Why you should consider it: Choosing a high definition Television can be demystified and it is much more than just the ability to watch high definition television channels. A high definition television can greatly improve the image quality of the television you watch now be it DVD content or regular TV. Making the right choice is a balance between your budget, viewing habits, environment and expectations.
Buying into High Definition
The lure of high definition Television is strong but is an HDTV right for you? Learn now about formats, sales jargon and steps towards a better purchase. Choosing a high definition Television can be demystified and it is much more than just the ability to watch high definition television channels. A high definition television can greatly improve the image quality of the television you watch now be it DVD content or regular TV. Making the right choice is a balance between your budget, viewing habits, environment and expectations. There is a path towards making a purchase that fits your lifestyle.
This article covers the basics and puts you on a better footing to choose your first or, for the lucky ones, next High Definition Television. As there are “audiophiles” high definition television has spawned a whole new crop of “videophiles.” There will be constant debate over which format and type of TV is the best so don’t get too caught up in it. Get the basics down and learn to ask questions about what you want, what you watch and where you watch rather than what everyone else has.
The good ol’ TV.
Today’s dominant North American Television Standard is NTSC (National Television System Committee) which is 525 lines of resolution at 30 frames per second. It is also known as 480i. The dominant television standard in Europe is PAL (Phase Alternating Line) which is 625 lines of resolution at 25 frames per second. In either case it is an analog signal used to display images on the typical TV found in millions of homes regardless of how it reaches the TV.
For example purposes NTSC will be used but the same theory applies to PAL format. A NTSC TV picture is made up of 30 still images per second. Each still image is comprised of two fields. A TV “draws” the picture starting at the top line of the screen and continues on every odd line; 1, 3, 5, 7 and so on. This makes up the first field. The pattern repeats itself on every even line; 2, 4, 6, 8 and so on. This makes up the second field. This is called interlacing where the same still image that appears in that 1/30th of a second is combined; first odd then even lines.
A complete picture is made up of 480 lines of resolution. Don’t be mislead by specifications that tout 525 lines of resolution as the 45 line difference is an electronic pause that allows for the beam to jump from the bottom of the field it has just drawn to begin the next field. The important number to know is how many lines of ACTIVE resolution for those that want to dig deep into TV specifications.
Remember: two fields to the frame and 30 frames to the second. The two fields are half of the same still image. (For Europeans this would be two fields to the frame and 25 frames per second) The “i” in 480i stands for interlacing. Interlacing is done to conserve transmission bandwidth. Only half of an image was being sent at any given time and interlacing has served us well for a long time. The following image shows an exaggerated example of interlacing on one field of a frame. The next field be the reverse showing picture where there was black and black where there was picture.
The problem with interlaced images is there can be errors when the two fields are recombined into one frame. These errors usually appear as “the jaggies”. This becomes very apparent as screen size increases. 480 lines of resolution can only go so large before the picture begins to break down. A 480i signal may look very good on a 27″ TV but then it looks “jaggy” or “blotchy” on a 50″ or 60″ TV. This isn’t a problem with the TV. It is simply because there isn’t enough resolution in the TV signal to blow up the picture to larger sizes.
One of the solutions to interlacing comes in the form of a line doubler. A line doubler is a device that recombines the two fields and attempts to correct or smooth out imperfections. This is what is known as progressive scanning or the “p” in terms such as 480p or 720p. Progressive scanning eliminates interlacing thus presenting what appears to be a higher quality image. The same image is presented in its entirety on both fields.
Now the terms 720p and 1080i may begin to make sense. 720p means seven hundred and twenty lines of resolution presented progressively; the TV displays the complete image on every field. 1080i means one thousand and eighty lines of resolution presented in an interlaced format; 540 lines of field A followed by 540 lines of field B. Some are arguing that 1080i should be renamed to 540i. There is, of course, 540p if both fields are progressively scanned. If 540i or 540p pops up in any Google search then it is the same as 1080i.
Avoiding the DTV, SDTV and HDTV sleight of hand.
Buzzwords abound; DTV, HDTV, HD-Ready, SDTV and Digital Television. At present the majority of consumers own the “good ol’ analog TV”. It doesn’t matter if it’s a half-ton 36-inch model costing thousands of dollars or one of those super-sized BIG screen tvs. It’s most likely an analog TV if it was purchased prior to the year 2000. The signal it displays comes from an analog source and is processed through analog equipment from source to the TV.
DTV or Digital Television isn’t so much a type of television but a transmission format. Now here is where the sleight of hand occurs so read carefully. The term Digital Television can be used to confuse buyers. A buyer may assume that a DIGITAL television can display or is capable of displaying high definition television.
This just isn’t true.
Buying a digital television doesn’t mean that it is a high definition television. It doesn’t mean that it is a widescreen television. It means that it can only display a digital signal. The key word is “display”. Just because ANY TV says that it can display a type of format doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to tune it in without the aid of a Set Top Box (STB) decoder from your cable or satellite provider.
There are two categories of formats that fall under the term Digital Television otherwise known as DTV. These formats are HDTV, consisting of 720p, 1080i and 1080p, and SDTV consisting of 480i and 480p. Both SDTV and HDTV are supported by the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) and Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) set of standards.
|Vertical size value||Horizontal size value||Can be 4:3||Can be 16:9||Can be Interlaced||Can be Progressive|
When a cable or satellite provider uses the term DIGITAL TELEVISION then they are most likely meaning that the transmission signal is in digital format and is either 480i (which is the regular TV watched everyday) or 480p. They are quick to set High Definition channels apart as something different from Digital Television and thus worth more money.
The advantage of Digital Television is that more data information can be carried within the same bandwidth used by the same single analog television channel. The data stream is compressed at the source, sent via satellite or cable and then decompressed at the TV end via a STB (Set Top Box) or by digital tuner in the TV itself. The enhancement of DTV can take shape in the form of increased audio quality or audio channels such as Dolby 5.1. It can also have the capability of a better quality image over its analog counterpart. Because a digital channel uses less bandwidth than its analog counterpart then future digital TV broadcasts may have enhancements such as embedded web links and Internet interactivity during the broadcast or multi-language audio and so on. More can be carried in the same “space”.
Digital television DOES NOT always mean better picture or sound. It’s only as good as the source and the equipment it passes through to get to your TV. If the source is a worn out cassette tape of 80’s hits that was played in your car over and over and over then making a CD burn of it only results in a digital reproduction of that worn out cassette tape that sounds like it was played over and over and over again.
An HD-ready or HDTV-ready TV has the capability to display a high definition signal, and here’s where the cable or satellite provider makes money, but no tuner/decoder to do so. HD ready sets come with analog tuners that enable watching of regular analog channels either off air or in an analog cable package. An HD set cannot decode a digital signal (High definition or “digital channels”) without the aid of a digital tuner as found in the cable or satellite poviders STB.
HDTV sets come with high definition tuners and can decode and display all resolutions as long as the service is available. HDTV sets with built in tuners are not preferred as the back and forth over formats is ever-changing. The HD set with a built in tuner could very well be made obsolete…not because of the picture display capability but because the built-in tuner may immediately or one day not be able to decode what the provider is supplying. Just because the set may have a high definition decoder doesn’t mean it will tune in those digital channels. The cable or satellite provider may have a further step in decoding the signal by way of their own hardware.
The natives are restless.
Let’s begin with what we know. Mathematics dictate the following for pixel resolutions across the different formats of 480i, 480p, 720, 1080i and 1080p.
- 1080p – 1920×1080
- 1080i – 1920×540
- 720p – 1280×720
- 480p – 860×480
- 480i – 860×240
- 1080p – 1460×1080
- 1080i – 1460×540
- 720p – 960×720
- 480p – 640×480
- 480i – 640×240
Prying native resolution specifications out of a salesperson can be a challenging task depending on the TV type and brand. For that matter prying native resolution out of manufacturer’s specifications can be equally as challenging based on the same. Why then should it be a concern? For the most part it isn’t but specifications can reveal that a “great deal” on a new TV may not be such a great deal. Specifications can be misleading (“gasp!”…say it isn’t so!). In a random search we found an affordable Plasma TV that has a resolution of 852 x 480 pixels native. That means the screen can display 480p without enhancing the picture yet the specifications state that it can display 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i.
Here lies the crux of the argument for TRUE HDTV advocates whether they are 720p fans or 1080i fans. In order to display TRUE 720p a minimum of 720 lines of resolution is needed. 1080 lines are required for TRUE 1080i yet this heralded plasma screen is a far cry from that resolution. Not all Plasma (or RPTV, LCD, CRT) screens are like this but a question or two about resolution shows that a “great price” on that new tv may not be capable of “true” high definition signals or the format of choice.
It’s important to take the following away from this regardless of what TV is being purchased. If TRUE 720p is desired then the TV must be capable of a minimum of 720 lines of vertical resolution. The same goes for 1080i. If the specifications (or salespersons) state that the TV is 720p and 1080i CAPABLE then more questioning would be prudent.
This is also important for HTPC and video game enthusiasts. If any clarity of a computer desktop is desired at a setting of 1024 x 768 then the TV must be able to support those amount of lines of resolution. There are many XBOX owners who are having difficulties displaying games on High Definition TVs due to mismatched formats. At best understanding ensuring that a video game will display at a desired resolution a matter of matching what the format the game can output to what format is native to the TV as opposed to capable. For example if the game can output 480i and 720p and a user attempts to run the game at 720p on a tv that is native 1080i but is 720p capable through conversion…then there could be problems; no picture.
1080i with 720p capable is okay as well as 720p with 1080i capable and this leads right into…
Up the down conversion
Right out of the gate the term “upconversion” should be thrown out. It commonly used to describe converting a 720p signal to 1080i or vice versa and here’s why. 1080i is actually an interlaced image. (Remember? 2 fields of 540 lines to one frame of TV?) So when comparing apples to apples it is safe to assume that a 720p image has more scan lines of resolution per image than 1080i. The “up” in “upconversion” would lead someone to believe that it’s an increase rather than a decrease but when “upconverting” a 720p signal to 1080i it’s actually the reverse.
It’s not the question of an increase or decrease in signal quality but an urge to adopt the term CONVERSION rather than getting mixed up in all the upconverting and downconverting mumbo jumbo regardless of 720p upconverted 1080i or 1080i downconverted 720p or 480i to 480p. The signal simply is CONVERTED. It’s important to get a TV that is native 720p or 1080i then CAPABLE of the other format. Capable means that it will convert the other signal to it’s native display format. You are going to have to pay through the nose to get a TV that’s any size that is truly capable of both. Professional broadcast monitors that are only 20 inch start at $3000 USD.
Should you worry too much?
The answer is no. 720p and 1080i are both high definition signals and both look great. Neither one is better than the other but each has it’s finer pros and cons. The popular argument is that 720p is better for high motion scenes and 1080i is better for still shots.
Before you shop
There are a few things to consider before going out to peruse the myriad of available HD sets.
Set a budget. Don’t be resistant of going over a budget providing the increase meets your needs, habits and/or requirements. It’s easy to buy a TV if you don’t care about how much you spend.
Know your TV watching habits.
Someone who watches a lot of “regular” TV (analog cable TV or analog television signals via a satellite.) may get caught up in that BIG screen appeal but then be disappointed with the picture clarity on a 60″ set compared to a 40″ set. Ask yourself what you most commonly watch? Is it a lot of analog “regular” TV with the occasional DVD movie? Do you want this TV primarily for DVD movie watching in a home theatre room? Do you want to hook up a Playstation or XBOX to it and play a LOT of games on the big screen? Do you want to use the TV as a monitor for a computer?
Rank your answers in order of preference because some types of TV sets are better suited to specific applications. It may be better to say that some types of TVs have more pros than cons when it comes to a specific viewing habit.
Realize that ALL types of TVs aren’t perfect.
You won’t find the perfect TV. EVERY TV has it’s pros and cons across brand names and models. Research will probably show some consistency for the top 5 choices in each of display types but there is no “best” TV overall. The “best” TV is what suits your budget and viewing habits.
Know your environment.
Where is this new TV going and how far away are you going to be in relation to it? A big screen TV can be a BIG piece of furniture. Some don’t realize just how BIG a TV can get. A 60+ inch rear projection TV can be five feet high by five feet wide by almost 3 feet deep. That’s a BIG piece of furniture and it can dominate a room. If it’s a small room then you are going to be sitting too close and the picture will look even worse. The rule of thumb for distance to screen size is suggested at 3 times the diagonal measurement of 4:3 TVs and 2.5 times the diagonal measurement of 16:9 TVs.
4:3 standard TV
16:9 widescreen TV
Get a tape measure and actually measure the distance from where you sit on the couch to where you plan to put the TV before leaving the house. It’s amazing what you think is “about 8 feet” really is only 5 or 6 feet. Why is there suggested viewing distances? TV images can only go so big before they begin to break down in quality. Look at a picture in a newspaper. Now look at it from an inch away. It doesn’t look so good close up. It’s also like going to a movie theatre and sitting in the front row versus sitting in the middle.
Know what you want to plug in.
Some regrets come when people try to hook everything up to the TV; a DVD player, the HTPC (computer), the Set top box (Satellite or Cable) and the VCR. Most HD-ready TVs come with several inputs. The basic set is two component video inputs which are best for DVD players and a single DVI/HDMI/HDCP port. The DVI/HDMI/HDCP port is allegedly even higher quality than component video. Only one HDMI port on the TV may be a concern for those who want the new to market DVD players with HDMI ports and Cable/Satellite STBs with HDMI ports to both be connected. Add the Home Theatre PC and you’ve got a few decisions to make.
There’s always something better.
Technology is always advancing. There’s always a new model coming out in the fall…or the spring…or next month and you shouldn’t get caught up in the “waiting for the next best thing.” If your self-questions reveal that the next model due out in a couple to few months and it meets your budget and needs then it may be prudent to wait but if you are waiting for the next model because it’s “newer and better” then you’ll be waiting forever. There’s always a “newer and better” model right after the introduction of that “newer and better” model you were waiting for.
4 by 3 (4:3) or 16 by 9 (16:9)?
Regular television is in a format of 4 units wide by 3 units high whereas movies are in a format of 16 units wide by 9 units high. Widescreen movies must be cropped or put in letterbox format to fit 4:3 TVs. There’s no question that watching a widescreen movie on a widescreen TV is better. You see the full picture without black bars top and bottom. The question is about regular 4:3 TV. 4:3 TV must be zoomed or stretched to fill 16:9 TVs or left with blank bars at either side. Most 16:9 TVs have a selection of modes that enhance regular 4:3 shaped TV to the widescreen format with very little distortion. You don’t really notice any stretching after the first 10 minutes of watching. You don’t have to watch 4:3 TV with black (or gray) bars on either side and, more importantly, risk burn-in. Most people are wary of “stretching” aspect ratios but a TV with a good widescreen mode will stretch 4:3 signals to fill a 16:9 format without obvious distortion.
The following image from Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn is shown in 4:3 format.
The same image is now shown on a widescreen TV in 4:3 format with bars at either side. Note that keeping a CRT based TV at this setting has the potential to burn the bars into the screen. Read more about burn-in nearer to the end of this article.
The image is now stretched to fill the 16:9 format. Some distortion is apparent but this is only a demonstration and this feature on a TV has various settings where one may be preferable over the other. The point is that manufacturers have gotten quite adept at this feature.
Take your time – take a DVD – watch regular TV.
A new HD-ready TV is an expensive investment. Take your time in the store to get past that first “wow” factor. Stores will feed the HD sets with the best high definition image they can and all the TVs will look spectacular. When you get swept up in the wow factor you run the risk of getting that new TV home and wondering why your regular cable looks like crap…even worse than the old 27 inch TV being replaced.
Ask to see regular channels on the set you are looking at purchasing. If your self-questions have revealed that you’ll most likely be watching more regular TV than anything else then be happy with the image quality of regular TV on the set you are looking at. I myself marveled at the high definition picture quality of a 50 inch $5000 TV but then went “yuck” when I watched regular TV. The picture was “blotchy” and the reds were smeared.
Take your own DVD that you’ve watched a couple of times. You’ll be familiar with the picture quality and expectations. Stores have specialty DVDs that are high definition or choose movies that are hand picked for the wow factor. Pixar’s Finding Nemo is just such a movie. It has a lot of saturated color and detail. It’ll look good on almost any TV. Take a DVD that has live performers and good old basic cinematography. A “chick flick” would be good because if you are happy with that picture quality then imagine what The Matrix will look like. The point is to take the average.
It’s highly recommended to visit a couple of stores; not only for price comparison but for a change of perspective and the time to mull things over.
Use the remote.
One of the most overlooked aspects of a TV is the remote. How enjoyable is the the new TV experience going to be if you can’t or hate using the remote? Don’t let an awkward remote prevent you from buying your ideal set though. You can always spring for a plain jane or ultra-uber universal remote.
Using the remote also allows you to get into the menu settings. Spend enough time and you’ll discover the pros and cons. One of the pros/cons to any new TV is memory settings. A TV that has individual memory settings for each of the inputs is far more desirable than a TV with a single memory.
Now which TV?
There are three basic types of TVs on the market today. They are direct view or tube TVs, rear projection and flat screens/flat panels.
A CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) direct view TV is the type of TV that’s been with us since the dawn of TV. It’s the “tube” TV. CRT direct view TVs are extremely heavy in the larger sizes and max out at around 40″ for a 4:3 TV and 34″ for a 16:9 TV. CRT direct view TVs are the best at displaying analog television. CRT direct televisions are a well established technology so it’s safe to say that the bugs have been worked out. CRT direct view HD-ready TVs are typically 1080i with 720p capable inputs. CRT direct view TVs have one of the highest contrast ratios (the ratio between the darkest and brightest part of an image) and an extremely wide horizontal and vertical viewing angle.
A potential trap of CRT direct view TVs is that they may not have enough lines of resolution to natively support PC inputs higher than 640×480. HTPC users and XBOX/Playstation users take note. A CRT direct view TV may have a flat screen but it isn’t considered a “flat screen” TV. Don’t get the two confused.
There are 4 consumer choices of rear projection TVs which are CRT, DLP, LCD and LCoS. The early rear projection TVs suffered from a narrow viewing angle. The optimum viewing point was dead in front of the screen and the picture darkened as the side angle was increased. Projection screen TVs also used to suffer from a “hot spot” or where the image appeared increasingly brighter towards the center of the screen. Technology has come to the rescue and today’s projection screen TVs have very good horizontal viewing angles but not as good as direct view tube TVs. Walk side to side viewing any rear projection screen TV and have a look. The very important observation to make is the vertical viewing angle. See how the image looks above or below the center point of the screen. A new DLP rear projection unit had a very good horizontal viewing angle but the screen darkened quickly if your head was higher than the TV itself. That’s why stores have some TVs up on a pedestal or platform and you seated lower.
CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) TV is the least expensive route to big screen real estate. The three CRT guns need to be aligned or “converged” every so often in order to maintain picture quality. (Some say this is yearly maintenance) These sets look better in a darkened environment. CRT RPTVs are the best bang for the buck for screen real estate.
LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) projection screen TVs are said to be the worst for black levels. The bulbs also have a shorter life than CRT which will be an added maintenance cost. LCD rear projector TVs are the most expensive for comparative screen sizes.
DLP (Digital Light Processing) TVs will attract attention. These 40 inch plus televisions have excellent picture quality and a wide viewing angle. The are very light. The 43″ Samsung DLP weighs in at less than 70 pounds. A 34″ CRT direct view TV can weigh close to 200 pounds. They are also very shallow at only 15 to 20 inches deep compared to 24 to 30 inches for other direct view and projector TVs.
DLP TV bulbs, the light source for the image, has a short life span. Specifications say 8000 hours but users are reporting back 1000 to 2000 hours which is only 1 to 2 years. The bulbs can be changed by the homeowner but cost a few hundred dollars. The Samsung 43″ DLP we observed had excellent side to side viewing angle but the picture darkened dramatically if the viewing angle as above center. It seemed the optimum viewing angle was a 10-15 degree down angle from the screen.
Another concern is cooling. DLP and LCD projectors require active cooling and the noise of these fans, while quiet, is not silent. It’s something that may not be noticed in a noisy store environment and will surface in the relative quiet of the home. DLP TVs are also said not to suffer from the possibility of burn-in. (More about burn-in later on.)
LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) is a new technology and barely, if at all, on the marketplace at the time of this article. It’s the “newer better” just around the corner with hefty promises of increased picture quality without the negative issues such as burn-in. (Less filling tastes great?). What LCoS will do is drive down the price of other technologies.
Flat screen or Flat Panel TVs come in two styles; LCD and Plasma.
These two types of TVs are the sexiest of the bunch because of their thin width but they are notoriously expensive. Both types have their pros and cons. Some of the cons are image blurring where the response time isn’t fast enough to refresh the pixels and a “screendoor” effect where the image can appear as if looking through a fine mesh depending on the image source (DVD, HD or “regular” TV). Plasma and LCD displays also don’t reproduce blacks as well as some may desire. Specifications can also be deceiving and close attention must be paid to screen pixel size (W x H) compared to promises of the 480i, 720p and 1080i formats. LCD screens are said to have “perfect” resolution at their native format but then fall apart at different resolutions.
Plasma and LCD technology is getting better and better and newer models are less prone to the defects exhibited by the earlier offerings. LCD TVs stand the chance to become more popular than Plasma due to a lesser price point and the fact that LCD technology is catching up to Plasma. If the goal is to impress your friends the buy the biggest LCD or Plasma you can find. The downside is that your bank account will disappear at an alarming rate.
A note about front projector TVs.
Front projector TVs are more suited to specialty home theatre environments and due to their specialized installation and environment usage are not covered in this article.
Every good term deserves an explanation.
There are many terms thrown about in the HDTV/HD-ready world besides the aforementioned. Here are a few more of the popular ones.
The good and bad about burn-in: The bad.
Burn-in has a double meaning. The term “burn-in” has found it’s way into HDTV and HD-ready TV language as a negative. It means that an image can permanently burn into the screen. It would be like a faint stain on the screen. The most likely paths to burn-in are watching a 16:9 TV in 4:3 format, keeping the TV on the same channel such as a all news channel with a bottom information bar or stock report channel and video gaming.
How does this occur? As an example a news or stock report channel can have an information graphic at the bottom or side of the screen. This is a static image and for the most part it doesn’t change except for the text information. The shape and size of the bar remains consistent. If the TV is left on that channel consistently over a long period of time for months on end then burn-in can occur even if the TV is on for an hour or two a day.
An analogy would be similar to the living room carpet. If you walk the same exact path across it every day…even just once or twice…eventually you are going to leave an imprint of your path. By walking the same path you wear out that section of carpet. A static image consistently on the screen will not wear out the screen so much as IMPRINT that image onto the screen.
When you flip to other channels you’ll see the ghost of that shape and it’s always there.
All CRT direct view and projector TVs can be the victim of burn-in as well as Plasma. Plasmas are more susceptible. DLP TVs, LCD Flat Panel and Projector TVs and LCoS TVs are immune to burn-in. Don’t run screaming for the remote every time someone tunes in CNN or plays the occaisional video game but be aware that if you leave a CRT based TV or Plasma parked on the same channel 24/7/365 or play the same type of video game with the score parked in the corner or an HUD then you could find yourself victim of burn-in.
The good and bad about burn-in: The good.
Burn-in can also apply to “getting the kinks out” or “settling a TV in.” One calibrator suggested that the first 100 hours of a TV’s life should be with the contrast and brightness set to 75%-50% of its maximum. Sharpness should also be kept low if not off. This will allow for a TV to safely settle in and be a good step towards a longer life. With some CRT RPTVs 100 hours is recommended as the elapsed time before the TV is calibrated.
In any extent it is a good idea not to push contrast, brightness and sharpness to their maximum. Sure it may make the picture exceptionally vivid but it’s like driving a car with your foot to the floor all the time; eventually something is going to wear out or go “bork.”
While we could only find one source of information about the first 100 hours of TV usage there are countless sources supporting keeping contrast, brightness and sharpness lower than maximum.
Calibration is a term that is becoming more prevalent in TV conversation. I’ve grown up with the plug and play TV. Most may have fiddled with color, tint, brightness and contrast but to consider that a TV needs a professional to come and calibrate it is new concept to most.
Why does a TV need calibration and first off what is calibration? Calibration means to adjust the TV to proper settings for such adjustments as color, contrast, convergence, brightness and grayscale. Some of these settings require access to hidden adjustment menus and professional calibration measurement equipment. Accessing service menu or designer menus of TVs should be done with proper training as improper settings may irrevocably damage a TV.
If the TV, especially a CRT based RPTV, has never been calibrated then almost all have raved about the image quality after a professional calibration. It’s hard to find anyone who has not been please with the results. Why calibrate any TV? Simply because over time they do go out of adjustment and the color, tint, shading and so on isn’t as good as it can be. New TVs get jostled around in shipping and the factory defaults are set to impress with bright and vivid images rather than true images. There are basic free calibration steps for those of you who want it for free. There are a few calibration DVDs available on the market with more advanced steps and there is the professional which can cost anywhere from $100 or $200 a visit up to $1000 depending on the type of TV and extent of calibration. A source to find a professional calibrator can be found at Imaging Science.
A comb filter improves picture resolution and quality by separating color information from contrast. There are five types of comb filters, listed here in order of increasing quality: normal (glass),CCD (2-line), 2-line digital, 3-line digital, 3D Y/C comb filters. A TV that has a 3D Y/C comb filter has the best comb filter at present.
A popular specification with CRT based RPTVs where the alignment of the 3 guns can be realigned either automatically or by the push of a button. If the guns are out of alignment then you may see what appears to be a shifted image of that color gun. This doesn’t replace advanced or professional calibration.
NTSC video runs at 30 frames per second while film, as shown in a movie theatre, runs at 24 frames per second. The two frame rates don’t match. The process of transferring the film to video creates extra frames and with it distortion and artifacts. A TV that has 3:2 pulldown does its best to correct for errors in this process when watching a DVD for example. Bottom line: a better, smoother image(s). For a very in depth explanation read What the heck is 3:2 pulldown? at DVDFile.com.
A TV that has a DVI (Digital Video Interface) HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) and HDCP (High Definition Content Protection) port is a must. HDMI is the most important as it is based on DVI-HDCP and goes a step further. It is expected to become the industry standard digital interface for consumer home theater system, computers and DTVs. Like DVI it does allow for a computer with a DVI header on the video card to be connected digitally to the TV. It also allows for support of uncompressed high definition video and multi-channel audio in a single cable. DVD players with HDMI ports are finding their way onto the market. HDMI is a step above component video which is the current highest quality connection of DVD to TV at the consumer level. Cable and satellite providers also are equipping their STBs with HDMI ports to support and further enhance digital and high definition broadcasts. HDMI has more “under the hood” benefits but those are the most important to the consumer and future compatibility.
Putting my money where my mouth is.
It’s fine and dandy to prattle on about which TV or what technologies are available but is there any practical experience in all of this theory? Indeed there is. I did go out and purchase an HD-ready TV and I was on a budget and I had criteria to meet and really knew very little on my first visit to the store. All I knew is that TVs can get expensive.
It isn’t relevant to say which brand or model but how I arrived at the choice. I have approximately 60 channels on analog cable and I mostly watch regular TV and the Friday night DVD. I don’t have satellite because my strata won’t allow me to put up a dish. The cable provider did have digital channels available with the purchase of an STB and extra monthly fees and a handful of HD channels available with the purchase of an even more expensive STB and more monthly fees. The digital channels didn’t appeal to me nor the smattering of HD channels so it was pretty easy to narrow down my viewing habits to regular TV and DVD movie content.
Two of us watch TV at a distance of 7-9 feet. This distance isn’t going to change very much. I even measured an imaginary reconfiguration of the living room just in case. Using the suggested viewing distance chart it put the 16:9 TV in the 30″-42″ range.
I also had a budget which said “buh-bye” to the 40″ plus size of TV.
I was looking forward to a new TV with an DVI/HDMI/HDCP port to plug in the Home Theatre PC. It would be cool to have the Internet on TV in a resolution that could actually be somewhat clear compared to the distorted and fuzzy image currently on the 27″ TV I was replacing. I was mostly looking forward to widescreen DVD in all its glory.
I went to the store and did look at the various models. I even looked at the $5000 50 inch models with a stunning high definition signal but when I flipped to regular TV it didn’t impress. I also had to step back 12-15 feet to get to the proper viewing distance. From 9 feet away and closer the BIG screen TVs left me disappointed for regular TV. I did consider boosting my budget to the DLP. A friend in the business was going to cut me a deal and knock a full third off the price but when I found that the best angle was from straight on or below…that went away. The DLP did indeed have a very good picture and the 43″ model really called out to me but in a living room TVs are usually at a lower angle to the eyes…at least it would be in my house. The store had The Cat in the Hat playing on the DLP and I noticed compression and smearing in the opening titles. I wondered if it was the fault of the movie or the TV. That’s why it’s important to take a DVD with you that you are familiar with.
My budget was $1500 to $2000 Canadian. I watch mostly regular TV followed by DVD and the HTPC/PC Internet is used on rare occaision I got past the lure of inches upon inches of big screen real estate, laughed at the prices of LCD and Plasma and finally settled on a HD-Ready CRT direct view TV. It suited our budget, watching habits and environment best. It wasn’t the best of the best TVs but it is the best for me.
After I got it home I discovered two things that did let me down about my purchase but only a bit. First, as mentioned before, was individual input memory settings. It would have been nice to be able to set up the TV for each of the inputs such as DVD and regular TV. But when you think about proper calibration is for the entire TV then it becomes somewhat silly to calibrate each individual input (and costly). I also discovered a quirk. The cable comes from the wall and into the TV. It’s best to run cable directly to the TV instead of “dirtying up” the signal by running it through the VCR. The TV has two antenna cable inputs and one output so it made sense to run from the wall to antenna one then from the output to the VCR and back to antenna two. This way I can record on the VCR but preserve the cleanest signal to the TV. Problem is that when the TV is left on antenna one it shuts off antenna two. You have to leave the TV on antenna two to have the VCR work properly regardless of the TV being on or off.
It’s a quirk and this is not a review of the TV I purchased. It is shared to let you know that there are some things you can avoid if you research, ask yourself and the salesperson the proper questions. The things you don’t you live with.
Purchasing a new TV of any value will get you a better picture be it standard 4:3 or 16:9 HD-ready or not. You are most likely replacing or upgrading a 5 to 10 year old TV. With a new purchase you are getting new technology that does a better job of displaying images. Even if you don’t want or are not going to jump on the HD bandwagon I would not recommend anything else but getting a 16:9 HD-ready TV.
The most jaw-dropping experience about the purchase was DVD content. One of the first discs I played was Pixar’s Finding Nemo and I randomly skipped ahead several chapters. This is what I saw.
Do you see it? I hadn’t seen it before. At least I hadn’t seen it on my standard 27″ TV. There it was in the middle of the frame; a fingerprint that the animators had put on the fishtank glass.
I hadn’t seen that before. So I called my wife in. SHE noticed it too without any prompting which is an amazing occurrence in itself. I then starting noticing other aspects of the movie that I had not before like the reflections and texture on the plastic bags the fish were in at the end of the movie.
That’s what it’s all about; being happy with your purchase. Buy for what suits you, your budget, your habits and your environment but your next TV should be none other than HD-ready and 16:9.
- Display Device Guide
- Advanced Television Systems Committee
- How to Calibrate a Television FAQ
- Choosing a TV – CRT, LCD, Plasma, Projector
- CNET’s quick guide to TV calibration
- COLOR TELEVISION, NTSC Tutorials
- Crutchfield Advisor
- Digital Home Canada
- FAQ – Types of HDTVs – Their Advantages & Disadvantages
- Is your TV really HD
- The Digital Home Update
- Votes on HD television – AVS Forum
- HDTV UpConverter
- DLP, LCD or CRT
- Howstuffworks TV Buying Guide
- Large Display Systems
- LCD vs. Plasma Displays Technology Comparison
- 32 Pulldown Explained
- Pulldown Explained
- ATSC Standards Map
- Television and Video Resolution
- Video Technicalia Made Easy