BitDepth 657 - December 09

Should you finally consider buying a high definition television?
Is it time for HDTV?

Sony's Bravia KDL-55-46XBR8 is more HDTV than most can afford. This premium set retails for just under US$5,000. Photo courtesy Sony.

In February 2009, US broadcasters are required by Federal law to switch over the air broadcasts to digital signals. Analog televisions will simply stop working. That's going to cause some righteous bacchanal in the states, even with all the advertising for digital converters over the last year and a half, but the ripple effect the change will have on television sales is worth factoring in if you plan to upgrade your television set anytime soon.
This fundamental shift in the way that television is broadcast will probably ring a final death knell for cathode ray tube (CRT) sets, which have been hanging on in stores by virtue of lower cost for the last five years or so.

Digital broadcasting will pave the way for more high definition broadcasts and those signals only really spring to life on LCD and plasma displays designed to handle the dramatic increase in signal volume that HD tosses up on the screen.
Add to that the slow resurgence of BluRay, still to fully recover from a bruising war with HD-DVD that left customers skittish for almost two years and the numbers seem to indicate that it's time to start thinking about hooking that CRT set up to the children's Playstation.

What's in HD?
Flow currently offers six news and public affairs channels in high definition format and plans to add 20 more channels by the end of the first quarter of 2009. DirecTV will add HD options early in 2009, leading off with HBO, their MovieCity package and the Discovery Channel. Both companies require subscribers to upgrade to their Digital Video Recorder (DVR) options and to purchase HD packages.
HDTV buyers will discover a new world of confusing specifications. Expect to have indecipherable numbers flung at you by salespersons who may have only a nodding acquaintance with their real meaning.

And then there's your own tastes in movie viewing.
Let's be blunt, if you prefer to get your movies from a pirate vendor, you don't need HDTV. You actually don't need anything much larger than a 14 inch television to play back those discs, which are often burned from heavily compressed data files found on the Internet.
The files that movie pirates work from start at around 320 pixels wide and are compressed heavily, far more than the data on a typical DVD, which delivers 720 pixels to your screen.
If you have a large legal DVD collection and want to upgrade your viewing experience, most current DVD players have an upscaling option that digitally multiplies the pixel count of your existing discs to fill your big flat screen.
If you bought your player in the last year or so, it may already have the function built in. It isn't BluRay, but it buys you some time to recover from the cost of a good HDTV.

Picking the set
Most folks looking at a new flat panel television think about the physical size of the set, but the numbers you really should to be paying attention to describe resolution that the panel is capable of displaying
So far, the only dimensions that I've noted measure the width of the picture, but HDTV numbers refer to the height of the image. HDTV buyers will find a world of difference between "i" and "p."
HDTV's that sport a 1080i specification use a nonstandard format, 1280 pixels wide by 1080 pixels high. That's roughly the same 4:3 specification of standard TV and these sets use non-square pixels. They should carry an "HD Ready" label and will deliver acceptable images, but they aren't true HD.

The most desirable HDTVs support 1080p, a true widescreen, high definition picture at 1980 x 1080 pixels, in the movie standard 16:9 format. If you want to futureproof your considerable investment in high definition playback, this is the set you'll want to budget for.
For those willing to ignore the Prime Minister's advice to save, Standard Distributors offers a premium 52 inch model from the Sony Bravia line, the KDL-52S4100 for TT$23,000.
This 1080p HDTV supports multiple connections via HDMI, a new connection required for the quadrupled dataflow from HD capable set top boxes and BluRay players as well as connections allowing input from suitably equipped computers.
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