HDTV has arrived, and it’s more affordable than ever. Whether you’re playing video games, watching movies on DVD, or tuning in to the local news, there is HDTV programming available, and if you don’t have an HDTV set, you’re literally missing half the picture. With prices falling and technology improving, this is an excellent time to buy. But before you rush out, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the basics of how it all works, so that you’ll find the best HDTV for your needs (see also Plasma TV Buying Guide, HDTV Front Projector Buying Guide, LCD TV Buying Guide, Rear Projection TV Buying Guide).
HDTV is a must for a new television, as all TV signals are required to be digital by the end of 2009. Price drops during the last year have made HDTV more affordable than ever, and a growing variety of HDTV programming is available.
LCD is the best choice for video games and small spaces, but it’s not as good in well-lit rooms. CRT and Rear-Projection provide the best picture quality, and a CRT HDTV may be the most affordable option. Plasma outperforms LCDTV but is too fragile for video games.
Elaborate audio systems are built in to many sets, but they’re only worth considering if you won’t be using a surround sound system with the HDTV. A built-in ATSC tuner is a must unless you know the set will always be used with a cable or satellite box.
Try to find an HDTV with more inputs than you need. Look for multiple HDMI inputs or Composite Video jacks to ensure that you can connect all your HD components, including DVD players and video game consoles.
Measure the distance from your set to your seat and divide by 2.5 to get the screen size. Remember that plasma and LCD HDTVs are designed to look their best from slightly longer distances.
A built-in tuner that can receive and decode digital television signals. Now standard on most models of HDTVs, sets with this feature are labeled as HDTV-Ready.
Utilizing plugs similar to the RCA cables that have been standard since the 1980s, composite video cables enable an HDTV connection by splitting the video signal into red, blue, and green components.
High Definition Multimedia Input is the new standard for connecting HDTVs and components. These connectors are attached to a set of bundled cables capable of carrying larger amounts of data than Composite Video plugs.
A built-in tuner that can receive analog television signals. Standard on any TV that is not a monitor. A set that only includes a built-in NTSC tuner is labeled as HDTV-capable.
A new HDTV technology that uses electricity passed through a noble gas to excite red, blue, and green phosphors to create the image. Plasma HDTVs produce a better picture than LCD sets, but they consume more energy and are susceptible to image burn.
Coming December, 2009 the Federal Communications Commission requires all television signals to be transmitted digitally. If you don’t own a digital TV, you’ll need a set-top box to convert the digital signal into an analog signal compatible with your current TV. With affordable models available for almost any budget, it makes sense to make your next TV an HDTV.
HDTV is an acronym for High Definition Television. HDTV is broadcast in a digital format at a higher resolution than analog television. All HDTV is digital, but not all Digital Television is HDTV. In order for a video signal to be considered HDTV, it must be displayed on a compatible television at a resolution of 720i, 720p, 1080i, or 1080p. The letters “i” and “p” tell you how the image is displayed. Think of a strip of movie film. It’s made up of still pictures that create the illusion of motion when they’re displayed rapidly. All televisions work on the same principle, but HDTV adds a new wrinkle to the way the images are shown.
On an SDTV and some HDTVs, images are displayed in an “interlaced” manner, which means that each frame of our movie film is drawn separately on alternating scan lines, so the first frame is drawn on the odd-numbered lines (1, 3, 5, etc.) and the second frame is drawn on the even-numbered lines (2, 4, 6, etc.) up to the top of the image. This gives us the “i” in 720i.
HDTV goes a step further with progressive scanned images, which are the “p” in 720p. With progressive scanning, our two frames of movie film are both drawn, but the screen only updates those parts of the image that have changed. An HDTV supporting 1080p resolution will provide the best picture available today.
1080p is the hot new technology for HDTV, but there are no plans for 1080p broadcasts in the near future. High-end Blu-Ray DVD players and the Sony PlayStation 3 support 1080p, and Microsoft is considering the format for upgrades to its Xbox 360 console. If you’re buying an HDTV that will be the center of your home entertainment system for five years or more, it’s worth spending the extra money for 1080p resolution, called “True HDTV” in some circles. If you’re looking for a bedroom or vacation home HDTV, you can save a few hundred dollars by buying an HDTV without this feature.
As 2009 nears, more off-air television stations are switching to digital signals, and many are broadcasting in HDTV. Stations have the option of providing a single high-powered broadcast on their assigned frequency, or offering several channels at lower power. A visit to AntennaWeb at www.antennaweb.org will provide a list of HDTV stations in your area along with tips on purchasing and setting up an antenna to get the most HDTV flowing to your new set.
You’ve probably noticed the flat-panel HDTV sets that are turning up everywhere from shopping malls to office buildings. These HDTV panels are sleek and take up a minimum of space, but they may not be the best choice for you. Think about what you’ll be doing with your new HDTV as you consider the options available.
CRT HDTV: Cathode Ray Tubes, or CRTs, were the only choice for television for several decades. CRTs provide the best picture quality, but the sets get bulky and heavy as the screen size increases. For smaller screen sizes, a CRT HDTV is almost always the most affordable choice.
LCD HDTV: One of the two flat-panel HDTV options, Liquid Crystal Display televisions offer excellent image quality and immunity to image burn. They’re more energy-efficient and a bit lighter than plasma HDTVs, but may appear washed out in a sunny or well-lit room.
Plasma HDTV: Plasma HDTVs deliver a better picture than LCDTV sets, but they can run hot and consume a lot of energy. Plasmas are also susceptible to image burn, which occurs when a static image like a network logo appears on the screen for too long. Both LCD and Plasma HDTVs can be mounted on the wall, freeing up living space.
Rear-Projection HDTV: Several technologies power these HDTVs, which offer image quality comparable to CRT in a smaller footprint. Depending on the technology, there are varying risks of image burn, and periodic calibration of the set is almost always needed to keep the picture sharp. Rear-projection HDTVs also have limited vertical viewing angles, so you’ll need to sit down to get the best picture.
HDTV is broadcast in Dolby Digital 5.1. To get the most out of that sound, you’ll need a home theater receiver and a set of good speakers. Higher-end HDTVs include built-in sound systems, and almost all HDTVs offer stereo speakers. The quality of the HDTVs sound should only be a factor if the set will be used in a bedroom, kitchen, or other space where you don’t have a separate sound system.
Early plasma and LCD HDTVs were little more than monitors that required an external receiver to display television signals. Today’s HDTVs have built-in receivers (unless the set is labeled as an HDTV monitor), and the premium for ATSC tuners, which receive digital broadcasts over the air, has evaporated.
A set labeled as “HDTV Capable” does not have a built-in ATSC tuner. It requires an external tuner, such as a cable converter, satellite receiver, or digital set-top box, to display HDTV programming. A TV labeled as “HDTV Ready” includes the ATSC tuner, and most include an analog NTSC tuner that picks up current analog programming.
Some HDTV sets may also include a QAM tuner, which can be used to receive encoded cable programming, if your cable provider allows. This won’t get you free cable, but it will allow you to control cable channels from the HDTV’s remote, reducing the side-table clutter. Unless you know that the HDTV will be connected to a cable or satellite box for the entire time that you own it, you should choose an HDTV Ready model with the built-in ATSC tuner.
Getting the signal from a DVD player, computer, or video game console is as simple as connecting things up, but you’ll need enough inputs for all the devices you plan to use. At a minimum, look for an HDTV that can support three HD-compatible devices, either with High Definition Multimedia Input (HDMI) ports, or Component Video inputs, which split the signal into red, green, and blue channels. It’s always better to have more inputs than you need, and some models include VGA adaptors for your PC, USB inputs, and SD card readers that let you display your favorite digital pictures as a still image or a slideshow on the HDTV.
Many buyers want the biggest screen they can get, but this isn’t always the best choice. A rule of thumb is to take the distance you’ll be sitting from the HDTV and divide it by 2.5 to get the ideal screen size. Let your eye be your guide, and try to evaluate the HDTV in the store from the same distance you’ll be sitting at home.
One more note on the electronics store: Those HDTVs are typically set to a higher brightness level, and many stores use a demonstration DVD that favors still or slow-moving images of nature or travel. While these tricks show off the best capabilities of an HDTV, they also hide the flaws that appear with dark or fast-moving images. Ask to see a live broadcast on the HDTV—and turn the brightness down below its median setting—to get a true sense of how the set performs.