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Q: What should I know about HDTV?
- It's Digital
HDTV is part of the digital television (DTV) standard that all broadcasters will use by 2009-that's next year! HDTV produces high resolutions of 720 lines or more. Other forms of DTV include standard-definition television (SDTV), at up to 480 lines and enhanced-definition television (EDTV), which no one uses.
- You Need HD Equipment
Just because a TV show says it's presented in HD doesn't mean you're seeing it in high definition. It just means it's also presented in HD-on a digital channel. You need both an HDTV and an HD tuner, cable or satellite box, properly connected, to see HDTV.
- Take Your Pick
HDTVs come in traditional boxy "direct view" TVs, sexy flat-panels, front projectors and new digital rear-projection sets. You can get HD in every different display technology as well.
- They'll Convert
HDTVs come with built-in processors that convert other formats to your TV's resolution. If you have a 1080p set, it will "upconvert" a 720p or 1080i picture to its higher resolution.
- Tuners Included?
Check to see if the TV or video display has a built-in tuner to receive broadcast HDTV. Sets with the tuners built in are often called integrated HDTVs Look for ATSC (the new digital standard) and QAM (for basic cable). NTSC tuners will be good for analog TV until next year.
- HDTV is Widescreen
That means the screen is more rectangular, which is also better for showing widescreen movies. The format, or aspect ratio, is called 16:9. You can get some HDTVs in the squarish traditional format, called 4:3. However, all HDTV programming is broadcast in widescreen 16:9.
- HDTVs Come in Several Different Resolutions
The more popular ones are 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The "p" stands for progressive scan. This means all the lines are scanned, top to bottom, each fraction of a second. The "i," for interlaced scanning, means half the lines are scanned each fraction of a second. Most people can't see a difference between 720p and 1080i, but 1080p, also called "Full HD," is a noticeable improvement over both.
- Check the Natives
To be high definition, a set must be capable of a vertical resolution (meaning the horizontal lines, top to bottom) of at least 720. A good way to check this is to refer to the "native" resolution, often expressed in numbers like 1920 x 1080 or 1024 x 768. The second number must be 720 or higher to display HDTV.
- Antenna, Box or Card?
If you want to get HDTV broadcasts over the air, you'll need an aerial antenna. If you intend on getting HDTV via cable or satellite, you'll need a separate HD cable or satellite box or a CableCard. Some HDTVs come with CableCard slots that preclude the need for a cable box (you can get the card from your cable operator). However, CableCards do not allow interactive services such as video-on-demand.
- Look For HDMI Connections
The new high-definition multimedia interface combines digital video and audio into one convenient cable. But the real future benefit may be copy protection technology built into HDMI, allowing you to view high-def content in all its high-resolution glory.