Is 1080P Worth It?
The cost of 1080p TVs generally run about $500 to $600 more than 720 or 768 models, according to Bill Schindler, VP of electrical engineering at Panasonic. So is it worth the extra bucks? After all, if the broadcasters only send out 1080i and 720p signals—and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future—how much advantage can you garner with the extra resolution?
That’s where the high-definition DVD formats, Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD—as well as PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 game consoles—come in. The next-generation disc players are transferred from film to video in 1080p, giving you twice the resolution of standard DVD. You see richer color and more detail. “Everybody used to push the scene from Shakespeare in Love where the camera pans across the courtyard to show how one deinterlacer worked better than another one on DVD,” says Chris Walker, senior manager of product planning and marketing at Pioneer Electronics “With the new 1080p displays and Blu-ray players, that scene is now almost perfect. The difference is amazing.”
Just to keep things interesting, not all Blu-ray and HD-DVD players output the signal to the TV in the same way. Certain Sony, Samsung, Pioneer Blu-ray players, and Toshiba HD DVD players, for instance, output a signal at 24 frames per second, the frame rate at which film is recorded. The idea is to pair those players with TVs that can accept a 24 frame-per-second input. That way, less processing—typically known as 2:3 or 3:2 pulldown—has to be performed in the TV to match the frame rate. Those who output 24p, as it is called, believe it leads to smoother overall motion.
Other companies do the processing in the player and output the signal in a frame rate the TV can easily manage. “We do the conversion in the Blu-ray player, and our TVs accept a 60-Hz frame rate,” says Schindler of Panasonic. He says the company is studying the 24p issue because it seems to be something that people want, but adds, “I don’t know why it’s necessary. I don’t believe 3:2 pulldown is an issue, and we have an excellent 3:2 pulldown [processing].”
Ramirez of Toshiba says that while all Toshiba Regza TVs for 2007 include 24p inputs, he believes it’s a feature that appeals more to videophiles than the general consumer. “High-end purists feel 24p is important because it’s the most like film,” he says, “but I believe the average consumer will prefer 60 frames, because there’s less blur. When handling motion, 24 frames will have more blur than 60 frames.”
The bottom line—whether you’re talking 24 versus 60 frame rate, 720p versus 1080p resolution or HDMI—always comes down to the picture, and that’s something a spec chart can’t tell you. The true quality of a picture is in the processing. A 1080p display is only as good as the processor inside that converts signals from standard cable all the way up to Blu-ray and HD DVD.
Despite all the marketing mumbo jumbo—and the numbers games—the ultimate test for choosing a TV occurs when you visit a store and audition various models with prices that are within your budget. As the quality of digital TV improves with technology such as 1080p, the differences are more difficult to discern. Does it make sense to upgrade to 1080p? “In side-by-side comparisons at the retail store, the difference is demonstrable,” says Dan Schinasi, senior marketing manager of HDTV product planning at Samsung.
Of course, someday soon you may not have a choice if 720p goes the way of EDTV. How long will 720p be around? “It’s hard to predict, but I don’t think for very long,” says Walker of Pioneer, citing the cost of maintaining separate manufacturing lines for the two technologies. “And 1080p pricing keeps coming down,” he notes. “When we launched our first 1080p TV last year, it sold for $10,000. Then it went to $5,000.” Still, he says, “Someone just getting into HDTV would love either one. But if you can spend a little extra money, 1080p is worth it.”
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