High-Definition Television

HDTV Buyer's Guide

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High-Definition TV is not as complicated as you might think, but there are two basic obstacles to your High-Definition viewing pleasure. Firstly, you can only receive HD images from a HD-capable source box, such as SkyHD, NTL, Telewest or Freeview. Secondly, you can only view true HD images on special HD Ready screens. This effectively means that the home entertainment systems the vast majority of us currently have simply won't cut the mustard come the High-Definition revolution.

What is HDTV?

High-Definition TV (HDTV) is the most exciting thing to happen to television since black and white turned to colour. The main fact you need to know is that HDTV pictures contain four times as much picture definition as the standard TV pictures we watch currently. This translates into a picture that is bursting with extra clarity, sharpness, depth and a realism that is impossible to believe without seeing it for yourself. Sound quality is also typically far better with HDTV as most High-Definition programmes contain 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound.

What's the difference between analogue, digital, and HDTV

Cheap HDTV ready & HDTVs

Cheap HDTV ready & HDTVs
  1. Samsung LE-32A457
    From £317 to £449
  2. Sony KDL-20S3000
    From £267 to £342
  3. LG 32LG6000
    From £395 to £523

Analogue TV: An analogue television is capable only of displaying standard definition images as currently found on terrestrial, cable, Freeview and satellite broadcasts. Analogue televisions cannot display High-Definition pictures.

Digital TV: A digital television operates using digital rather than analogue signals and broadcasts in true widescreen format. Digital televisions can display HD pictures, though not to their true resolution.

HDTV: A High-Definition television can display analogue, digital and true High-Definition TV signals, although there are a variety of important factors to consider when picking the best television for your needs. The main areas to look at are:

  • Connections - HD signals can only commonly be transported by HDMI/DVI inputs, component inputs or 15-pin PC connections; so your screen will need one or more of these to receive HD pictures.

  • Formats - The two key HD formats are 1080i and 720p. Neither is necessarily better that the other, but your TV needs to be able to handle both for true High-Definition pictures from all sources. For a more in-depth look at this, scroll down to 'Resolutions'.

What HDTV Sources are available?

Mid-range HDTV Ready & HDTVs

Mid-range HDTV Ready & HDTVs
  1. Sony KDL-40W4000
    From £685 to £1,035
  2. Panasonic TX-37LZD800
    From £852 to £1,093
  3. Samsung LE-37A656
    From £629 to £783

There are currently six High-Definition sources:

  • HD Broadcasting: If you buy an HD television, you will need to connect a separate tuner, cable or satellite box to enjoy the benefits of High-Definition programming. Currently, the two primary sources for this are Sky, which launches its HDTV service in May 2006 and Telewest, which already broadcasts a number of HD programmes to a limited area of the UK.

  • DVD: The good news is that new DVDs will have enough capacity to hold all of the extra information needed to store a film in HD, meaning watching a DVD at home will be as close as we've ever come to true 'home cinema'. The bad news is that there are two different formats vying for supremacy (just as VHS and Betamax fought for the video market years ago), and of course neither format is compatible with the other. This effectively means that if different movie studios back only one format, their films may not be compatible with the DVD player you have bought! The first format is called HD-DVD and is backed by the DVD Forum, the 'official’ DVD industry body, and manufacturers like Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo. The second format is Blu-ray and was invented by Sony and backed by the likes of JVC, LG, Panasonic and Philips. Although HD-DVD will be the first to hit the street (Toshiba's first player will be on sale in the shops later this year), Blu-ray looks most likely to be the victor primarily due to the weight of the manufacturers supporting it, and because Sony's much-anticipated PlayStation3 will feature Blu-ray playback. This is by no means guaranteed though.

  • HD Consoles: Sony's PS3 is due at the end of the year and will feature Blu-ray playback, while Microsoft's Xbox 360 delivers games in High-Definition already and will be upgraded next year to play HD-DVD DVDs.

  • PC/Internet: There are several top-end PCs now available capable of delivering HD files (readily downloadable from the internet) to HD screens.

  • Camcorders: There are several camcorders now capable of recording in High-Definition, meaning you can record your own films in HD, and watch them back on your HDTV.

  • Upscaling: This is a 'cheat' method of obtaining HD pictures. Some DVD players and external processors (for use with a normal TV aerial or satellite receiver) are available that use special processing to add extra lines and pixels of detail to standard definition DVD pictures, effectively turning them into High-Definition.

Getting regular TV and DVD on an HDTV

Top-range HDTV Ready & HDTVs

Top-range HDTV Ready & HDTVs
  1. Sony KDL-52W4000
    From £1,247 to £1,950
  2. Samsung LE-52A656
    From £1,359 to £1,499
  3. Sharp LC-46XL2E
    From £1,155 to £1,265

High-Definition televisions can play regular TV broadcasts as well as HDTV, and will usually make the images better, as most HDTVs feature progressive-scan (an image improvement) technology. This isn't always the case however, as the larger the TV you own (and HDTVs are generally 26 inches or larger), the bigger the flaws in its images become. This is particularly the case with fast-moving programming, like football. One of the main reasons for buying an HDTV, even if you don't have an HDTV tuner or receiver, is DVD. The combination of progressive-scan technology in an HDTV set and progressive-scan compatible DVD player ensures the very best image possible is produced. Watching a DVD in this way means you're getting the best possible picture available, outside of HDTV itself.

HDTV Resolutions

All digital displays make their pictures up using pixels, where the more pixels a screen has, the better the image. This is called the screen resolution and it is well worth having a basic knowledge of the resolution formats if you want to make the most informed choice when purchasing your new HD kit.

The two formats for High-Definition are 720p and 1080i. The 1080i format contains 1080 lines of image information, which is produced using the interlaced (hence the 'i') system. This means the pictures on your television are produced in two separate 'sweeps', with the odd lines (1, 3, 5, 7 etc) created during the first sweep and the even lines (2, 4, 6, 8 etc) created during the second. The sweeps are so quick, however, that the human eye sees only one complete image.

The 720p format, while having fewer lines of image information, uses progressive-scan technology (hence the 'p'), where all the lines are created at once, as opposed to two separate sweeps. This ensures an exceptionally smooth image, which is often preferable to 1080i for fast-moving footage (again, such as football).

To give you an idea of what these numbers mean, the standard definition pictures you currently enjoy use only 576-625 lines of information in the interlaced format.

Terminology

Bit Rate: The bit rate is measured as 'bits per second' and refers to the rate at which data is transmitted to your television. As with resolution, the more data, the better the pictures and sound.

Blu-ray: One of two High-Definition formats for DVD. Blu-ray was invented by Sony and is supported by manufacturers such as JVC, LG, Panasonic and Philips.

Down Scaling: The process of converting High-Definition pictures to standard definition for transmission in standard definition programmes (such as Lost, which is filmed in HD but transmitted to the UK in standard definition).

DVI: Digital Video Interface input. A type of connector used between your HD television and source transmitter (like Sky box or DVD player).

EDTV: Enhanced Definition Television. A step up from standard definition, but not as good as High-Definition. Enhanced Definition (or 480p) operates using progressive scan rather than interlacing technology using 480 lines of picture information. EDTV will only work with a compatible video source and television, but is much more common in the USA than the UK.

EICTA: The European Information and Communications Technology Industry Association.

HDCP: High bandwidth Digital Content Protection. This is a copyright system that prevents unauthorised copying and distributing of copyrighted content. Due to the quality of High-Definition content, the likes of Hollywood studios are becoming obsessed with HDCP to combat piracy, and it's likely that all next-gen HD sources will feature HDCP and thus only let you watch HD content at its maximum resolution, for which you will need a DVI or HDMI connector.

HD-DVD: One of two High-Definition formats for DVD. HD-DVD is supported by the DVD Forum and manufacturers such as Toshiba, NEC and Sanyo.

HDTV: High-Definition Television. A television capable of playing High-Definition pictures in either the 720p or 1080i format.

HDMI: High Definition Multimedia Interface. As with DVI, this is a high-bandwidth digital connection that carries video and sound between your HD television and source transmitter. This is the best possible connection available and ensures the best picture and sound quality is achieved.

High-Definition (High-Def): A new dawn in television and film watching, where more lines are created in an image meaning a far better picture is achieved in comparison to the standard definition pictures we currently enjoy/suffer.

HD Ready: As defined by EICTA, the HD Ready logo is a guarantee that the product it is representing has met a key list of criteria. These include a minimum native resolution of 720 lines in the 16:9 ratio; HD input via either analogue YpbPr1 and DVI or HDMI connectors; HD capable inputs that accept 1280x720 at 50 and 60Hz progressive (720p) and 1920x1080 at 50 and 60Hz interlaced (1080i); and DVI or HDMI input that supports HDCP.

Interlaced: Where the image on your screen is created by two 'sweeps', where the odd lines are produced in the first sweep and the even lines in the second sweep, with the two sweeps interlaced to create one picture. One of the key High-Definition formats, 1080i, uses interlacing technology.

LCD TV: Liquid Crystal Display televisions are one of the most popular types of flat panel viewing devices.

Pixel: Pixels make up your television's image and are the smallest elements of a picture. The more pixels in your picture, the better.

Plasma TV: Another very popular flat panel viewing device that uses different technology to LCD to create its pictures.

Progressive Scan: An image improvement technology where all the lines of a picture are exposed in one go, rather than in two sweeps as with interlaced images. One of the key High-Definition formats, 720p, uses progressive scan technology.

Resolution: The amount of detail your television can display, depending on the number of pixels in the frame. Resolution is described as the number of pixels horizontally by the number of pictures vertically.

SDTV: Standard Definition Television (480i). The current system for television viewing using the interlaced format with 480 lines of picture information, far inferior to HDTV and EDTV.

Up Scaling: Whiz kid technology that uses special processing to add extra lines and pixels of detail to standard definition DVD pictures in order to turn them into HD.

Related products

As always with any new technology, there is a glut of accessories for you to buy. Some of the best:

HD DVD/Blu Ray Disc Players

HD DVD/Blu Ray Disc Players
  1. Sony BDP S350
    From £163 to £392
  2. Sony BDP S550
    From £234 to £357
  3. Panasonic DMP BD35
    From £170 to £249

Games Consoles: Microsoft's Xbox 360 is already on sale and is High-Definition enabled, meaning you can play games (preferably via the HDMI connection) in awesome quality. Sony's PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is High-Definition capable.

DVD Recorders/Players: A contentious issue this, as the HD-DVD/Blu-ray format war is set to split the industry (see 'HDTV Sources'). The odds currently look in favour of Blu-ray thanks to the big name manufacturer's support, but with HD-DVD set to reach the UK first, it's by no means guaranteed. Until the format war is resolved, there is divided opinion over which is best.

Home Cinema Systems: As yet there are no High-Definition all-in-one home cinema systems available, but that is sure to change as demand increases thanks to the 'one box simplicity' they offer. All High-Definition televisions and DVD players will support full surround sound though, as most HD footage contains 5.1 Dolby surround sound already.



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