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What is High Definition?

Updated on April 8, 2011 / CC BY-SA 2.0 / CC BY-SA 2.0

High Definition in the Digital Age

HDTV, LCD, digital, EDTV, cable, set box, analog…the list goes on and on. How do we make sense out of all of these terms? With the closing of analog source material, it is more important then ever to educate yourself as to what these terms mean.

Most of us have made the switch to digital signals. There are still over 2 million consumers who have either decided not to switch, or are unsure of how to make the transition to all digital television. Take a look at the link below if you need some help. This past year, the government sponsored a program to assist consumers in acquiring a special converter for their analog television that would make it possible to watch programs from the new digital feeds. The old analog signals are now being used by the government.

Why digital? Digital feeds or sources can pack a ton of information into a smaller feed. It’s sort of like the computer transition. When my father was in college, one computer took up the entire basement of a college dormitory. Now, a computer can be so small that it fits in your pocket. The same transition is happening to television signals. The old version was bulky and simple. The new versions are fast and small. Because of this, digital television offers improvements such as: more information through the feed, interactive television where you can press buttons on your remote and change the specific content of a channel. An example of this would be The Weather Channel (TWC). You can press a button and an interactive module will pop up. You can input your zip code and get an exclusive forecast just for you! Another improvement that will be seen is that broadcasters can send more than one broadcast (multi) across a feed. This enables tweaking the commercials and content for a specific audience.

The last improvement is the most important one. With digital feeds the consumer has access to higher quality images called High Definition. If you have the right equipment, you can enjoy HD (High Definition) programs. The extra amount of resolution will make the image on the television look incredibly real and the audio will sound fantastic.


You must have the right equipment and services in order to enjoy HDTV. In many cases, your programs will look much worse if you assume that you can keep the same programming and equipment. Take some time to learn about HDTV and EDTV, programming packages, plasma vs. LCD, and sound equipment.

High Definition Redux

High Definition is defined as having a signal of at least 720i or 720p when discussing resolution. Most, but not all, of the programs in HD will have a 16:9 (wide) viewing screen. The ones that do not have this may have the sides cut off. Programmers either leave the sides in black, or they place pseudo-banners on them so that it looks like the entire screen is in HD. In these cases, the middle 4:3 aspect of the screen is being broadcast in HD, it's just not wide.

Be aware that you can change the aspect ratio on your television by using the remote in many cases. This does distort the picture to some extent but it may be more acceptable to watch a specific program in this manner then to see a square box in the middle of your HDTV. Remember to change it back to the normal viewing mode after you finish watching that program.

The other essential component of the new digital era, and that must be considered if you are moving into the HDTV age, is Digital Sound. Most, but not all, of the new HD programs that are broadcast will include not only an HD signal, but a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound feed. This truly makes your viewing experience much like the movie theatre. When purchasing a new Audio Receiver, make sure that there are enough ports and slots for all of your devices to fit into it. The Receiver is usually the center of your entire Home Entertainment System. Furthermore, make sure that the device can receive many different types of signals. It's somewhat complicated but it will mean that as technology changes, your device will not have to be replaced within the year!


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