About High Definition


So what is High Definition or HD TV? Most of us have heard about it and many of us have questions about it.

Is it required to have by 2013?
I have an HD TV so does that mean I see all my programs in High Definition?
Who is the best provider of High Definition?

We have decided to answer many of the frequent questions asked by our customers over time in order to better assist our customers with their needs and wants.

[button link=”#basic-explanation” color=”silver”]Basic Explanation[/button] [button link=”#advanced-explanation” color=”silver”]Advanced Explanation[/button] [button link=”#plasmavslcd” color=”silver”]Plasma vs LCD[/button] [button link=”http://columbiabasinsatellite.com/dish-network-vs-directv/” color=”silver”]Dish Network vs DirecTV[/button]


Basic Explanation

What is High Definition or HD?

High Definition is often defined in the TV world by lines of resolution. A standard picture is usually 480 lines of resolution while HD is at lease 720 lines of resolution and sometimes even 1080 lines. Obviously the higher the resolution, the greater the clarity.

While HD programming is only available in digital quality, one can get digital programming without getting HD. Digital just defines the framework of the method the signal is sent to your house.

Isn’t HD required to have by 2009?

No. This is a common misunderstanding. All people will be required to have digital programming by 2009.

This is being done to free up the airwaves currently used to provide antenna broadcasting and use them for other things such as cell phones and wireless internet. Both Dish Network and DirecTV offer all channels in 100% digital.

Where should I go to get an HD TV?

We have found the best place to go to get an HD TV is Costco. They can sell them cheaper to the customer than we can buy them as a business at wholesale.

In addition, places like Best Buy and Circuit City will deliberately digress the quality of the picture in the lower cost TV’s in an attempt to up sale customers.

Costco is not deceptive like this and along with their excellent return policy they can’t be beat. That’s where we get our TV’s from.

Should I get a plasma or LCD?

There are benefits to both. Plasma TV’s have proven to have a better picture color, clarity, and contract, but have a stigma of having a shorter life.

With advancements in technology plasmas usually are designed to last 10-12 years if the TV is left on for 10 hours a day.

LCD’s are considered more durable and can be placed at multiple angles including upside down, whereas a plasma must be viewed and transported upright.

Since most people don’t move their TV very often and based upon price and picture quality the plasma TV is considered better overall to most experts.

What is the difference between 720 and 1080?

The number of scan lines on a TV will reflect the picture clarity available to the viewer.

720 scan lines in the minimum resolution to be considered HD while 1080 is the higher resolution.

While 720 for a while was what most broadcasters were using, most are going to 1080 with some advancements in video compression technology.

What does the i or p mean after the numbers (1080i)?

The ‘i’ stands for interlaced which refreshes the screen from top to bottom while the ‘p’ stands for progressive which only refreshes moving objects.

Without getting too complicated 720p is roughly equivalent to 1080i. While progressive generally has a better picture in HD the standard definition picture can appear to be more jagged or pixilated up close. Even though 1080p is highly considered as “true HD” currently no broadcasters actually broadcast in 1080p.

The current industry standard for all broadcasters from ESPN to Discovery Channels, etc. is either 720p or 1080i.

Certain video games and some HD DVD and Blu-ray players can display in 1080p with limited abilities.

The current broadcasting standard of 720p/1080i will most likely remain the industry standard for quite some time since the naked eye can’t physically notice any difference between 1080i and 1080p unless it is from a very close distance. As a word of advice, the average home can save a few dollars and buy a 1080i instead of the 1080p and not notice any difference in quality.


Advanced Explanation

Analog, Digital and HDTV

For years, watching TV has involved analog signals and cathode ray tube (CRT) sets. The signal is made of continually varying radio waves that the TV translates into a picture and sound.

An analog signal can reach a person’s TV over the air, through a cable or via satellite. Digital signals, like the ones from DVD players, are converted to analog when played on traditional TVs.

This system has worked pretty well for a long time, but it has some limitations:

  • Conventional CRT sets display around 480 visible lines of pixels. Broadcasters have been sending signals that work well with this resolution for years, and they can’t fit enough resolution to fill a huge television into the analog signal.
  • Analog pictures are interlaced — a CRT’s electron gun paints only half the lines for each pass down the screen. On some TVs, interlacing makes the picture flicker.
  • Converting video to analog format lowers its quality.


United States broadcasting is currently changing to digital television (DTV). A digital signal transmits the information for video and sound as ones and zeros instead of as a wave.

For over-the-air broadcasting, DTV will generally use the UHF portion of the radio spectrum with a 6 MHz bandwidth, just like analog TV signals do.


DTV has several advantages:

  • The picture, even when displayed on a small TV, is better quality.
  • A digital signal can support a higher resolution, so the picture will still look good when shown on a larger TV screen.
  • The video can be progressive rather than interlaced — the screen shows the entire picture for every frame instead of every other line of pixels.
  • TV stations can broadcast several signals using the same bandwidth. This is called multicasting.
  • If broadcasters choose to, they can include interactive content or additional information with the DTV signal.
  • It can support high-definition (HDTV) broadcasts.


DTV also has one really big disadvantage: Analog TVs can’t decode and display digital signals.

When analog broadcasting ends, you’ll only be able to watch TV on your trusty old set if you have cable or satellite service transmitting analog signals or if you have a set-top digital converter.

This brings us to the first big misconception about HDTV. Some people believe that the United States is switching to HDTV — that all they’ll need for HDTV is a new TV and that they’ll automatically have HDTV when analog service ends. Unfortunately, none of this is true.

HDTV is just one part of the DTV transition. We’ll look at HDTV in more detail, including what makes it different from DTV, in the next section.

Important DTV Dates

As of March 1, 2007, all new TV sets in the U.S. had to have DTV tuners or be DTV ready. But ­the transition to digital TV isn’t complete. Feb. 17, 2009 is the proposed shutoff date for over-the-air analog broadcasts.



The Advanced Television Standards Committee (ATSC) has set voluntary standards for digital television.

These standards include how sound and video are encoded and transmitted. They also provide guidelines for different levels of quality. All of the digital standards are better in quality than analog signals. HDTV standards are the top tier of all the digital signals.


The ATSC has created 18 commonly used digital broadcast formats for video. The lowest quality digital format is about the same as the highest quality an analog TV can display. The 18 formats cover differences in:


  • Aspect ratio – Standard television has a 4:3 aspect ratio — it is four units wide by three units high. HDTV has a 16:9 aspect ratio, more like a movie screen
  • Resolution – The lowest standard resolution (SDTV) will be about the same as analog TV and will go up to 704 x 480 pixels. The highest HDTV resolution is 1920 x 1080 pixels. HDTV can display about ten times as many pixels as an analog TV set.
  • Frame rate – A set’s frame rate describes how many times it creates a complete picture on the screen every second. DTV frame rates usually end in “i” or “p” to denote whether they are interlaced or progressive. DTV frame rates range from 24p (24 frames per second, progressive) to 60p (60 frames per second, progressive).


Many of these standards have exactly the same aspect ratio and resolution — their frame rates differentiate them from one another. When you hear someone mention a “1080i” HDTV set, they’re talking about one that has a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels and can display 60 frames per second, interlaced.


Broadcasters get to decide which of these formats they will use and whether they will broadcast in high definition — many are already using digital and high-definition signals. Electronics manufacturers get to decide which aspect ratios and resolutions their TVs will use. Consumers get to decide which resolutions are most important to them and buy their new equipment based on that.

Until the analog shutoff date, broadcasters will have two available channels to send their signal — a channel for analog, and a “virtual” channel for digital. Right now, people can watch an over-the-air digital signal only if they are tuned in to the broadcaster’s virtual digital channel. After analog broadcasting ends, the only signals people will receive over the air will be digital.

However, even though a digital signal is better quality than an analog signal, it isn’t necessarily high definition.

HDTV is simply the highest of all the DTV standards. But whether you see a high-definition picture and hear the accompanying Dolby Digital sound depends on two things. First, the station has to be broadcasting a high-definition signal. Second, you have to have the right equipment to receive and view it. We’ll look at how to get an HDTV set and signal next.


DTV usually uses MPEG-2 encoding, the industry standard for most DVDs, to compress the signal to a reasonable size.

MPEG-2 compression reduces the size of the data by a factor of about 55:1, and it discards a lot of the visual information the human eye would not notice was missing.

Buying an HDTV

The DTV transition is not the first change to the TV signal. In 1946, the National Television System Committee (NTSC) began setting standards for American broadcasting. In 1953, NTSC standards changed to allow color television, and in 1984, they changed to allow stereo sound.

Those changes were different from the DTV switch because they were backwards compatible — you could watch the new signal on your trusty old TV. With DTV, you’ll need some new gear, and the gear you choose will affect whether you can receive and view high-definition video.


When you start shopping, keep in mind that HDTV requires three parts:

  • A source, such as a local, cable or satellite HDTV station.
  • A way to receive the signal, like an antenna, cable or satellite service.
  • An HDTV set.


Most people start with the set. You can choose:

  • An integrated HDTV, which has a digital tuner, also known as an ATSC tuner, built in.If a station near you is broadcasting in HDTV, you can attach an antenna to an integrated set and watch the station in high definition.
  • An HDTV-ready set, also called an HDTV monitor, which does not have an HDTV tuner.HDTV-ready sets often have NTSC tuners, so you can still watch analog TV with them. This is the option for you if you want to have HDTV capabilities later on but aren’t ready for the financial commitment now. Your picture quality will still be better than on your old TV, but it won’t be high definition until you get an HDTV receiver.


Designing and building an HDTV that could display all of the ATSC formats would be virtually impossible. For this reason, HDTVs have one or two native resolutions. When the TV receives a signal, it will scale the signal to match its native resolution and de-interlace the signal if necessary.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a set that has a native resolution matching the signals you plan to use most often. Film fans will generally want displays with the highest possible resolution. Sports fans will generally want displays with the highest possible progressive frame rate.

If you receive a signal that has a significantly lower resolution than your screen can display, all the extra pixels won’t help it look better. This is why some people who have bought HDTVs have been dismayed at the quality of the picture – the existing analog signal just doesn’t have enough detail to look good on a high-definition set. As broadcasters change to a digital signal, this problem will improve substantially.

In the next section, we’ll look at the options for getting a signal to your TV as well as the compatibility of your existing home entertainment equipment.


Equipment and Signal

When you’ve found an HDTV with a screen size, aspect ratio and native resolution you want, you’ll need to make sure the equipment you already own will work with it. If you already have a DVD player, a DVR, game consoles or other equipment, make sure that they can connect to the TV directly or through an audio/visual receiver.

Many HDTVs have High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connections, which can transmit audio/visual signals to the TV without compression. In some cases, you can use adapters to make your equipment compatible with your set.

Once you’ve picked up your set and installed it in your home, you’ll need to get a signal. To get a signal, you can use:


  • An antenna – Depending on your location relative to the stations you want to watch, a set of rabbit ears might do, but you might need a rooftop or attic antenna. You can buy an antenna that’s specially made for digital signals, but any reliable VHF/UHF antenna will work.
  • Cable – Keep in mind that digital cable is not the same as HDTV. You’ll need to check with your provider to determine which packages include HDTV stations. You’ll also either need a set-top cable box or a Cable to allow your television to receive and decode the cable signal.
  • Satellite service – As with cable, check with your provider to determine which plans and stations use HDTV signals. You may need a different satellite dish and tuner to receive HDTV signals via satellite.

Courtesy of How Stuff Works


Plasma vs LCD

Plasma LCD
Screen sizes
42-65+ inches
5-65+ inches
Cabinet depth
3+ inches
3+ inches
Power consumption
Slightly less-efficient per square inch
Slightly more-efficient per square inch
Off-angle viewing
Excellent from all angles
Image fades slightly when seen from extreme angles from sides or from above or below
Reflectivity of screen
Glass screens can reflect lots of light, so may be an issue in very bright rooms. Some models have glare-reducing screens that are more- or less-effective
Matte plastic screens usually reflect less light. Some models have screens that are actually more reflective than plasma
PC connectivity
Less common but still included on many models
More common than with plasma
Other features
Varies per model
Varies per model
Picture quality
Motion blur caused by display
Difficult to discern on most models, although subject to more blurring than plasma. 120Hz models less-subject to motion blur
Black-level performance (depth of “black” displayed)
Varies, although excellent on many models.
Varies, although generally worse than plasma on many models, and better than plasma on best models
Color saturation
Varies, although generally a bit better than LCD due to black level and off-angle advantages
Varies, although the best models can equal the best plasmas
Typically 720p, up to 1080p on high-end models. The benefits of 1080p are not obvious at screen sizes below 50 inches to the majority of viewers.
Typically 720p, but 1080p is more common than plasma at more price and size points. The benefits of 1080p are not obvious at screen sizes below 50 inches to the majority of viewers
Burn-in (faint after-images left on-screen)
Possible with still images left on-screen with very bright settings for hours, although new models much less susceptible, and most burn-in is temporary and goes away after watching moving images
May occur in extreme situations (very bright still images left on-screen for days) but much less likely than with plasma or even standard tube TVs.
Lifespan (hours until fades to half-brightness)
Typically 60,000 hours, or about 20 years if used 8 hours per day.
Typically 60,000 hours, or about 20 years if used 8 hours per day.
Program type
Excellent for HDTV-compatible models.
Standard-definition TV
Dependent mostly on screen size. The smaller the screen, the better standard-def usually looks
Dependent mostly on screen size. The smaller the screen, the better standard-def usually looks
DVD Movies
Excellent given a model with good black-level performance
Very good, although models with worse black-level performance are less desirable
Excellent for most users, although burn-in might deter gamers who leave screens paused for hours or overnight
Excellent, although motion blur might deter the most sensitive gamers


Courtesy of CNET

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