THE TRUTH ABOUT HDTV
TV holds a very dear place in my heart. Growing up, I saw more of my TV than my parents. When I was stationed overseas, none of my family wrote me letters, but TV was there for me. When I get home from work, and I’ve had a bad day, I can always plop down on the couch and find something to watch on TV. Yes, TV has always, and will always, be there for me.
You’d think I would be thrilled about the switch to Digital TV coming up this summer. But I can’t stand all the lies being thrown at gullible consumers, about my best friend.
First off, let me assure you, despite HH Gregg’s annoying commercials, your trusty old Analog TV is not going to “blitz off” this summer, when analog broadcasts stop.
While I’m at it, I’d like to also point out that you should never, ever buy HDMI cables from an electronics store. Go home and order them online- you’ll pay about 25% of store cost, and get a better cable.
And finally, a TV isn’t really “HD” unless it can output a 1080p picture. Read the fine print. Don’t get suckered into buying a 720p.
If you’re thoroughly confused at this point, keep reading. If you know what I’m talking about, go help a friend instead of spending more time on this article.
DIGITAL VS. ANALOG
Up until now, TV in America has been broadcast on the analog standard. I won’t get into the highly technical definition of what that means. I’ll simplify it. When a record player scratches a vinyl record with a needle, sound vibrations are converted into electrical impulses. That’s analog. When your computer is hooked up to a microphone, it converts the electrical impulses from a microphone into a computer code. That’s digital.
When television stations stop broadcasting in analog, your TV will not shut off. It’ll show snow (static)- just like if you turn to a channel now that there’s no broadcast on. But that doesn’t mean your TV is no longer capable of receiving a picture- it just means no one is going to be broadcasting one (in analog).
Have a VCR? A DVD player? A satellite or cable receiver? All of those items will still emit an analog signal, over cables connected to your TV. You’ll still get a picture. You won’t need a DTV converter, or an HDTV.
Remember when DVDs came out? The picture was so much clearer than a VHS tape or even broadcast TV. That’s because DVDs have a higher resolution. Resolution refers to the pixels on your set. Your TV displays a picture by means of thousands of teeny, tiny colored dots- pixels. Like the road side hazard signs, but on a much tinier scale. The smaller the dots on your screen, and the more there are of them, the finer the picture looks. Kind of like drawing with a crayon, vs. drawing with a pencil.
Broadcast TV has a resolution of 128,400 pixels on the screen. Most analog, picture-tube TVs however could display as many as 307,200 pixels. DVDs output a picture closer to the 300,000 pixels than broadcast TV- explaining why they look so much better.
HDTV has a picture composed of 3,000,000 pixels. Quite a difference.
HDTV’s are defined by two standards, 720i/720p, or 1080i/1080p. Those numbers are a measure of the vertical lines of resolution. Less lines means less pixels. A 720p TV, while being sold for the same price as some 1080p’s, DOES NOT have the same picture quality. Please don’t be tricked into thinking otherwise.
NOTE: The “i” and “p” is a reference to interlaced and “progressive scan” and is a technical TV term dating from the days of analog TV. Basically, if a picture is 480 lines high, the interlaced version shows 240 spaced lines in odd-numbered frames, and the other 240 frames on even-numbered frames, there being 30 frames displayed per second on television, creating the illusion of movement for your eye. Progressive scan shows you all 480 lines for each of the 30 frames per second, resulting in a finer picture.
(On a side note, bear in mind that on a 13″ TV, those pixels are going to be smaller than on a 42″ TV. A smaller TV then will have a finer, smoother-looking picture than a large TV)
DON’T OVERPAY FOR CABLES
Anytime you shop for a new HDTV, you’re going to be harassed about buying an HDMI cable. Don’t let your eyes glaze over and don’t cave in to pressure.
Those red, white and yellow cables your first VCR used are called “composite” cables. The yellow cable carries a video signal, and the red and white carry audio signals.
When S-Video (Super Video) came out, the yellow cable was replaced with a black cable full of several tiny pins. The video cable was now split up and was capable of producing a better, higher resolution image.
Component cables look just like composite, consisting of a red and white audio lines, and red, green and blue video cables. Component cables can carry stunning 720i/p and 1080i images.
But not 1080p.
See, when all the electronics companies got together to work out sharing the technology of HDTV, they agreed that true 1080p images would only be sent out over HDMI cables- a digital, computery-looking cable. HDMI carries picture and digital audio. No analog involved. This results in superior audio and video, and allows you to fully enjoy the HDTV experience. And you can’t record over HDMI connections.
The problem with HDMI is that the cables are sold in stores for 4 times what they can be bought online. Yes, FOUR (4) times. Or more.
Take the average 6-foot HDMI cable for your new 1080p TV. At Bestbuy, it’ll run you $39.99.
However, any number of websites will sell you a superior cable, for less. My favorite online store, Monoprice.com, sells a gold-plated, 6-foot HDMI cable for $3.56 +shipping.
Now, you can get more expensive cables at Bestbuy. You can also buy higher quality cables at Monoprice.com. But the cheapest, crappiest cable at Bestbuy is still far more than the best cable Monoprice has to offer.
It’s a racket. It makes McDonald’s profit margin on french fries look tame.
Moral of the story: before you part with your hard-earned cash to enjoy the wonderous beauty of my bestest friend TV, please do just a little reading. The money you could save could be put toward a lot of snacks, something every good couch potato needs.