What is High-Definition Television (HDTV)?

High-Definition Television(HDTV) broadcast is either already available or coming soon in many parts of the World. Next generation video discs (HD DVD and Blu-ray) offering high definition video have been available since 2006. Obviously, to enjoy the benefits of these new high definition video formats, you will need to buy a new high definition video TV/display to replace you old standard definition TV/display.

There is a lot of confusion amongst consumer as to what “type” of new TV/display that they should buy. This is partly because there are a lot of new and sometimes misleading terminology with HDTV. Most sales-person are also not very knowledgeable themselves and often gave totally wrong information or advice to their customers. I hope to make it simpler for anyone who is looking to buy a new high-definition TV/display.

Firstly, you will have to understand what is meant by high definition(HD) TV or video. High definition obviously means that the resolution is higher than the previous generation of standard definition(SD) TV or video. Your existing SD TV has a resolution of 640 x 480(NTSC) or 768 × 576(PAL). There are 2 high-definition resolutions in use, 1280 x 720(720p) and 1920 x 1080(1080i and 1080p).

Now let’s do the fun part and I’ll try to explain all the confusion and craze in the high definition world.

1. The first thing that a lot of people get confused about is the difference between “digital” TV and high-resolution TV. All modern high-definition TV/display are based on digital technology (LCD, plasma, DLP, LCOS), but it does not mean all digital TV/displays are high-definition. There are many digital TV/display available now that only has standard definition resolution.

2. The typical specification sheet of a digital display will contain a daunting amount of information and figures, most of them will look pretty meaningless or confusing to an average consumer, but the most important thing you need to look at to see if it is a true high definition display is the native resolution of the display. If it has a resolution of at least 1280 x 720 or larger, then it is a true high-definition display. The common native display resolutions you will see that are high-definition include 1280 x 720, 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080. A common resolution used by plasma display is 1024 x 768, some people will consider this as a true high-definition resolution, but note that although this resolution has a vertical resolution that qualifies as true high definition (exceeds 720), but the horizontal resolution is less than the minimum accepted high definition resolution of 1280.

3. An HD display(720p) usually refers to a display with native resolution of 1280 x720.

4. A “Full HD”(1080p) display refers to a display with native resolution of 1920 x 1080.

5. Avoid display with terms like “HDTV compatible” or HDTV ready”. These displays usually only have native resolution that is only standard definition like 720 x 480. They are said to be “HDTV compatible” or HDTV ready” because they can accept a high definition signal like 720p, 1080i or 1080p and will be able to display these signals. However, these high definition signal will be scaled down to the native display resolution of 720 x 480, so in essence, the high definition signal will be converted into a standard resolution signal and you lose most of the benefit of the original high definition signal.

In a follow up article, I will discuss whether you need to get a Full HD display or whether a lower resolution 720p display will be good enough.


8 thoughts on “What is High-Definition Television (HDTV)?

  1. Pingback: HDTV Central » Blog Archive » 1 6 $$7 17 [HDTV ]

  2. Hi Al,

    The physical resolution of HDTV is the same everywhere in the world. But the transmission technology and the refresh rate are different.

    So an HDTV with built-in tuner for USA will not be able to receive HDTV transmission in UK unless you buy an external HDTV tuner for UK. The refresh rate is 60hz in USA and 50hz in UK, so long as the HDTV bought in USA can also support 1080i50, it will work in UK with an external HDTV tuner.

  3. So let me make sure I understand this…I own a Westinghouse 1080P 42″ 1080P Monitor (Has no tuners at all) I live in the US – but I am moving to ireland – I Know the TV is rated 110/220v 50-60hz – If I take this with me and get one of the cable boxes over there it will work fine?

    From what i understand it is the tuner not the actual tv that is either PAL or NTSC is this correct?

    Finding this info out has been very difficult – even westinghouse would not give me a straight answer. they said it MAY work – not that it would…

    Thanks in advance for any responses given here…

  4. Ok, I am moving to the UK in a couple of months. I have a Panasonic HD Projection TV. I checked the compatible refresh rates and it says 59.7 – 60. Does this mean that it wouldn’t work in the UK with their HD system?

    From the blogs it would seem that I wouldn’t be able to use my TV over there but I just wanted to make sure before I sell it or something. Thanks!

  5. Re taking the plunge with BLu ray or HD DVD: I think Cnet summed things up well in asking people to stay put and wait out the format war. I’ve read somwhere that there’s no difference between a regular DVD on a player to a movie in HD format played on a Blu ray player and shown on a full-HD 1080 LCD screen with an HDMI connection.
    Anyway, here’s my toast to 07’s innovators, not the least among them Oppo’s DVDs, for the region-free DV-970HD hovering near $150. But it was the Oppo DV-981HD that
    and ConsumerSearch.com were in agreement with.
    dvd players reviews

  6. Hi Hearthealth,

    Actually, there is a huge difference in image quality between Bluray or HD DVD compared to SD(standard definition) DVD. If you haven’t seen either Bluray or HD DVD yet on an HD display, you owe it to yourself to go out and experience it. The image quality of Bluray or HD DVD will be even more apparent on a large display Watch them on a 720p or 1080p projector, the image quality would take your breath away, better than over 90% of commercial cinemas IMHO.

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