They put a man on the moon, a robot on Mars. They put high-definition television into a box in our homes. And we have reduced all you need to know about HDTV to 10 short tidbits. OK, there’s a lot more information about HDTV out there, but here are the essentials.
1. Go digital. Sooner or later, all TV broadcasts will be digital—the current deadline is still the end of 2006—so you’ll want your next TV set to be a digital one. In fact, the transition to DTV has already begun. Starting this July, all sets 36 inches and larger must include a built-in (or integrated) HD tuner. Next year, all sets 13 inches and larger are required by law to include an HD tuner.
2. There are several different flavors of DTV: SDTV for standard TV resolution, EDTV for enhanced resolution that’s on par with DVD quality, and HDTV for high definition. All HDTVs are part of the larger DTV family, but not all DTVs are HDTVs.
3. Lots of high-definition programming is now available on TV. For instance, much of the major networks’ prime-time fare is in HDTV. There’s also a good deal of live sports coverage in HD. Premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime offer high-definition channels to subscribers. And there are stunning nature and educational programs available in high definition on PBS affiliates and Discovery HD Theater.
4. Any program shot in high definition for television will appear on widescreen TVs in the more rectangular widescreen format (also known as 16:9). Programs that are advertised as high definition but appear in the traditional squarish format (known as 4:3) have probably been “upconverted,” meaning they weren’t shot in high definition but instead are older shows that have had resolution added so they appear as high definition.
5. There are two basic types of HDTV sets: those called integrated HDTVs because they have the necessary digital TV tuner built in and those without the tuners built in. Sets without the tuners are called HDTV monitors or are labeled as HD compatible, HD capable or HD upgradable. You will not be able to get HDTV programming without a digital TV tuner, an HDTV cable or satellite receiver, or a CableCARD used in lieu of an HDTV cable set-top box. Higher-end HDTVs include CableCARD slots and will be designated as digital cable ready (DCR). The CableCARD itself is provided by your local cable operator.
6. HDTVs that use CableCARDs will not have the ability to display the cable companies’ program guides. CableCARDs also do not allow interactive services such as pay-per-view or video on demand, though two-way CableCARD technology will allow this in the future.
7. HDTVs come in different resolutions, which simply denote the sharpness of the picture by the number of lines or pixels on the screen. Two of the more popular resolutions are 720p (for 720 lines of progressive scan rate) and 1080i (for a scan rate of 1,080 lines interlaced). A newer format is 1080p (for 1,080 lines of progressive scan).
8. 1080i is not necessarily better than 720p. The 1,080 lines in 1080i are interlaced, meaning only half of them appear on the screen at any one time. (They switch so fast it tricks your eyes into seeing all of them at once.) With 720p, the 720 lines are progressively scanned so they are all there at the same time, and they replenish even faster. For this reason, some experts believe 720p is better suited for displaying fast-motion sports and action scenes, though for most people, the difference is unnoticeable. The newer 1080p resolution ends the debate.
9. If you’re shopping for an HDTV, check the display’s “native resolution.” It will be a number such as 1280 x 768 (indicating the horizontal by vertical resolution). The second number shown must be 720 or larger for the set to be able to display high-definition images. If it isn’t, it simply isn’t high def!
10. Having an HDTV will also allow you to get the best performance out of a progressive-scan DVD player. The progressive scanning will make the DVD video look even better, because you’ll be seeing the DVD picture in its full resolution, which is not possible on regular-old analog sets.
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