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What You Need To Know About HDTV
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
date posted: 12:41 AM Sat Nov 19th, 2005
last revision: 12:53 AM Sat Nov 19th, 2005

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Click to read.So the next generation of Xbox and Playstation are adopting HD (High Definiion) as their standard method of presentation. What does this mean for the gamer? If you want the games to look as pretty as all of those screenshots, if you want to experience all of those beautiful layers and textures, if you want to truly be a part of the next generation of gaming, you need an HDTV. Luckily, there are more options for HD out there than ever before, and at better prices. With the growing selection of HD television programming, the promise of new HD DVD formats on the horizon, and the games (oh the games!), it is well worth the investment.

Why go HD?

The primary benefit of High Definition Television is the visual fidelity. High Definition means exactly that. The image quality is 4.5 times greater than that of normal TV. It is digital, which means no interference or distortion. To break it down a little further, HD is transmitted in two different forms: 720p and 1080i. 720p translates to 720 horizontal lines, each with 1280 pixels. 1080i means 1080 lines, each with 1920 pixels. The \"p\" and \"i\" refer to progressive scan and interlaced scan. With progressive scan, the display writes each line in succession to the screen. Interlaced scan writes odd-numbered lines first, then even. By comparison, standard televisions display in 480p/480i.

Obviously, more lines and more pixels means a better picture. But as they say, seeing is believing, and a one to one comparison with ordinary television will make anyone a believer. Beyond being less distorted than a standard signal, HD somehow manages to be even better than reality. Watch a travel show filled with exotic locations shot in HD and the water appears more clear, the colors more intense, the visuals sharper than anything you will experience in real life. It\'s like reality +1. Just go to any local electronics retailer and they will be happy to show off the difference.

Let\'s not forget that on an HD digital broadcast the audio, too, is increased in quality, and presented in 5.1 surround sound. Many people have adopted 5.1 surround into their homes to improve their movie and gaming experience. Now you can enjoy the same quality with your favorite TV shows.

The decision to invest in HD is just the first of many more to come. There are many different styles and technologies out there, each with their own pros and cons depending on your room layout, your budget, and your tastes. Let\'s start with something most home video enthusiasts are familiar with: standard vs. widescreen presentation.

Choosing an aspect ratio

HDTVs are available in both standard 4:3 and 16:9 widescreen displays. Widescreen presentation has quickly become the popular choice, as it better approximates the theater experience in the home. All television programming and video games presented in HD are formatted in 16:9 widescreen, so it makes sense to purchase a television with those dimensions.

But when it comes to standard television broadcasts and DVDs, some things must be noted: Standard 4:3 broadcasts will be presented with black or gray bars on the sides to fill the screen unless you choose one of three options for fitting the picture to the widescreen display. Some people will prefer the Zoom option, which simply enlarges the 4:3 picture proportionally to make it fill the entire screen. This option does not distort the picture, but it does clip the top and bottom of the screens. Another option is Full Screen, which stretches the 4:3 picture horizontally. This option causes the most distortion, making the people on the screen to appear flat or squashed. The third option, Wide Zoom, is often considered the best because it causes the least distortion and doesn\'t interfere with the way the image was originally blocked. Wide Zoom enlarges the center portion of the screen, where most of the important information occurs, proportionally, while the left and right sides of the screen are stretched to fill. The stretching effect is minimal; sometimes you will notice, sometimes not. Keep in mind, too, that films are rarely shot in 16:9 (usually they are shot in 1:85:1 or 2:35:1), so widescreen DVDs often still have black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, although they will be less prominent. Many studios now offer DVDs in anamorphic widescreen, which is adjusted to fit the 16:9 display. All of this can seem confusing, but it what it really comes down to is checking out your options, deciding which one you like the best, and never thinking about it again.

Sci-Fi Alphabet Soup: Plasma, CRT, DLP, and LCD

There are several kinds of television sets that employ different technology to fit your needs. Direct-view sets use CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) technology, which is reliable and affordable. The picture looks fantastic and it doesn\'t have the burn in or pixilation problems that some newer technology has. CRT TVs do have problems with convergence, however. This means that minor visible red, blue, or green color separation can occur around the edges of some objects. You see this less in HD signals than standard programming and DVDs. The sheer size and weight of a CRT set can make them unwieldy compared to new technology. For instance, Sony\'s 51\" KP-51WS520 HDTV is almost 26\" in depth and weighs 200 lbs.

Plasma Screen TVs were all the rage a while ago, and they certainly are cool. They are thin, sometimes only a few inches deep, and they can be hung on a wall. They offer a larger surface area for a lower price tag than DLP or LCD TVs. Plasma screens do not suffer from burn in (a lasting, residual image being burned into the screen after prolonged use). On the other hand, Plasma Screen technology does not offer as sharp a picture as DLP or LCD sets, although they are closing the gap. Lost pixels can represent an annoying problem. Plasma Screen sets also have a limited life span, although that span can be equal to as much as 17 years of watching 8 hours of TV a day, which is more than most people will ever need.

DLP (Digital Light Processing) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) sets are the latest technology. Both are slim and light, making them a better fit for smaller areas (consider about 15\" in depth and about 115 lbs for a 50\" TV, as opposed to the CRT technology above). Both have a long lifespan, extended by replacing the light source. Both provide arguably the best picture quality of all HDTVs, although each with their own caveats. LCD sets are known for better contrast and a wider range of colors. However, LCD sets suffer from burn in and low refresh rates. The low refresh rate causes objects in motion to have jagged, pixilated edges, which can really degrade a sporting event or action movie. DLP doesn\'t suffer as much from this problem, but it is a little more expensive. HD signals greatly reduce this problem.

Getting signal

There are a few ways to get an HD signal to your HDTV. Component Video cables are the current standard for HD, the cables that any HD ready equipment will come with out of the box. Also available are digital DVI and HDMI cables. All of these options deliver the signal in the same way: in separate red, blue, and green signals that are synced up to create a picture. The main difference between Component and DVI/HDMI is that Component is an analog format and DVI/HDMI is digital. The main difference between DVI and HDMI is that HDMI carries audio and video together and uses a unique connector. The predominant myth is that while Component must convert a digital signal to analog, using DVI or HDMI will deliver a pure digital signal and is therefore better. The truth is that digital signals are encoded in a variety of ways and must also be converted in order to be displayed. Is one better than the other? It depends on the equipment and the quality of cables that you are using. Honestly, your DVD player may work better with one while your HD satellite may work better with the other. As long as you have high quality cables, you are safe. And you may not even have a choice. So far, word is the first generation of Xbox 360 only uses a Component Video connection, while the PS3 will be equipped to use both Component and HDMI. Sony loves them some HDMI.

The bottom line

What does this all boil down to? Well, HD is the way of the future, and rightfully so. It really is that good. Those who have HD compatible TVs are simply going to experience vastly improved visuals than those who don\'t. They will be playing a whole different game. Luckily, the price of HD technology is dropping every day. At the time I am writing this, a 32\" standard display CRT HDTV can run under $700. From there, the sky isn\'t even the limit. My prediction is that the release of the next generations of game systems, which use HD as their visual standard, will instigate an even bigger move to HD among consumers than we have seen before. Why do I say that? Watch how fast the Xbox 360 and PS3 fly off the shelves. Consider how much people are willing to spend on video games. Gamers are known for hotrodding their entertainment systems in order to eek out every possible bit of performance from their games. I am sure that upgrading to HD will be a given once gamers see the difference. No one wants their games to perform at less than the standard level of development for their game system. It just makes sense.

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