HDTV Buying Guide
HDTV, or high Definition Television, has been making waves ever since its inception in the recent times; and with leading manufacturers now presenting their offerings at very affordable prices, the demand for such television sets is increasing. But what is so unique about this technology, and what all must be considered before buying an HDTV set for yourself? Let’s find out.
What is HDTV?
The main reason why HDTV pictures are so much better than regular televisions is because of their resolution, or picture detail. The standard picture that is transmitted to our televisions today has around 480 visible lines of detail. Compare that to an HDTV’s 1080 lines, and you will know why the picture quality is so striking. Particularly on bigger screen sizes, HDTV is far ahead of normal televisions.
HDTVs come in three resolutions, known as 1080p, 1080i and 720p. 1080i has more pixels than 720p, but the latter has a progressive scan format that delivers a smoother image that displays a better picture during moving images. Talking of 1080p, it is an amalgamation of the high resolution of 1080i with the progressive scan technology of the 720p. However, apart from Blu-Ray video content, few recent video games, and select video-on-demand programs, no major network is offering 1080p broadcasts. Nonetheless, all three formats are many levels above standard television in terms of quality, and very few would be able to pick the difference between the three.
Standard television and DVDs on HDTV
Standard TV signals might be a bit of a bad surprise for those who are purchasing an HDTV for the first time, as an HD signal needs to be fed into the TV for you to fully experience the magic. This is mainly because HDTVs are bigger and show more distortions on regular channel reception. And while some HDTVs might be capable of improving low-quality pictures, the difference is not a ground-breaking one, and you can’t view the perfect picture without a compatible signal.
Unlike regular television, viewing DVDs is an excellent treat for the eyes on an HDTV! Many recent DVD players come with built-in upconversion processing, designed to convert DVDs into HD resolution, but this is not a very significant change from regular DVD viewing.
Types of HDTVs
- Direct view
This kind of HDTVs have a single picture tube, and are the smallest in size (27”-36”) among all types of HDTVs. Since this is the starting range of HDTVs, they are also the cheapest ones. Further, most of the TVs that fall under this category are analog, and not every direct view television is an HDTV.
This kind of televisions can be any of the two; widescreen or non-widescreen. The former have an aspect ratio (length-breadth ratio) of 16:9, similar to widescreen DVD, or the kind of picture you would see in a movie theater. The other type of direct view, i.e., non-widescreen, have an aspect ratio of 4:3, normally found in old TVs.
Widescreen TVs are generally the best for viewing new age channels as well as any of the numerous widescreen sports telecasts, while non-widescreen sets are better for viewing channels with analog reception.
One of the drawbacks of this kind of television is that there are not enough perforations on the shadow mask at the front of the tube to display an HDTV format on the maximum/optimum resolution.
- Rear and Front projection
Rear projection HDTVs are basically the bigger sized of the entire lot, as screen sizes vary from 40 inches to as much as 82 inches. However, the uniqueness here is that the smallest sized rear projection TV produces the best picture.
The science behind these TVs is that a trio of cathode ray tubes and optics is used for the display. However, the negative point of this kind of televisions is that the tubes need to be aligned to achieve the best results. They are also sensitive to burn-ins from playing video games. However, in case you are willing to spend more, RPTVs coming with micro-display light engines can effectively take care of all these problems; TVs built on the Digital Light Processing platform use micro mirror chips for display, while LCDs use liquid crystals, thereby reducing the size and weight drastically, while giving flawless picture.
However, one soft spot with these sets is that they support only the 720 by 1280 line HDTV format, and not the 1080 by 1920 one, and can’t reproduce the black color, which only comes out as charcoal grey at best.
Front projection HDTVs display the largest pictures, and work in the same way as the rear projection ones, with the only exception being that the screen is separate, and optimum performance is achieved in a darkened room. The choice between the micro mirror chip technology as well as the LCD technology exists here as well.
However, a point to note here is that not all front-projection TVs are HD capable.
- Flat panel HDTVs
Despite being the most expensive of all HDTV types, the flat panel variants score on the appearance factor, having an extremely stunning look even before one switches on the set. However, alike front projection TVs, some flat panel TVs are HD capable (explained later) while the others are not. It’s important that their resolution must be at least 720 by 1280, since the ones with lower resolution than this are standard definition. And although you can feed an HDTV signal into the same, the results won’t be the best.
The smallest as well as most expensive in terms of per-square-inch prices are LCD TVs, while plasmas are the larger variants. The latter are also sometimes called gas plasma as each pixel is a tube of Neon stimulated by the electricity. These pixels have visible spaces between them, which creates a screen-door effect, which calls for a greater viewing distance. One must always be cautious of models that have shiny screen surfaces, since they reflect room light.
The difference between HDTV ready and HDTV compatible
Unlike old Plasma and LCD TVs that required an external receiver for displaying channels, the modern day HDTV has built-in receivers for the same.
A set labeled as ‘HDTV compatible’ does not have a built in ATSC tuner, and requires an external tuner (for instance, a satellite receiver, cable converter or digital set-top box) for displaying HDTV pictures.
A television labeled as ‘HDTV ready’ has an in-built ATSC tuner, and a majority of the same also have an analog NTSC tuner for picking up current analog signals.
Further, some HDTVs might also have a QAM tuner, for receiving encoded cable programming, in case the same is allowed by your cable provider. Although this would not get free cable, it allows the user to control cable channels from the remote. So, in case you are sure that your HDTV is going to be connected to a cable or satellite box the whole time, an HDTV ready model with built-in ATSC tuner is the right choice.
Getting signals from a computer, video game console or a DVD player just requires connecting the set with these devices, but the HDTV you purchase must have support for at least three HD-compatible devices. This could be via component video inputs or through High Definition Multimedia Output (HDMI) ports. Some models also include VGA adopters for a PC, SD card readers and USB inputs, and it is always wise to choose a model that suits your requirements.
Bigger isn’t always better in case of HDTV sets, as there is a proper formula you need to follow to get the optimum sized television. In order to calculate the right size, measure the distance at which you would be sitting from the TV set in inches, and divide the same by 2.5.
All in all, there are many considerations you need to take care of before finally deciding on the HDTV you want to buy. Further, one must also take a look at the television at the showroom from approximately the same distance as it is to be placed at home, so as to get a true idea of the picture quality. Also, asking to see a live broadcast on HDTV would give you an idea of the picture quality in an even better manner.
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