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HDTV Buying Guide

Overview

HDTV  - High Definition Television - are the letters on the lips of consumers looking to buy a new television set. However, there are many that still don't really know what the big deal is. A TV is a TV, right? Wrong. HDTV sets use digital signal at higher resolutions, meaning crisper, clearer, more richly detailed images.  High definition television channels, most available from your cable provider (although some can also be watched over-the-air using a special antenna), are also broadcast with native 5.1 surround sound. As the availability of HD programming grows, HD technology will become increasingly standardised. Already, if you try to go to any brick-and-mortar store to purchase a standard definition (SD) set, your choices will be severely limited. Furthermore, the US government has already mandated that all broadcasters switch to digital programming by 2009, and it is realistic that a UK law may follow. While this won't make your old TVs useless, it will mean that you will need a special converter box if you're still using rabbit ears to get a signal. If you're thinking about buying a new TV, HD is probably the way to go, especially as the prices of LCD sets continue to fall.

HDTV Basics

  • There are many different types of HDTV sets.
    • CRT HDTVs  are the same big, bulky glass-screen sets of yesteryear, but built to show an HD signal.
    • Plasma screens  were introduced as the first "thin-type" televisions. However, issues with backlighting and screen "burn-in" caused issues with consumers. Most plasma-screen manufactuters have switched over to producing LCDs.
    • Rear-projection DLP  (Digital Light Processing) HDTVs are the best compromise between cost and image quality. Thinner than CRTs (but still bulky) DLP sets produce excellent black levels and rich colours. The televisions themselves, though, use lamps to project light and will need to be replaced from time to time.
    • LCD  HDTVs are the current market bread and butter. They are the slimmest of all four types and current LCD technology offers better resolutions, contrast ratios and refresh rates than those of the past. As LCD technology continues to improve, prices will sharply fall to the point where they are easily competitive with DLP screens.
  • HDTV is broadcast in 16:9 NTSC aspect ratio (AKA widescreen), in a number of different resolutions.
  • Most large HDTVs come with built-in tuners. These are labelled as integrated HDTVs , and can receive over-the-air HD broadcasting.
    • Not all HDTVs come with built-in tuners. Such models without integrated tuners are called "HD-ready ." That means that they can receive digitally broadcast programming once you buy an additional tuner or set-top box. 
Major HDTV Brands:

Resolution

  • HDTV is all about better resolution, but not all HDTVs have the same resolution.
  • Resolution is usually expressed with a single number, corresponding to the screen's vertical resolution.
    • Vertical resolution is how many horizontal lines of information can appear on the screen.
  • This number is usually followed by a letter, p or i, which describes how lines are scanned, or "painted," on the screen.
    • "i" refers to "interlaced scanning" - this means that the odd-numbered lines are "painted" first, then the even-numbered lines are filled in. This occurs every 1/30th of a second.
    • "p" refers to "progressive scanning," also known as "sequential scanning" - all lines are "repainted" every 1/60th of a second.
    • Progressive scanning is far superior - between two broadcasts with a resolution of 480, the one in 480p will look clearer and more film-like than the 480i.
    • Progressive scanning is also better because the higher refresh rate means less flickering
  • Generally, only three resolutions are still commonly used today.
    • Analogue
      • Standard TV broadcasts have resolutions of 480i or less.
      • Broadcast in 4:3 aspect ratio (standard "square" TV ratio).
    • 720p High Definition
      • The most common HD resolution - 1280x720.
      • The most common resolution broadcast by HD channel, including ABC, Fox and ESPN.
      • Broadcast in 16:9 format (widescreen).
    • 1080p High Definition - The HD Holy Grail
      • 1080p monitors are theoretically capable of displaying every pixel of the highest-resolution HD broadcasts.
      • Offer more than twice the resolution of today's or 720p HDTVs.
      • HD sets capable of displaying 1080p content often cost more than their lower resolution counterparts, but prices are dropping.
      • Unfortunately, current high-def broadcasts are done in either 1080i or 720p, and there's little or no chance they'll jump to 1080p any time soon because of bandwidth issues.
      • Microsoft's Xbox 360  can display games at 1080p over HDMI, while Sony's PlayStation 3  and current market Blu-Ray  DVD players are capable of displaying games and Blu-Ray video at 1080p.

HDTV Options

All dimensions refer to the length of the diagonal of the screen.

LCD HDTVs
  • LCD 
    • Only 3-6 inches deep, which means that you can either wall-mount it or display it in a media centre.
    • Prices start at £242 for a 19 inch model and going up to £3800 for a 52 inch screen.

Plasma HDTVs
  • Plasma 
    • Slim display, similar to LCD.
    • Only available in larger screens 37 inches and larger because of the technology involved in plasma TVs.
    • Better for dark colours than LCD - especially good for movie watching.
    • Shorter lifespan than LCD or CRT TVs.
    • Unlike LCD screens, plasma screens can suffer from "burn in" - something to keep in mind if you frequently watch stations like CNN that have a logo in the corner and a crawl on the bottom for most programmes.

Flat-Screen Rear Projection
  • Flat-Screen Rear Projection 
    • Flat-screen rear projection, also known as flat-screen microdisplays , are large rear projection TVs with slimmer profiles than bulky rear-projections CRT TVs.
    • Choose from LCD (liquid crystal display ), DLP (digital light processing), or LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology.
      • None are inherently better; LCoS has slightly better resolution, but only a couple of brands carry LCoS TVs.
    • Big screen 40-70 inch displays, but only about 8-18 inches thick.
      • Thicker than a similarly sized plasma TV, but at significantly less cost.
    • Sometimes deep blacks aren't displayed well, but this depends on the model.
    • Some sets give off a rainbow effect.

 

Things to Consider

Whichever option you choose, here are a few pointers to help you find a good TV.

  • Size
    • Although the enhanced resolution means that you don't have to sit as far back from HDTVs as from regular TVs, you should still consider the size of a room.
    • That 70 inch screen looks great in the showroom, but where are you going to put it back home?
  • HDMI Input
    • HDMI cables can carry both images and sound in digital format.
    • HDMI input on your TV avoids signal degradation by passing it through an analogue format, such as a cable box.
  • Widescreen
    • There are a few 4:3 aspect HDTVs out there, but most are wide-screen.
    • Most HDTV content is in 16:9, so a widescreen will look great whether you are watching TV or DVDs.

Related Products

Sony PlayStation 3 

Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite 

Slingbox PRO 

Blade Runner: The FInal Cut (Blu-Ray) 

Sony BPD-S300 Blu-ray Player 

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