This is the time of the year when millions of Americans will be shopping for their first HDTV. Over at The Blade I have written an article about what to look for in buying a HDTV and this article is a follow-up to the original. IMO it is important for all consumers to know the terminology of HDTV technology and also to know what is Fact and What is fiction before buying your first HDTV.
Here are five myths about HDTV you should be aware of:
1. Claim: “HD” signifies a specific standard of quality.
Though “HD” does stand for “high definition,” HDTVs come in several resolutions; and in any event, a set’s resolution doesn’t completely determine the exact image quality you’ll see on your screen. For one thing, screen sizes vary. Other factors affecting the picture include the transmission—over the air, via cable, by satellite, or from the Internet—and the original source material.
These variables help explain why you can get high-def content from Amazon, Hulu, iTunes, Netflix streaming, a Blu-ray disc, and other sources, and yet encounter wildly different picture quality.
Over-the-air broadcast standards top out at 720p and 1080i, but you can obtain the full 1920-by-1080-pixel frame in 1080p from Blu-ray discs, certain Xbox 360 models, and the PlayStation 3 units.
When choosing for picture quality, remember: 1080p is at the top, 720p and 1080i look similar, and anything below them won’t be as good. Keep those terms in mind because they represent official standards, not marketing terms.
I don’t know if I can make this any less painless, but I’ll try. 1080p is the very best picture you can currently receive on a HDTV. This highest standard is basically limited to Blu-ray movies. All over the air transmissions, whether they are received by antenna, cable or satellite are currently limited to 720p.
However, if you are watching a HD broadcast of an old black and white movie, you may notice little or no difference in the picture quality.
2. Claim: If you don’t buy a 1080p HDTV, you’re wasting your money.
In all likelihood, you want a 1080p HDTV—and you should be sure to get that resolution if your set has a diagonal screen size of 32 inches or greater, since you’ll be able to see the additional resolution on a big-screen from across the room. Furthermore, there’s no reason to avoid a 1080p HDTV if it doesn’t cost substantially more than sets with alternative resolutions, given that 1080p is becoming ubiquitous. If the difference is within $100, I recommend going for a 1080p set if your budget can handle it.
But having said all that, I should warn you that you probably won’t see any improvement in picture quality from 1080p versus 720p on a smaller HDTV. And you may not even have any 1080p sources to exploit: Over-the-air broadcasts and most cable feeds top out at 1080i.
I personally own two 42″ plasma HDTV’s which both are limited to 720p. The picture quality is fine when watching broadcast TV or playing DVD’s. If you plan on buying a large HDTV and hooking up a Blu-ray player, go with 1080p HDTV.
3. Claim: You bought a HDTV, so everything you view will be in HD.
Today, not everything on television is broadcast in high-definition. DVDs and shows that were recorded for broadcast under the prior analog standard will continue to look about the same as before. (Some HDTV sets even make old shows look worse, by showing off more imperfections of the original recording.)
For satellite or cable TV service, you may need to ask your provider to activate HD content. The transition might require setup on both the provider’s end and your end; some cable boxes need to be reconfigured to output HD signals even after you connect them with the proper cables.
This can be a real disappointment for those who do not have access to broadcast TV or have a cable company that doesn’t provide broadcasts in HDTV. I went through this when I lived in an area where the cable company did not provide HD broadcasts and I was to far away to receive over the air TV.
4. Claim: Brand-name cables are worth the extra money.
Don’t buy cables strictly on the basis of their brand name. A cable’s connector type, length, and gauge are the most important factors in signal quality. As a first criterion, choose a digital cable if possible—either HDMI or DVI (just about any new HDTV will include a digital connection). Such cables can carry a 1080p signal if your content supports it, they’ll play nicely with DRM, and they won’t pick up interference the way an analog cable can.
This is the best advice you will receive. HDMI cables can be purchased for as little as $7 and will provide a great picture.
5. Claim: You’re in imminent danger of burn-in from letterboxing and on-screen graphics.
Burn-in is no longer a serious issue for HDTVs. Years ago, static on-screen graphics from network TV logos, stock tickers, videogames, letterbox bars, and other patterns could wear unevenly on a TV. If you left your set on and tuned to a station that showed such stationary elements for hours at a time, you might have been able to see them lingering when you tried to watch other content. First-generation plasma screens were the ones most susceptible to this effect.
LCDs and other TV types haven’t exhibited this issue, and recent plasmas have incorporated effective countermeasures against the problem. If you’re buying a new set, don’t worry about burn-in.
Do you have any suggestions you would like to share?