Friday, September 21, 2007

Easy & Honest Guide to HDTVs

First off, HDTVs aren't right for everyone.
If you plan on watching HDTV, know that only HD will look good on the TV. If you plan on using basic cable on your HDTV, and only that, save yourself the grief of being disappointed with the lackluster performance of non-HD signals on HDTVs; it would be best to stick to traditional tube TVs if you just plan on watching non-HD programming.

Secondly, just because you have an HDTV doesn't mean that you are watching HD programming.
Having a HDTV in our day and age is like having a color TV during the late '60s. Sure you can have a color TV, but if the show is only in black & white the picture you get will only be black in white. Same goes for HDTVs...sure you have a HDTV but if what you are watching is not HD, then the picture you get won't be HD (which is usually a unrefined, slightly grainy picture that doesn't take up the whole screen...more on that later).

Most consumers who don't know enough about HDTVs think that they are watching HD when in fact they are watching an ugly basic cable channel stretched out to fill the screen. HDTVs are no longer simple plug-and-play devices - one has to make sure you have the right cables, among other things, to get a good picture. Which goes to my next point...

To get a good picture like you see at the store, you must have the 3 Essential Elements (missing any of these WILL result in a grainy, not so great picture on your screen)
  1. HDTV set
  2. HDTV Source (e.g. HD Cable, HD satellite, or "HD Antenna")
  3. HDTV Cable Connections (e.g. HDMI, Component, or DVI Cables)PhotobucketPhotobucket
    • On Composite A/V Cables (Yellow, Red, White): using these on your HDTV is a taboo! These analog cables worked fine with your old tube TV but won't work well for your new HD set. The picture you will get from these cables will be blocky, soft, and just darn distasteful. Use High Definition cables whenever you can: HDMI or Component Cables.

How to implement the "Essential 3" rule:

1) Upgrade your satellite or cable service to HD
Like I've said earlier, basic cable and even non-HD digital satellite looks unimpressive on your new HDTV. Most carriers charge ~$10 extra a month to add HD service to your current package but it is well worth it. DirecTV has been known for the long HD lineup whereas Dish Network has been known for the cheapest HD if all you want is a smaller, more simple package.

2) Antenna OR Basic Cable Line (no box) + HDTV = Free Local HD
Most of the TVs being manufactured since 2006 are made with digital tuners (also called HD or ATSC/QAM tuners). An ATSC/QAM combination tuner allows you to pick up your local digital channels for free, you can do this by plugging either an antenna or basic cable line into the back of your TV directly (without the cable box). If you use a cable box then the way to go is to upgrade to HD Cable and get an HD cable box.

Not all HDTVs have this - an easy way to tell is to see if your TV is just plainly labeled "HDTV" or "HD/HDTV Monitor." Monitors do not have digital tuners built into them and would require an external HD box like the one found here on Amazon.

Digital channels are crystal clear channels that aren't prone to traditional snowy pictures you get with an antenna back in the day. Some digital channels are even HD, naturally widescreen programming that look extra sharp and vibrant. Over the air (OTA) HD broadcasts will give you THE best picture, the reason for this is that the satellite and cable companies usually compress their HD signals to fit more channels into their lineup. With OTA broadcasting, the stations compress their signals less, resulting in better picture and sound. Digital Channel numbers are hyphenated e.g. analog ch. 11 = digital ch. 11-1

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KNBC 4-1 non-HD "1 vs 100" via antenna
(notice sidebars for non-HD shows)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KCAL 9-1 Dodgers Game in HD via antenna

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
KVEA 52-1 Telemundo HD News Programming via antenna

  • On "HDTV Antennas": You're probably going to notice "HDTV Antennas" on the market. HDTV labeling on antennas is basically a marketing ploy...any kind of antenna can pick up digital (HD) signals. HDTV labeling on antennas is about making money and tricking the consumer into thinking HD antennas are different from regular antennas, which isn't the case. HOWEVER some "HD Antennas" are designed especially for digital signals, some personal reccomendations being:
    1. Terk HDTVa
    2. Philips Silver Sensor PHDTV1

3) Get an Upconverting or Blu-Ray DVD Player
Generally speaking your X years old DVD player generally won't look that great on your new HD set. If a Blu-Ray player (more on this later) is not within your budget then a DVD player with HD Upconversion is your best bet in getting a good picture from your good old regular DVD collection. Upconversion transforms your regular DVDs into an HD signal before sending it to the TV, making it look better than it would on a regular DVD player. An HDMI cable which is needed for the upconversion feature can be had for less than $10 shipped from e-tailers like Amazon, Monoprice, or Blue Jean Cables.

Blu-Ray DVD players play both standard and Blu-Ray DVDs. It's the next step up from standard DVD players, providing the HD picture and HD sound to your HDTV and home theatre system, respectively. Not only do Blu-Ray players double as an HD upconverting DVD player, you can set the player to display whichever HD resolution you prefer: 720p, 1080i, and 1080p ("Full HD"). Some people make the argument that unless you have a 1080p HDTV you shouldn't get a Blu-Ray player because it would be a waste. I can tell you that is a common misconception, a 720p set can take full advantage of Blu-Ray so long as you set the player to 720p or 1080i, it will look a heck of a lot better than a regular DVD player on your 720p set.

If you have any questions feel free to check out the FAQs. Your comments and feedback are much appreciated!

1 comment:

Bing L said...

Thank you very much for your helpful suggestions!
I'm going to buy a LCD HDTV in a few days. The things you pointed out have stopped me from making risky decisions. It also saved me a lot of time and energy to search for necessary knowledge online.
Thanks again! Have a happy life!