Saturday, March 15, 2008

High Definition Content

I feel so strongly about the importance of supplying your HDTV with high definition programming that I will make this statement. Don't buy an HDTV unless you plan on feeding it high definition content. Stick with your old standard definition TV.

Let's take a moment and talk about what HD programming is because this topic confuses a lot of people. Traditionally, TV programs have been broadcast to us in standard definition.

Luckily, we use the same resolution rating system for programs as we do for TVs. In the U.S., the resolution of standard definition broadcasts is 480i. In comparison, HD programs are either broadcast at 720p or 1080i resolution.

Bang & Olufsen BV8
Betty on a Bang & Olufsen BV8

Even though most prime time scripted shows like Heroes or Ugly Betty are being transmitted in HD, many daytime shows and reality programs are still being broadcast in standard definition. To confuse the issue even more, the HD programs are also being telecast in SD.

The Super Bowl is a great example. It will be broadcast in both HD and SD. Now this is the important bit. Let me state this simply. Just because you have an HDTV, you don't magically receive high definition content.

Let's say that you buy an HDTV today. If you are subscribed to a cable or satellite system, you should contact your provider and make sure that you have all the equipment that you will need to receive HD signals. You might also have to pay more for an "HD programming tier."

If you don't have cable or satellite, currently, the deals being offered by all the competitors are quite attractive. If you watch stations like ESPN or the Discovery Channel, I would suggest that you subscribe to one of these services.

Of course, you can hook up an antenna and capture a signal off the air like we used to do before cable and satellites. This technique will only work if your local stations broadcast digitally. And it only works with broadcast stations, meaning ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and the CW. You can't receive any of the cable channels like ESPN with an antenna. You can read more at "Feeding Your HDTV a High Definition Diet".

Please be aware that many networks like ESPN will broadcast the same game in HD and SD. Make sure that you are tuned to the HD signal. You will definitely notice the difference. And that's the whole point. HDTVs look their best when they are displaying HD content.

Before we leave this topic, I need to bring up one more term that is causing some confusion. DTV stands for digital television and though related to HDTV, they are not interchangeable terms. DTV is a method of broadcasting TV signals over the air.

The U.S. Government has mandated that all local TV stations switch to digital transmissions on February 17, 2009. After that time, you will not be able to receive TV over the air without a digital tuner. You can read about it at "The Switch and You".

The bottom line for people buying new TVs is that all TVs sold now come with digital tuners, labeled ATSC. If you don't plan on retiring your old TV set, then you should definitely read the article.

Now, if you only want an HDTV for watching DVDs in your home theater, you still should be feeding it HD content. If you have a library of SD DVDs, then at least purchase a DVD player that processes the standard definition signal and converts it to HD.

LG BH100
LG BH100 Combination HD DVD & Blu-ray Player

If you are a true aficionado, then definitely consider a Blu-ray or HD DVD player as a source of true HD content. (See "HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray Update".)

Once again, if you are not going to make the commitment to provide HD programming, I would seriously suggest not buying an HDTV. But if you are ready to take the leap, let's move on to the more commonly discussed factors.

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