Beginner’s Guide to HDTV (High-Definition Television)

HDTV improves your entertainment experience

With so many advertisements out there for HDTV sets and services, you’re probably wondering where to start. You may be asking, “What’s all the hoopla about?” or “Is it worthwhile to trade up?” And, of course, you want to know how much it’s going to cost. Here are a few answers to those questions to get you started on the road to high-definition television.

Understand that, in general terms, high-definition television, also known as HDTV, is more than twice as detailed as conventional analog television, also known as standard definition TV or SDTV. HDTV not only offers larger, richer images as compared with SDTV, it also includes multi-channel movie-quality surround sound as well. So, in layman’s terms, viewers often report seeing sharper, brighter images.

You should know you cannot modify your existing set to view high-definition TV or movies. To view these high-quality images, three basic items are required:

  1. HDTV-equipped television monitor or set
  2. HD programming for your TV
  3. HDTV-capable antenna or set-top box
  4. Home theater AV system connected to your TV


Get On Board with an HDTV

First and foremost, you must have an HDTV-equipped television monitor or set that can receive and display HDTV signals. Most experts believe that new kinds of display types such as LCD, LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), digital light processors (DLP), and plasma have a bit of an edge over conventional cathode-ray tubes (CRTs). It’s best to let your size and resolution requirements narrow down your choices, and then let your budget and taste help you zero in on a final choice.

Some viewers may purchase HDTVs equipped with built-in HDTV tuners, while others may combine an HDTV monitor with a set-top box which has an external HDTV tuner to bring in the picture. Some would say that a true HDTV set must have at least one digital tuner built in that lets it pick up and process HDTV signals. That said, since so many viewers get HDTV signals from a cable or satellite TV provider, a built-in tuner isn’t always needed (or even wanted) – unless you want to access the premium channels that are available from the cable or satellite services.

Next is what you are going to watch on your new TV. There are actually several different kinds of HD content that are available, including high-definition DVDs (which require special DVD players, of course), over-the-air HD signals that are broadcast from local stations, HD cable and satellite channels, and even HD programming available from several Internet sites as well.

Third, viewers must purchase a special HD antenna to receive over-the-air (OTA) HDTV signals, or an HDTV-capable set-top box to receive HDTV programming from a cable or satellite TV provider. Note that you’ll need to sign up and pay for HDTV service from these providers. There are many ways to identify HDTV content available in your vicinity. For OTA HDTV, you can use the HDTV Station Locator at Digital Insurrection, or use the antenna tool at AntennaWeb to help you determine what stations you can pull in using specific OTA HDTV antennas. Otherwise, you’ll have to visit the Web sites for cable or satellite TV providers that offer service in your area to see what kind of HDTV content is available (and how much it costs).


Great Video Needs Great Audio

Viewers should think about an upgrade to their sound systems if they really want to get the best experience. Though it’s not essential, a connection to a multi-channel sound playback system such as that from a home theater will also greatly enrich the HDTV viewing experience. For those willing to obtain the latest and greatest AV gear, the high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) offers the ability to hook up players, receivers and TV sets using a single cable between pairs of devices to ferry digital video and digital multi-channel audio.

HDMI is the latest technology for ferrying digital multimedia data between pairs of devices. It combines digital video and audio data into a single data stream, and permits high-definition video and multi-channel surround sound audio data to be transported together across a single cable. That greatly simplifies interconnecting pieces of home theater equipment.


What’s the Bottom Line?

Finally, consider the cost. How much? Well, it depends. The size of the set, the display technology it uses (CRT, LCD, plasma, rear projection, and so forth), the top resolution, and added connections, features and functions will all have some impact on price. That said, it’s hard to buy even a small (26″ or under) HDTV for less than $300, while midrange sets typically cost between $800 and $2,500. The sky’s the limit when it comes to top-end equipment. Don’t forget that your cable or satellite provider may charge a premium for this service, so be sure to add that into your budget.

You’ll likely want to watch movies and record shows in high-def. Those willing to spend big bucks for an HDTV Tivo, or who sign up for an HDTV capable Digital Video Recorder (See Article H10 on an introduction to DVRs) from their cable companies (or purchase the satellite equivalent) can record and play back HDTV content as they see fit. Those who use media center PCs will quickly discover that HDTV content can be recorded, but is “downsampled” to 480i – which means it looks just like regular old TV. Hopefully, a new generation of HDMI-enabled equipment will help hardware and software vendors figure out how to record and playback HDTV from any and all kinds of sources, but that’s just not the case today.

To watch movies in high-definition, only HD-DVD and Blu-ray DVD discs are able to deliver the goods to similarly capable HDTV sets. Again, viewers report much sharper images, better color and improved viewing. The least expensive HD-DVD players cost approximately $200 and the cheapest Blu-ray players roughly $100 more, with internal PC drives somewhat more costly for those formats. While both technologies use a blue laser; the two formats are incompatible. Currently, Blu-ray has a capacity edge at 50 GB vs. 30 GB; however, Sony is working on a 100-GB quad-layer version.

High-definition TV is ushering in a new generation of viewing. With that comes many questions, from what size screen you should buy to more technical information on digital connections and screen resolutions.
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