High Definition – What’s All The Hype?

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When was the last time you picked up your phone and called the Satellite or Cable company to request service?  In the old days we simply gave them our billing information and the address we want service installed to and we were off and running … as soon as an installation technician could get his or her busy little body to your house.

Now?  There are many more considerations – most of which affect your wallet:  HD, HBO, DVR, HDDVR … HUH?  Most cable and satellite companies charge extra for upgraded services such as High Definition channels, Premium channels, and the ability to record what you’re not home to watch.

While most of us know whether or not we want to spend the bucks on those premium channels, those other groups of letters are as much gibberish to some of us as a teenager’s text message.

So just what is the difference between High Definition (HD) broadcasts or channels and the regular stuff we’ve been watching all our lives?

The Primary Differences Are:

Better Picture – HD channels offer better picture quality by up to 10 times that of regular channels.  The colors are brighter, and the picture is much more crisp and detailed.

Better Sound – HD broadcasts feature Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  This allows us to watch our movies and other programs with sound that is truer to life.

Higher Aspect Ratio – Ok, there’s another term we may not be familiar with.  Basically it means that, while regular TV is broadcast in a ratio of 4×3, HDTV is broadcast in an aspect ratio of 16×9.  This means you will have to get used to the fact that it broadcasts movies in the wider format they were originally filmed in and shown at the theaters. The good news is that, for movies, you’ll be able to see the action going on at the edges which is cropped off in an RD broadcast.

Of course, our ability to take advantage of all these upgrades doesn’t only depend on our satellite or cable provider – it depends on our upgraded television as well.  Speaking of new TV’s – what do all those little numbers mean on the box (720p, 1080i, 1080p)?

High Definition TV is broadcast in three different formats – 720p, 1080i, and 1080p.  The number refers to the number of lines which are being transmitted to your TV.  The letter refers to the way your TV scans that information:  “i” stands for interlaced, which means the lines are scanned one at a time, one after the other.  This scan occurs every 1/60th of a second; “p” stands for progressive, which means the same lines are being scanned by your TV constantly.  This scan occurs every 1/30th of a second.

Because there are so many lines being transmitted, and this information is being refreshed at such a fast rate there is no difference in these methods visible to the consumer.  However, without a TV capable of receiving and interpreting all of this information, we cannot take advantage of High Def transmissions.

What about Digital Broadcasts?

Recently a move was made to switch all local broadcasts from analog to digital, which is supposed to give us better picture quality.  It seems a reasonable leap for many of us to think that this is the same as HDTV.  It’s not.

While all HDTV is digital, not all digital TV is HD.  Clear as mud?

A Digital signal is one that is being transmitted in 1’s and 0’s – this accounts for the clearer and more reliable picture we experience over analog transmissions.  HD broadcasts, however, contain up to 10 times more data than a simple Digital signal.  Think about filling a 1-inch square with dots.  In an analog transmission it may take only 100 large dots to fill the square.  In an HD transmission, smaller dots are used – perhaps 1000 – to fill the same square.  Imagine how much more clear the picture would be.

Worth the Expense? 

Now that you know what the difference is between digital and High Def, and understand what these new TV’s are actually doing with each signal – it’s time to decide what you want from your television viewing experience.

One thing is for sure – a picture viewed in High Def on an HDTV just pops.  The colors are brilliant and the picture seems to stand out at you, almost as if it is 3D somehow.  I’m betting that once you’ve seen it you’ll be hooked.

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