What you really need to know about HDTV

I see so many videoholics mouthing off about HDTV not teaching anyone what really matters that it pisses me off.

Here's some things I've learned now that I've bought my screen.

1) Size does matter. When I got my 50-inch home Maryam said two things: A) "Why did we wait so long?" (Cause you freaking wanted a stove instead of a screen!!!) B) "We should have gotten the 60 inch." (I took back the 50 inch and got the 60 and now the 60 is starting to look small). Lesson, get the biggest screen you can. Even if it's too big for your room.

2) Resolution. The marketing makes it sound like you want 1080p. The problem is nothing supports it yet. My Sony screen is 1080i. My HD-DVD is 1080i. My Xbox 360 is 1080i. The Sony camcorder Microsoft bought me is 1080i. The new Panasonic I'm getting is 1080i. And, when I went to CES I compared 1080i with 1080p and didn't see that much of a difference. Truth is if you buy a $4,000 screen you'll get 1080i today. At the end of the year you'll get 1080p (although Sony raised its prices on its "p" screens). 1080p promises a smoother image on rapidly moving content. But, 1080i is stunning. Absolutely stunning.

3) The DVD player you have matters. My Xbox has a DVD built in. But my HD-DVD is much sharper, even when playing regular old DVDs. Why? It has a better "scalar" built in. Make sure your is a scaling DVD. Go onto the forums and do some homework.  

4) Look at the resolution of your screen. Most stores only show low res HD on their screens. It makes all the screens look good, even cheaper ones. But, get them home and only screens that truly support 1080i or 1080p look good. My screen blows away most that my friends have. But in the stores they look about the same. Be careful buying stuff just by what it looks like in the stores.  You want one that says it supports at least 1920×1080 native resolution. Like the one I bought

5) Be prepared to be in debt. My screen? $3,799 at Best Buy. My HD-DVD? $500. My Xbox? $400. Cables and accessories? At least $300. Make sure you price shop even AFTER you buy your screen. I saved $600 by walking into Best Buy 29 days after I bought my screen to check the price.

6) Be prepared to be frustrated over lack of content. Comcast in Seattle area is pretty good — I hear it's a lot worse in most parts of the world. But, you'll find yourself watching the stupidest things simply because they are pretty. Like Discovery Channel's Sunrise Show.

7) Learn about cables. My TV has two HDMI connectors. I needed to get a new cable for my Xbox that supported HDTV (Xbox doesn't yet support HDMI, which makes me wonder if they'll come out with a new version soon that will). I had to get a new cable for my Comcast Cable box (it supports HDMI, which looks a lot nicer than the other kinds of cable I was using previous to getting the HDTV). Also my HD-DVD came with an HDMI cable.

8) Get surround sound and spend some money on your audio equipment. I already had a great surround sound system so didn't need to worry about it. But, lots of my friends don't have surround sound systems and it really makes a difference. Even moreso with a good HD set. I don't know why, but regular TV sounds a LOT nicer on my new TV than on my old one, even though my audio equipment hasn't changed. The audio tuner in the new TV is a LOT better and supports surround sound much better.

What else should people worry about HD?  

Comments

  1. Geesh, of all the edge-case things to go ballistic over…take a Valium or two.

    1. Bigger always better? Good thing you never went into Architecture. Time, place, fitting and situation for everything.

    2. Both 1080i and 1080p are overkill. Both now, and in the future. Nice to have, but still overkill.

    3. The DVD player you have matters. Yes, in 5 years, as by the time the format wars are done (technically already, BluRay won) trivial to create hybrids. But for Toshiba and your damn Microsoft playing spoiled brat, we’d be closer.

    4. Oh great, tell that to average consumer, look for the 1920×1080 one. Just wait a bit, will all settle itself out.

    5. Debt? For the edge-cases, but it’s too expensive and too early for the masses. Several thousand dollars for merely for better picture quality? On what planet?

    6. Lack of content, yup. Wait 5 years or so. Pretty? Vivid and over-white, can be quite unnatural. Even the prosumers blacken and contrast HD and warm film tone it down. What you think is HD sometimes, isn’t quite.

    7. Duh. You gonna explain that to Grandma then?

    8. More in debt, eh?

  2. Geesh, of all the edge-case things to go ballistic over…take a Valium or two.

    1. Bigger always better? Good thing you never went into Architecture. Time, place, fitting and situation for everything.

    2. Both 1080i and 1080p are overkill. Both now, and in the future. Nice to have, but still overkill.

    3. The DVD player you have matters. Yes, in 5 years, as by the time the format wars are done (technically already, BluRay won) trivial to create hybrids. But for Toshiba and your damn Microsoft playing spoiled brat, we’d be closer.

    4. Oh great, tell that to average consumer, look for the 1920×1080 one. Just wait a bit, will all settle itself out.

    5. Debt? For the edge-cases, but it’s too expensive and too early for the masses. Several thousand dollars for merely for better picture quality? On what planet?

    6. Lack of content, yup. Wait 5 years or so. Pretty? Vivid and over-white, can be quite unnatural. Even the prosumers blacken and contrast HD and warm film tone it down. What you think is HD sometimes, isn’t quite.

    7. Duh. You gonna explain that to Grandma then?

    8. More in debt, eh?

  3. Cables should be #1.
    Bought gone in 60 seconds when it came out on DVD
    20 bucks ’bout 12 years ago
    bought DVD player
    bought cables
    Bought surround sound box
    bought cables
    TV wouldn’t support cables
    buy new TV with connectors
    bought more cables
    3 grand in toys and 200 bucks in cables
    good stuff! the bass response made you want to watch movies close to the bathroom, scare the hell out of the pets.

    The components never match, cabinets and shelving collect dust and cobwebs, and you need a place to store all those extra cables you bought.

    I think I will wait until they bring back the home entertainment center with all the toys built in.

  4. Cables should be #1.
    Bought gone in 60 seconds when it came out on DVD
    20 bucks ’bout 12 years ago
    bought DVD player
    bought cables
    Bought surround sound box
    bought cables
    TV wouldn’t support cables
    buy new TV with connectors
    bought more cables
    3 grand in toys and 200 bucks in cables
    good stuff! the bass response made you want to watch movies close to the bathroom, scare the hell out of the pets.

    The components never match, cabinets and shelving collect dust and cobwebs, and you need a place to store all those extra cables you bought.

    I think I will wait until they bring back the home entertainment center with all the toys built in.

  5. Chris, glad to see you’re consistent.

    I might be in debt, but I’ve never made a more satisfying purchase. It’s even better than the BMW I got Maryam. Yes, if you had a gun to my head and made me choose I’d pick HDTV over a nicer car.

  6. Chris, glad to see you’re consistent.

    I might be in debt, but I’ve never made a more satisfying purchase. It’s even better than the BMW I got Maryam. Yes, if you had a gun to my head and made me choose I’d pick HDTV over a nicer car.

  7. “What else should people worry about HD?”

    You should worry about what the cable companies are doing to the HD signal. I recently went on a SMPTE tour of ESPN’s HD production facilities, and one of the concerns of both the presenters and the attendees is that broadcasters spend a lot of time tuning their HD programs, only to watch as the cable companies add lossy compression so they can jam more channels on their pipe.

    I haven’t had the chance to compare an OTA HD signal with a cable signal, but some of the attendees at the tour (who were used to watch ESPN HD on Comcast) remarked on the difference during some HD demos.

  8. “What else should people worry about HD?”

    You should worry about what the cable companies are doing to the HD signal. I recently went on a SMPTE tour of ESPN’s HD production facilities, and one of the concerns of both the presenters and the attendees is that broadcasters spend a lot of time tuning their HD programs, only to watch as the cable companies add lossy compression so they can jam more channels on their pipe.

    I haven’t had the chance to compare an OTA HD signal with a cable signal, but some of the attendees at the tour (who were used to watch ESPN HD on Comcast) remarked on the difference during some HD demos.

  9. Herb: yeah, that’s a big problem. What did they recommend viewing on instead?

    By the way, I wonder why Discovery Channel HD looks better than most of the other channels?

  10. Herb: yeah, that’s a big problem. What did they recommend viewing on instead?

    By the way, I wonder why Discovery Channel HD looks better than most of the other channels?

  11. Oy. I really really try not to read about HDTV because it gives me a headache like nothing else does. All these different resolutions.

    What really irks me is that I can NEVER be sure what I’m seeing in a store that’s being touted as HD. Is it 720 or 1080?

    As far as HD over cable goes, here in NYC Time Warner digital cable is not the most reliable delivery system for *standard* MPEGged imagery. Sometimes images look like 8-bit depth! And I would expect them to cheat with their premium HD delivery too!

    If 1080p is the Grail for fast-moving stuff, could you tell us what you’ve been watching in 1080i that has fast imagery and how you found it to be?

    I’m glad I’m not eager to jump into this. Right now, my sights are limited to what PMP to get — and hoping Jobs will kick out that True Video iPod so my decision will be easy.

  12. Oy. I really really try not to read about HDTV because it gives me a headache like nothing else does. All these different resolutions.

    What really irks me is that I can NEVER be sure what I’m seeing in a store that’s being touted as HD. Is it 720 or 1080?

    As far as HD over cable goes, here in NYC Time Warner digital cable is not the most reliable delivery system for *standard* MPEGged imagery. Sometimes images look like 8-bit depth! And I would expect them to cheat with their premium HD delivery too!

    If 1080p is the Grail for fast-moving stuff, could you tell us what you’ve been watching in 1080i that has fast imagery and how you found it to be?

    I’m glad I’m not eager to jump into this. Right now, my sights are limited to what PMP to get — and hoping Jobs will kick out that True Video iPod so my decision will be easy.

  13. Apart from good speaker wire, which you should spend money on, there is no reason to waste money on HDMI cables. Monoprice.com has eminently cheap HDMI cables (~$10) that are just as good as some overpriced monster cable for $100 and you hear nothing but positive monoprice stories on avs forums. After all, the thickness of a digital cable is almost meaningless.

    As far as your comment on surround sound, you are spot on. My roommate made the mistake of saying he’d get an awesome stereo if I bought an HD. Well, I did and he picked up a very nice Onkyo receiver. In anycase, the sound is better better because your HD content is being delivered with Dolby Digital sound. Getting Dolby working is key.

    First, you need to be sure you are using optical audio cables (again, another digital to digital cable that you don’t need to overspend on). Then be sure to hook the digital audio cables directly from the component into the stereo receiver. I at first made the mistake of trying to plug all the digital audio cables first into the back of the TV and then just have one digital audio cable to the stereo. It turned out my TV wasn’t properly passing on the Dolby info to the stereo.

    With it all set up you’ve got end-to-end digital for both audio and video (well, except for the speaker wire) and you are ready to melt your friend’s faces. I highly recommend catching Episode III on HBO HD with this all set up (just be sure to turn the volume down whenever there is dialogue … Dolby can’t fix that).

  14. Apart from good speaker wire, which you should spend money on, there is no reason to waste money on HDMI cables. Monoprice.com has eminently cheap HDMI cables (~$10) that are just as good as some overpriced monster cable for $100 and you hear nothing but positive monoprice stories on avs forums. After all, the thickness of a digital cable is almost meaningless.

    As far as your comment on surround sound, you are spot on. My roommate made the mistake of saying he’d get an awesome stereo if I bought an HD. Well, I did and he picked up a very nice Onkyo receiver. In anycase, the sound is better better because your HD content is being delivered with Dolby Digital sound. Getting Dolby working is key.

    First, you need to be sure you are using optical audio cables (again, another digital to digital cable that you don’t need to overspend on). Then be sure to hook the digital audio cables directly from the component into the stereo receiver. I at first made the mistake of trying to plug all the digital audio cables first into the back of the TV and then just have one digital audio cable to the stereo. It turned out my TV wasn’t properly passing on the Dolby info to the stereo.

    With it all set up you’ve got end-to-end digital for both audio and video (well, except for the speaker wire) and you are ready to melt your friend’s faces. I highly recommend catching Episode III on HBO HD with this all set up (just be sure to turn the volume down whenever there is dialogue … Dolby can’t fix that).

  15. “What did they recommend viewing on instead?”

    Over-the-air if you can get it, but for cable channels, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever you get from your satellite or cable provider.

  16. “What did they recommend viewing on instead?”

    Over-the-air if you can get it, but for cable channels, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever you get from your satellite or cable provider.

  17. Hmm…WRT price & debt, I got a 1080i 55″ rear-projection TV for closer to $1500, and an upscaling DVD player for closer to $200.

    If you live in an apartment or condo, I suppose forking over the cash for a thin screen might be worth it, but if you are willing to have an 18″-24″ deep TV, you can save a lot of cash.

    I’m sitting out on the BluRay/HD DVD bit for a while. My current guess is that I’ll get the PS3 w/BluRay.

    My biggest wish is for a TiVo with Comcast HD support – right how I have the 2 tuner Comcast HD box, which is pretty clunky.

  18. Hmm…WRT price & debt, I got a 1080i 55″ rear-projection TV for closer to $1500, and an upscaling DVD player for closer to $200.

    If you live in an apartment or condo, I suppose forking over the cash for a thin screen might be worth it, but if you are willing to have an 18″-24″ deep TV, you can save a lot of cash.

    I’m sitting out on the BluRay/HD DVD bit for a while. My current guess is that I’ll get the PS3 w/BluRay.

    My biggest wish is for a TiVo with Comcast HD support – right how I have the 2 tuner Comcast HD box, which is pretty clunky.

  19. Scoble,

    There is a better way. Keep in mind that all these display technologies keep changing (and keep getting cheaper) every single year. If you have spent $4000 on a screen, you are probably stuck with it for a long time. On the other hand, I’m sure you will have much better screen with more features next year with lesser price tag. So you could as well have bought $1200 TV which isn’t absolutely best but comes very close and threw it away next year getting another TV for another $1200 and so on. This way, ofcourse, you don’t have the sharpest picture in the town but your TV set wouldn’t have become obsolete piece of junk after 2 years. Now, if you are VP, well you wouldn’t care about spending out $4000 every other year and buying the bleeding edge thing ;).

  20. Scoble,

    There is a better way. Keep in mind that all these display technologies keep changing (and keep getting cheaper) every single year. If you have spent $4000 on a screen, you are probably stuck with it for a long time. On the other hand, I’m sure you will have much better screen with more features next year with lesser price tag. So you could as well have bought $1200 TV which isn’t absolutely best but comes very close and threw it away next year getting another TV for another $1200 and so on. This way, ofcourse, you don’t have the sharpest picture in the town but your TV set wouldn’t have become obsolete piece of junk after 2 years. Now, if you are VP, well you wouldn’t care about spending out $4000 every other year and buying the bleeding edge thing ;).

  21. Shital: if we went through paradigm shifts every two years you’d be right. But we aren’t. HDTV is NOT going to change beyond 1080p. And the difference between 1080i and 1080p isn’t big enough for me (I looked at CES closely at all these screens).

    So, my set will be adequately state of the art for five years. Next year’s screens have already been announced and they didn’t bring enough new stuff to avoid jumping in.

    On the other hand the difference between a $1,500 set and a $4,000 one is EXTREME. Not even close.

    So, I’d rather spend the money up front and get what I wanted all along rather than hope that next year the prices will be lower.

    Either way, if you get a $1,500 set it’s a LOT better than standard TV.

  22. Shital: if we went through paradigm shifts every two years you’d be right. But we aren’t. HDTV is NOT going to change beyond 1080p. And the difference between 1080i and 1080p isn’t big enough for me (I looked at CES closely at all these screens).

    So, my set will be adequately state of the art for five years. Next year’s screens have already been announced and they didn’t bring enough new stuff to avoid jumping in.

    On the other hand the difference between a $1,500 set and a $4,000 one is EXTREME. Not even close.

    So, I’d rather spend the money up front and get what I wanted all along rather than hope that next year the prices will be lower.

    Either way, if you get a $1,500 set it’s a LOT better than standard TV.

  23. It isn’t about the resolution, but more the source and compression. I’ve seen 720p that looks better than almost all 1080i content out there. Remember, 1080i is really just 540p with some extra horizontal resolution. Typically, 1080i is lower quality than 720p due to bitrate issues with mpeg2 which is much less efficient at interlaced video than progressive video. Slow moving drama’s or nature shows may look better in 1080i, but as soon as the motion kicks up, the quality looks much worse than a dvd. I see this all the time on CBS and especially NBC. I remember seeing matrix revolutions on satellite and the whole rain scene at the end looked horrible, much worse than dvd.

    My two cents are you want to find a TV that can hide the signs of bitrate starvation almost that all HD signals have. The bigger the TV, the easier it is to see these artifacts.

    In summary, the quality of the content is more important than the TV. However, a good TV can help mask some of these problems.

  24. It isn’t about the resolution, but more the source and compression. I’ve seen 720p that looks better than almost all 1080i content out there. Remember, 1080i is really just 540p with some extra horizontal resolution. Typically, 1080i is lower quality than 720p due to bitrate issues with mpeg2 which is much less efficient at interlaced video than progressive video. Slow moving drama’s or nature shows may look better in 1080i, but as soon as the motion kicks up, the quality looks much worse than a dvd. I see this all the time on CBS and especially NBC. I remember seeing matrix revolutions on satellite and the whole rain scene at the end looked horrible, much worse than dvd.

    My two cents are you want to find a TV that can hide the signs of bitrate starvation almost that all HD signals have. The bigger the TV, the easier it is to see these artifacts.

    In summary, the quality of the content is more important than the TV. However, a good TV can help mask some of these problems.

  25. Media Centers NOT ready for primetime

    The Inquirer reports that Media Center doesn’t sell. In Great Britain, only 150 000 have bought a Media Center PC, while over 2 million have bought a DVD recorders.
    Although the comparison is a bit unfair (DVD recorders are much cheaper, and also…

  26. Mmm. I want a HDTV. I want a HD-DVD or Bluray. Mmm.
    I can’t belive I don’t have a HDTV yet.
    With great surround sound.

    After all I watch an ridiculus (well, not for me) amount of movies all the time.

    I remember working a whole summer when I was a kid to save up for my first DVD player.
    It was a magical experience.

    I need to get my hands on a HD set as soon as possible.

    But Robert, I think it will drive you crazy that you didn’t get the 1080p while you were at it. Even if it just will become a tiny miny better, it still will be just a little better and you will want it, you will obsess over it, you will get it.

    André Hedetoft
    Movie-geek
    Blogging about geek porn over at
    http://www.andrehedetoft.com/geekporn

  27. Mmm. I want a HDTV. I want a HD-DVD or Bluray. Mmm.
    I can’t belive I don’t have a HDTV yet.
    With great surround sound.

    After all I watch an ridiculus (well, not for me) amount of movies all the time.

    I remember working a whole summer when I was a kid to save up for my first DVD player.
    It was a magical experience.

    I need to get my hands on a HD set as soon as possible.

    But Robert, I think it will drive you crazy that you didn’t get the 1080p while you were at it. Even if it just will become a tiny miny better, it still will be just a little better and you will want it, you will obsess over it, you will get it.

    André Hedetoft
    Movie-geek
    Blogging about geek porn over at
    http://www.andrehedetoft.com/geekporn

  28. so many people are still uninformed about the right way to set up their hdtv that most of the time they aren’t watching high-def at all. perhaps the confusion about cables are a big part of it, but if they don’t have any idea about setting up their home theater systems, they better get an expert to do it. i think this is an even more important issue than choosing a screen size and display technology. what’s the use of shelling out thousands of bucks if you won’t get your money’s worth?

  29. so many people are still uninformed about the right way to set up their hdtv that most of the time they aren’t watching high-def at all. perhaps the confusion about cables are a big part of it, but if they don’t have any idea about setting up their home theater systems, they better get an expert to do it. i think this is an even more important issue than choosing a screen size and display technology. what’s the use of shelling out thousands of bucks if you won’t get your money’s worth?