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HDTV - Digital Future from an Analog Past

Updated on January 24, 2008

How HDTV works

Sharp Aquos LC46D62U 46" 1080p LCD HDTV

HDTV televsions - what to look for

Cable ready, CableCard, external cable box, HD Ready is some of the techno speak surrounding the business of HDTV. What do these words have in common? To me they all point out that there are more steps to receiving that high definition image than just plugging in a television.

HDTV is coveted by millions of television viewers even though most of them may not understand exactly what HD really is. One reason for the apparent disconnect is that there are standards talked about that are not readily available.

Digital input is the issue. Cable and satellite companies provide digital signals but without the appropriate connections to that signal the desired HD is not going to be achieved. Then again, there are different levels of HD. Resolution is determined by how much information is delivered to the television. Lines running horizontal and lines running vertical make up this information and depending on how many there are - ultimately determine the resolution and picture quality. If that is not enough to think about there are also pixels or dots that make up these lines.

Pixels carry important image information - such as color. By working together each pixel improves the final image and works much like your digital camera. The more pixels that make up the image the clearer the images become. In comparison, a standard television display is made up of approximately 200,000 pixels while an HDTV with 1080i display requires up to 2 million pixels.

Aspect ratio is also a consideration for HDTV viewing. HD is 16:9 versus the previous standard has been 4:3. Instead of getting to technical, I think that most of us have noticed the difference between our older televisions versus the new versions. The screens now are wider than they are tall - hence the name "widescreen". You have probably noticed that movies shown on standard screens have wide black lines on each side of the image and the top and bottom of the image may appear chopped off. On a widescreen the same movie may have wide black lines on the top and the bottom of the image often referred to as letter box viewing.

Don't get flat screen confused with flat panel. It is important to remember because HD signals do not require a flat panel. I own a Sony Grand Wega 42" widescreen flat screen LCD projection television. Why did I buy a projection instead of one of those cool flat panels that can hang on the wall?

LCD and Plasma televisions are both available in HD. Both offer fantastic viewing pleasure but there are differences between the two that will greatly determine the cost of the unit.

Several reasons make up my decision. Yes, the price was definitely a consideration. The $1000 savings from the flat panel I almost bought was a major consideration. Then, I have an issue with having a beautiful flat panel television hanging on the wall with a several boxes sitting or hanging under it - such as the DVD player, the cable box and stereo equipment. I just about drove the salesman at Best Buy nuts asking him about how to have HDTV without these other eye sores.

Questions to ask:

  • 1. What do you need to add before you can enjoy the advantages of the HDTV features? Is the television HDTV or is it HDTV ready?
  • 2. What types of inputs are available? Mine has a card slot that with the right cable service will eliminate the need for an external cable box in the future. Some have multiple HDMI inputs are available - all should be HD capable.
  • 3. What resolutions are possible? Compatibility is important for different situations - both analog and digital. Try for 480-720-1080i and even 1080p. Most of the latest televisions will have 1080i but the next step up will be the 1080p. The Sharp Aquos LC-42D62U 42" flat panel offers this feature.
  • 4. Viewing angle is important in most rooms (closest to 180 degrees is better).
  • 5. What is the refresh rate (lower number is better) and contrast ratio (higher number is better)?

My cable company does offer digital cable signals but there are not really that many true HD channels. Couple that with the time I actually have to watch television and I it is not that important that I have "true" HDTV at this time. What I was concerned about was that this television has the technology to take me into the future - and it does.

The screen sizes are increasing at a fast pace. My 42" is no longer available in many stores. Now the 52" is most popular. When comparing the prices (sometimes thousands of dollars) between the flat screen and the flat panel it can be a bit confusing - but again it will depend on your home and your budget. How much space will the flat panel save you when all components are considered? Would you rather pay the extra cost for a smaller flat panel than for a flat screen projection? How many televisions do you need? If you buy yourself one will the kids think they need one too?

If you need a good reason to shop for a new television the government has given you one. Any television built after December 31, 2006 has to be HD ready. Any television built before that date will need a digital converter box by 2009. Check out for more information.

Sometimes I have to back into a decision. In the case of buying a new television I started with the price. I gave my self a range of between $1500 and $3000. I knew the features that I was not willing to do without. I asked a lot of questions about what other features meant to the value of enjoyment. I knew the measurements of the intended space that it would go into. I considered whether I needed more than one new television but decided that the extra television could be received over the computer.


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    • profile image

      Jesse 9 years ago

      Yes, you are correct. There is a government coupon for $40 off. Converter Box price right now are mostly raning from $45-$75.

    • Debbie Cook profile image

      Debbie Cook 10 years ago from USA

      From what I understand the digital converter boxes will cost between $40.00 and $50.00. There is speculation that the government will issue a subsidy in the form of credits or coupons for the purchase of up to 2 boxes per household that do not yet have cable or satellite television. This link has an explaination from the NTIA.

      Thanks for asking!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      How much is a digital converter box?

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 10 years ago from North Carolina

      Terrific blog, I am planning to buy HD TV soon, this article really helps. Thanks.