A New Definition: HDTVs

Ready to take the plunge into the world of HDTV? Our special feature on buying an HD TV covers all the bases with buying advice and a wide selection of HD displays.

So what?s all the fuss about high definition television? In a nutshell, HDTV is to our current analogue TVs what colour was to black & white when it was introduced more than 30 years ago. True HDTV offers a ghost- and flicker-free image that is so clear and sharp you feel you could reach into the picture and touch things. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound makes you feel that you are in the centre of the action and, because the television signal is digital, you have the opportunity to interact with the program you are watching. That interaction can range from selecting the camera angle to participating in a quiz show or making an online purchase.

That said, going HD is not cheap ($2,500 up) and there are lots of traps for the unwary.
In fact, there is so much confusion in the marketplace over what constitutes true high definition TV that many of the marketers and sales people you will have to deal with are not sure themselves.

The sad fact is that many televisions are sold as HDTV ready or HDTV capable, but while they might be able to receive a high definition signal they can only display in standard definition. In other words, they downscale the signal, resulting in an image that is of lower quality than true high definition.

While standard definition enjoys the same flicker- and ghost- free qualities as HDTV it does not have the same sharpness and clarity that only high definition can offer. While SDTV is obviously better than analog, HDTV is equally as obviously better than SDTV when you put the two side-by-side.

So how does the average buyer tell whether the television or display is capable of displaying a true high definition image? The trick is to find out the native resolution of the device ? that is the resolution it is capable of displaying, not just the resolution it is capable of receiving.

To be true HDTV, a display must comply with one of the HD-TV standards adopted for Australia.

Resolution is measured using a combination of lines and pixels. A pixel is a small block of colour and the more pixels that make up an image the higher the quality of the picture. For example a standard analogue (PAL) television image has about 300,000 pixels but the highest quality HD image (1080i) has a total of 2,073,600 pixels.

However, selecting equipment capable of displaying true HDTV is only part of the problem for the consumer. While there are many TVs and displays ? from LCD (liquid crystal display), plasma and DLP (digital light processor) rear projection, to LCD rear projection and LCD or DLP front projectors ? capable of producing a high definition image, there are very few that come with a high definition tuner.

Your choice is likely to be determined by your budget. For example, DLP rear projection TVs are generally much cheaper than the equivalent size plasma screen, but also much bulkier. While some LCD and plasma displays may appear cheap they are little more than large monitors and require a separate tuner and audio system. This makes them ideal as a component of a home theatre system but they may prove more expensive than a standalone TV in the long run. The same can be said for digital projectors, which require a screen, audio system, and receiver/tuner at added cost.

Even your standalone HDTV is likely to require a set top box because at the time of going to press there was only one model on the market with an integrated HD-receiver. Set-top-boxes range in price from $150 to $350 for a SD-STB and $450 to $800 for a HD-STB, so be prepared for the additional cost.

The key is ensuring that you are going to get the best possible performance for your money. If you buy a TV or projector that is only capable of displaying standard definition TV you will not be able to upgrade it at a later date. So it is worthwhile going for HDTV right from the start ? even if you decide not to buy the HDTV set top box at this stage. You can always upgrade to it later.

All television broadcasts will be in high definition within the next few years. Many of them already are, so if you are looking to upgrade your in-home entertainment now is as good a time as any to go HD.