HDTV Ready?

The buzz word right now in TV land is HDTV (high-definition television). HDTV is a digital television capable of much higher resolution than a standard analog TV. For a complete explanation of HDTV, check out How HDTV Works.

Photo courtesy Sony
A flat-panel TV with a built-in HDTV tuner

When thinking about whether now is the time to go high-definition, here are some things to consider:

Getting into HDTV now may be a good idea to enhance your DVD watching; and in a couple of years, when hi-def broadcasting is more prevalent, you can spring for the tuner.
Many stores feature what they call HDTV. What they should say (and some do) is "HDTV-ready." Even though a TV has HDTV capabilities, it still can't receive high-definition input without a high-definition tuner, which can be pricey if you choose to buy one (as opposed to renting one from your HDTV broadcast provider).

HDTVs come in two formats:

1080i is capable of 1920x1080 resolution (the highest currently available), but it is an interlaced format: The TV paints every other line of the image in alternating patterns, so it cannot display progressive-scan DVDs. Also, some critics claim that while still images are more brilliant at 1080i, movement doesn't read well on the screen.

720p turns out a resolution of 1280x720. While lower than 1080i, it still remains the most common HDTV format. Only the most discerning of videophiles can tell a difference in quality, and since it is a progressive-scan format (the TV paints every line of the image in order), it can be used for both standard and progressive-scan DVDs.

At this point, some primetime shows and sporting events are simulcast in hi-def. But if you're in an area that does not receive hi-def broadcasts, then this does you no good. There are more than a thousand hi-def stations on the air in the United States as of 2006. For a list, see DTV STATIONS ON THE AIR.

Because HDTV broadcasting is still fairly limited, DVD viewing is the big selling point for HDTV. If you put a progressive-scan DVD player together with an HDTV, the results are breathtaking. Most people who are buying HDTVs are doing so to reap the full benefits of their progressive-scan DVD player. It is possible to get into an HDTV for around $700, so if you're a serious movie buff, it may be time to make the switch.

Normal television will look a little better on an HDTV, but don't expect miracles. In fact, on a larger-screen HDTV, the set will actually reveal the imperfections of an analog broadcast. To learn more, read Getting the Most From Your HDTV.

Digital TV Deadlines
The FCC currently has a February 17, 2009, deadline for the transition to all digital broadcasting. On this date, all analog broadcasting will stop, and consumers will need to buy converter boxes to receive programming on their older TVs. This deadline has been pushed back several times in the last few years because of both broadcasters' and consumers' inability to meet the FCC's criteria for a successful transition to digital broadcasting. TV stations must have the equipment to send digital broadcasts, and consumers must have the TVs to receive them.

For more information on the transition to digital, visit the FCC's Web site www.dtv.gov.