What Is HDTV

Even the largest flat panel TVs are no more than 12 centimeters (about five inches) deep, and are light enough to mount on a wall.

Our friends south of the border may have to throw their TVs away in February, but Canadians get another 30 months before we have to take that step. OK, so maybe we don’t have to throw them away. But we will have to replace them or buy digital converter boxes. Starting in 2011, Canadian broadcasters will be following the lead of U.S. broadcasters, and moving from analog to digital signals.

You may be considering buying a converter box, now selling for $70-$100, to receive digital signals on your old TV. But plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) screens have supplanted the old cathode ray tube (CRT) sets for a variety of reasons:

Cost: Prices for flat panel TVs, both LCD and plasma, have plummeted. A year ago $1,000 might have bought a 32-inch flat panel TV; today you can get at least 50 inches for that price and 42-inch models are on sale for around $700. You can now pick up that 32-inch panel for $400.

Screen size: CRT screens maxed out at around 40 inches. Plasma screens start at that size and 40-inch LCD screens are common. Some flat panels now verge on 70 inches.

Bulk: Old tube sets were very deep, often 30 inches or more, and bulky, awkward and heavy. Even the largest flat panel TVs are no more than 12 centimeters (about five inches) deep, and light enough to mount on a wall. Large TVs no longer take up half the living room.

Picture quality: The new flat panel TVs are certainly sexier than the old tube sets and both plasma and LCD image quality is better. Most new screens come in widescreen aspect ratios. Combine the larger screen, HDTV and a good sound setup and you get the home equivalent of cinematic viewing.

Availability: Almost all new TVs are flat panel High Definition Televisions (HDTV). CRTs are increasingly hard to find. But if you’re willing to settle for reconditioned set, you might be able to find a bargain at a liquidators, sometimes for less than $200.

What exactly is HDTV?

The old CRT analog TVs use interlace technology and have resolution of about 480i. The number represents the number of display lines. The letter is shorthand for the technology in use: progressive scan (p) or interlaced (i).

In comparison, HDTV is one of three high resolution formats of DTV (Digital Television): 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.

An interlaced screen displays only every second display line and then goes back to display the missed lines. Progressive scan units display all lines in one pass. Less expensive sets may come with an interlaced display but the loss in picture quality may not be worth the savings.

The increased number of lines allows for better definition and higher quality.

How much better?

If Sunset Blvd. had been shot for HDTV, Gloria Swanson would have spent half the morning with her makeup artist before Norma Desmond could tell Mr. DeMille she was ready for her close up. TV actors and broadcasters now routinely wear thicker layers of makeup. Otherwise, their pores would resemble moon craters.

Now, that’s high definition.

What is Blu-Ray?

You can’t talk about new TV technology without mentioning Blu-Ray, the winner of the next generation optical disc format war against HD DVD. Think VHS versus Betamax – the old video format war – but more quickly settled. Sony, the force behind Betamax, won this time.

Blu-Ray format may eventually replace CDs and DVDs; the key difference being the color of the (blue) laser light provides higher data capacity. This higher capacity allows for high-definition images to be stored.

Blu-Ray player prices have come down dramatically over the last year, but are still in the $200-400 range. The best way to appreciate BD (as Blu-Ray discs are called) is on a large (42-inch and above) set with 1080p display resolution.

Bargain hunting

Not everyone has the wall space for a 42-inch set, or the inclination to spend $200-$400 for a Blu-Ray player. Other options include:

Many bargain priced sets come in 720p. This may be fine for sets smaller than 42 inches but sports action or BD material on larger sets either may be unsatisfactory.

Upconverters: These take standard DVDs and convert them to display on a high-definition device. On screens smaller than 42 inches, the difference can be difficult to discern from a true high-def source. Upconverters are cheap; generally less than $100 and can come as low as $60.

Combo TVs: These come with a built-in DVD player. They are a space saver and you have fewer wires to fight with. The downside? If the DVD player breaks, you have a TV with a built-in anchor. They also tend to be small: 19-22 inch models are the most common.