You can spend thousands on a whole stack of HD-capable equipment – TV, projector, AV receiver, PVR, disc spinner – but of course to enjoy high definition pictures you’ll need to provide that equipment with some HD content.
In 2010, the main sources of HD content are TV broadcasts and Blu-ray discs. Getting either is easy: for HDTV, you just a HD set-top box to your existing television or buy an LCD or plasma TV with a built-in HD tuner (that’s most of them these days). For Blu-ray you need a BD player.
Blu-ray discs are on sale at all major retailers, with ranges increasing every month. There are more than 900 titles available, and many local video stores have a Blu-ray section, with HD versions of the most popular new releases.
High definition programming is increasingly being offered through connected devices such as Tivo, Apple TV (interface pictured), PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
You can also get HD via the internet, by downloading a movie or video clip at a resolution with 720 or 1080 lines vertically, with the latter delivering better resolution. You can download directly from the net using a PC (and watch it on the computer’s screen or connect the PC to a TV), or you could use a networked device that sits beneath your TV in the lounge room, such as a Tivo, Apple TV (pictured above), Playstation 3 or Xbox 360 games console.
Remember, however, that these files will be very large and you’ll need a fast broadband connection unless you want to spend weeks waiting for a movie to arrive! HD files, because they are so large, also chew through your download quota quickly, so that’s something to beware of too.
Finally, you can create your own HD content if you own a video camera with an HD picture quality mode. Most cameras have a maximum resolution of 1080i rather than 1080p, and this is something you’ll encounter elsewhere in the world of HD.
DIY high definition – with today’s digital camcorders you can create your own HD movies and watch them on the big screen.
FREE-TO-AIR TV BROADCASTS
The cheapest way to get HD is via free-to-air TV. You need an HD-capable set-top box or PVR (which allows you to record as well as watch HD) or an HD tuner in your TV, but then it’s just a matter of scanning for the channel and tuning in. HDTV can be a bit of a misnomer, because while the HD channels broadcast 24 hours, they don’t always show HD content.
What’s more, the maximum broadcast resolution in 2010 is 1080i. That’s the interlaced version of full HD, which is 1080p. So free-to-air TV will display at a slightly lower resolution than a Blu-ray disc.
It can be tricky telling exactly which programs of the broadcast are in HD. SD content might be upscaled to 1080i, or you might also be watching the mid-range HD resolution: 720p. Eventually you’ll learn to spot the difference: US crime dramas are native HD, as are Australian soap operas and an increasing amount of live studio content.
The good news about 1080i is that your LCD or plasma display will upscale it to 1080p and you’ll be hard-pressed to tell the difference… unless you switch over to Blu-ray right away!
PAY TV BROADCASTS
Foxtel also has an HD offering, in the form of the HD+ subscription service. For an additional setup and monthly fee, you’ll have your existing pay TV box replaced by an HD-capable unit. It’s the same as changing from an SD receiver to an HD unit.
As well as the free-to-air HD channels, pay TV plans offer access to 15 HD channels, comprising sports, movies, nature and documentary programming. Again, this is 1080i HD, not full 1080p. For that, you need Blu-ray.
Foxtel provides 15 channels of high definition programming, including movies, on demand content, sport, nature and international dramas.
The ultimate HD experience (for now, at least) Blu-ray – or BD as the actual discs are known – runs at full, native 1080p, the highest resolution a full HDTV can display.
You’ll need a dedicated player, of course, and the prices of these have fallen from around $1500 to less than $200 in just four years. Discs are available at most retailers and video stores now, and are a mix of brand news movies and classics. You may notice some, shall we way, lower budget films getting a BD treatment ahead of your favourites.
Films that are shot on HD cameras instead of film – to save money – can be easily converted to BD. Classic movies shot on 35mm film need to be scanned, retouched, processed and more – an expensive process that can take years.
Still, a classic movie on Blu-ray has been lovingly restored, and will often look even better than the director originally intended!
Offering the best in high definition video and audio, there are now around 900 Blu-ray titles to choose from.