HD control room, HD cameras and monitoring and specialized editing technology. 

NewsChannel 5 is the fourth television station in the entire country and the first in Nashville to commit to an HD weather center. It will also be unveiled on Super Bowl Sunday. NewsChannel 5’s weather coverage will utilize a powerful HD radar system, which can pinpoint storms with greater precision, and provide viewers with unmatched accuracy to better ensure their safety. And, Talk of the Town, NewsChannel 5’s popular mid-day show, will now be carried in HD. 

I hope that this “HDTV Primer” will help in your quest for the perfect TV viewing. Do your research and check out prices, ratings and customer opinions on models you are interested in before you buy.  I know that my partner and I have not been able to stop “oooohing and aahhhhing” over our new 46” LCD HDTV since we got it for Christmas. 

Go ahead and dip your toes in the HDTV pool…you might not come up for air.