Is Digital TV the same thing as HD TV? I'm confused about the Digital Transition ...

The difference between Digital TV and HD, or High Definition Television, is one of those logically confusing things.

It is a logical fallacy to assume that: If (A) must be (B), then (B) must also be (A).

In this case, that fallacy is logically imposed on many people. This is due largely to the fact that the information surrounding the digital transition has not been properly explained to the masses.

Digital television broadcasting is NOT necessarily HD (High Definition). But, an HD signal is, by necessity, a digital signal. And herein lies the source of the confusion.

So what the heck is the difference?! And why is the difference important to me?

The difference can be explained in numerous ways. I'm going to take the basic approach for you. There are three basic categories of difference to think about, but there is a fundamental difference that needs to be addressed first: Resolution.

There are two basic types of digital resolutions: Standard Definition (SD), or High Definition (HD)

  • Standard Definition (SD)
    Most older television sets operate at a standard definition level of resolution. The term "definition", in this context, refers the number of lines your TV displays to create the picture. The resolution for an SD TV is usually about 480. Most people who have these televisions have never owned an HDTV and therefore have no real grounds for comparison and feel that their TVs "look fine" - and they do. Even big-screen TVs that are fairly old, that operate in SD, are only showing 480 lines of resolution.
  • High Definition (HD)
    Most of the new televisions being sold today are High Definition (HD). Similarly, the term "definition", in this context, refers the number of lines your TV displays to create the picture. The lowest resolution that qualifies as HD is 720. The highest, currently (as this will increase) is 1080p. (The little "p" and "i" symbols that you seen next to TVs stand for "Interlaced" and "Progressive"). But, you cannot just get an HDTV and think everything is fine. There are other steps that you need to take to make sure you're utilizing your HDTV properly, otherwise it is a waste of money.

This is a coaxial cable.
This is a coaxial cable.

The difference categories are: quality, utility, and cost.

It should be clarified here, that an HDTV is required to view an HD signal, but any TV is capable of receiving a digital signal, as long as it is converted to analog first. Any cable box, satellite TV box, or any other type of pay-tv service box is going to work with any type of TV that accepts, at least, a coaxial connection (black wire with metal tip and copper wire coming out the middle that are a pain in the @## to screw in. See image [right]).

  • Quality of Digital SD vs HD
    The quality of a high definition signal is noticeably better than its standard definition counterpart. While much of this has to do with the signal service provider, and the TV, in general terms HD is much nicer to look at and listen to then SD.
  • Utility of Digital SD vs HD
    If your TV is not HDTV compatible, or does not have its own HD tuner, then you actually cannot view HD programming. So, there is no utility for HD if you do not have an HD TV. So when shopping for new TV service, and you get asked if you need HD Service - do not confuse it with digital! Unless you're going to buy a new TV, and want to try out this new thing called HD programming, then your answer to the question is "no".

    Conversely, if you have an HD television set, and you do not have HD service, I would seriously recommend at least considering it. The picture is significantly nicer, and to some degree, necessary. Large screens (greater than 32 inches), that are capable of displaying an HD signal, have a lot of trouble making a standard definition signal look good. In fact ... many times it will just look bad. This is especially true the larger your screen is. My 52" is unwatchable in standard definition. This is not your TVs fault, or your service providers fault, it is yours for pumping that nasty SD signal into your new beautiful HDTV.
  • The cost of digital SD vs HD
    This is probably the most important factor for most people. While the scope of this article is primarily intended to educate those who may have been slightly confused about the difference between digital and high definition, the cost difference is also a factor.

    HD is, without exception, more expensive than SD digital.

    1. You need a high definition television set to view HD. You do not need a special TV to view a standard definition digital signal. So, the cost of a new HDTV is a valid concern.
    2. You need HD cables, like HDMI cables, to connect to your HDTV or you will not be viewing it at its full potential. You can get by with component cables, but I don't recommend them. HDMI cables are not cheap.
    3. You need an HD tuner (also known as a 'box', or a 'receiver' in the pay-TV industry). In some cases this tuner will have upgrade fees, or extra HD lease fees associated with it. An HD tuner is required to view an HD signal.
    4. You need an HD programming service provider. All major pay-TV services, like DISH Network, Directv, Cox, Time Warner, Charter, Verizon, AT&T, etc ... all have High Definition Programming services. DISH Network and Directv both offer free HD Programming. Otherwise, you can expect to pay about $10 extra per month for HD Service, and then a little bit extra on each box that you lease, or rent, or whatever they do. Each HDTV in your home requires an HD Receiver / Tuner from your pay-TV service (Except maybe FiOS which uses fiber optic cable, not coaxial cable).

To recap - Digital is NOT High Definition (HD), but HD is Digital

Hopefully the difference is pretty clear now. If not? Just leave a comment and I will gladly clarify for you.

But, with all the hype about the digital transition, and all the TV manufacturers and retailers pushing HDTVs, and using the word transition, I can see how this would foster the probability of widespread confusion. I work in the industry and see this confusion, firsthand, every single day, multiple times a day. So, I consider this article a public service that could help anyone who might be confused: to save money, to avoid unnecessary purchases/upsells, or help to convince them that HD is something that they might want to try.

Be peaceful on your way,

Time_Spiraling

After reading this article, do you understand the difference now?

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  • No.
  • It is still a little unclear.
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Comments 4 comments

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Very informative hub TS! Now I challenge you to create a Hub that clears up all the confusion in buying the best plasma HD television; distinguishing between an LCD and a Plasma tv; the so called "energy efficient" models; the hdmi vs component av cable confusion, the wall mount and screw size specifications ect, ect, oy vey. The industry is moving so fast it's hard to keep up!


Time Spiral profile image

Time Spiral 7 years ago from Florida Author

@green,

While that topic has been thoroughly covered by those more qualified than I, I will certainly chime in, for those interested in my input. Thanks for the challenge!


barry 4 years ago

not if this what iam looking for , in winnipeg shaw has gone digital and given us a digtial box for free can i buy a pvr or hd box that will do the same thing as the digital boxe given to us


Rick Conway 3 years ago

When you were discussing the fact that HD TVs look bad with SD signals, you failed to mention that SOME HD TVs have up-converting software that can make an SD signal "almost" indistinguishable from an HD signal. My first HD TV had a CRT (the old bulky TV tube) with both an analog and digital tuner and special up-converting software, so that an up-converted SD signal was ALMOST indistinguishable from HD. The picture quality was amazing, even better than many high dollar HD flat screens. Alas, it finally died and I had to pay premium dollars to go to the less adaptable flat screen which pretty much requires a more expensive HD signal. As with everything else it's always about the money and manufacturers can make a lot more from cheap HDs than quality ones.

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