HDTV Buying Guide
What is HDTV
High-Definition TV (HDTV) is the most exciting thing to happen to television since black and white turned to color. The main fact you need to know is that HDTV pictures contain four times as much picture definition as the standard TV pictures we watch currently. This translates into a picture that is bursting with extra clarity, sharpness, depth and a realism that is impossible to believe without seeing it for yourself. Sound quality is also typically far better with HDTV as most High-Definition programmes contain 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound.
There are currently six High-Definition sources:
2. Up scaling: This is a 'cheat' method of obtaining HD pictures. Some DVD players and external processors are available that use special processing to add extra lines and pixels of detail to standard definition DVD pictures, effectively turning them into High-Definition.
3. HD Broadcasting: If you buy an HD television, you will need to connect a separate tuner, cable or satellite box to enjoy the benefits of High-Definition programming. Currently, the two primary sources for this are Sky, which launches its HDTV service in May 2006 and Telewest, which already broadcasts a number of HD programs to a limited area.
4. DVD: The good news is that new DVDs will have enough capacity to hold all of the extra information needed to store a film in HD, meaning watching a DVD at home will be as close as we've ever come to true 'home cinema'. The bad news is that there are two different formats vying for supremacy, and of course neither format is compatible with the other. This effectively means that if different movie studios back only one format, their films may not be compatible with the DVD player you have bought! The first format is called HD-DVD and is backed by the DVD Forum, the 'official' DVD industry body and manufacturers like Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo. The second format is Blu-ray and was invented by Sony and backed by the likes of JVC, LG, Panasonic and Philips.
5. HD Consoles: Sony's PS3 is due at the end of the year and will feature Blu-ray playback, while Microsoft's Xbox 360 delivers games in High-Definition already and will be upgraded next year to play HD-DVD DVDs.
Key features of HDTVs
HDTV Resolutions: All digital displays make their pictures up using pixels, where the more pixels a screen has, the better the image in HDTV Resolution This is called the screen resolution and it is well worth having a basic knowledge of the resolution formats if you want to make the most informed choice when purchasing your new HD kit. The two formats for High-Definition are 720p and 1080i. The 1080i format contains 1080 lines of image information, which is produced using the interlaced system. This means the pictures on your television are produced in two separate 'sweeps', with the odd lines (1, 3, 5, 7 etc) created during the first sweep and the even lines (2, 4, 6, 8 etc) created during the second. The sweeps are so quick, however, that the human eye sees only one complete image. The 720p format, while having fewer lines of image information, uses progressive-scan technology, where all the lines are created at once, as opposed to two separate sweeps. This ensures an exceptionally smooth image, which is often preferable to 1080i for fast-moving footage.
Does Size Matter? 16:9 vs 4:3: Television screens are available in two shapes, regular (4:3 aspect ratio) and widescreen (16:9). Regular pictures are four inches wide to three inches high, while widescreen pictures are 16 inches wide to nine high. Traditionally, films are shot in widescreen format, while TV is shot in regular - hence the black bars that run across the top and bottom of a screen when you watch a film on a regular television.
Bit Rate: The bit rate is measured as 'bits per second' and refers to the rate at which data is transmitted to your television. As with resolution, the more data, the better the pictures and sound.
Pixel: Pixels make up your television's image and are the smallest elements of a picture. The more pixels in your picture, the better.
Down Scaling: The process of converting High-Definition pictures to standard definition for transmission in standard definition programs.
HDCP: High bandwidth Digital Content Protection. This is a copyright system that prevents unauthorized copying and distributing of copyrighted content. Due to the quality of High-Definition content, the likes of Hollywood studios are becoming obsessed with HDCP to combat piracy, and it's likely that all next-gen HD sources will feature HDCP and thus only let you watch HD content at its maximum resolution, for which you will need a DVI or HDMI connector.
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