I guess since I heard of high definition television I’ve wanted to get it. It bothered me that Europe was able to enjoy higher definition broadcasts than the US because the US adopted a standard earlier. The prices on the TV’s have been too high though and I was fine with my $250 25 inch TV.
But then I bought a DVD player which held the promise of Dolby Digital surround sound and resolution so fine that your TV couldn’t even display it. My crappy old 25 inch TV didn’t even have S-video input, let alone separate connections for red, yellow, and green.
So I bought the surround sound system a few years ago and when my old DVD player died on me I replaced it with a “progressive scan” model that could read all of the detail on a DVD, not just skim the detail like a standard player (all of it moot if you don’t have HDTV anyway).
Prices of HDTV’s came down close to my price range and Mom said I should get whatever I wanted. Susan seconded it (but I think she coveted my old TV). And, after doing some research, I wound up with a 51″ Sony widescreen projection TV.
First, HDTV isn’t even really available. Apparently it is broadcast over the air, but you have to be able to get a clear signal (even with an antenna in the attic I don’t get good regular reception) and then buy a $400 decoder to get the signal to your HDTV-enabled TV (some HDTV’s have the decoder built in; they cost about $400 more with much less selection; however the FCC is mandating all HDTV’s have built-in decoders in 2006).
I have Dish satellite service which has all of one HDTV channel (CBS) in the basic package (there are HDTV versions of Showtime and others that you can pay extra for). Plus you have to have a separate satellite dish and decoder box (about $500). But because of that high resolution, my favorite feature of Dish, the Tivo-like personal video recording hard drive that holds 40 hours and records as you watch, isn’t available in combination with the HDTV receiver. So there still isn’t much reason to get HDTV to watch TV broadcasts.
DVD’s aren’t really high definition either. Even though they have more definition than a standard TV they don’t have as much as HDTV. There are even some “enhanced definition” TV’s out there that will play at the DVD level, but aren’t HDTV.
Still, about the only reason to get HDTV now is to watch DVD’s which I do a lot of now that I have Netflix, plus I have a decent collection at home.
Once you decide to get HDTV you have to decide if you want standard or widescreen models. Standard fits a 4×3 TV screen, widescreen fits 16×9 formats that movies use. I wanted widescreen so I wouldn’t have to watch my DVD’s in letterbox. Plus the HDTV standard is widescreen.
Then you have to decide the type of screen. You can get a conventional tube with a maximum size of about 36 inches in widescreen. Or you can go to projection which gets up to 63 inches. Or you can get the smaller LCD screens which are oversized laptop screens but aren’t more than 25 inches. Or you can get the fancy plasma thin panels that are big but are $6,000 or more. I didn’t want the little LCD’s. And if I got a tube I’d want something kind of big like a 36 inch tube. Tubes have the best detail and seem to be the most reliable. But a widescreen 36″ tube would display a 4:3 TV image the same size as a conventional 31″ TV. So you kind of get ripped off there. Plus I would have needed a new stand which would cost. Smaller projection TV’s were about the same price as the big tubes but one I saw had a matching stand about 15 inches high that was $250. The 51″ projection was so big it just stands on the floor. And it wasn’t really that much more than the big tube or the much smaller LCD’s. So I got that.
It’s nice. Until I went to look at the TV’s in person I had no idea that a projection TV could have this kind of detail. At Circuit City they had a standard resolution feed coming over a cable that was split to 15 different TV’s. It looked horrible. But the same model looked great at Best Buy where they were running a DVD signal into their TV’s. It amazes me that Circuit City would try to sell someone a HDTV with such a crappy signal running into it. But they were cheaper than Best Buy so I got it from them.
Even with the S-video connection from the satellite, the conventional broadcast shows a lot of imperfections. It’s like taking one of those tiny MPEG movies you download and then increasing it to full screen. You notice all the pixellation because now the image is much bigger but the resolution is still the same. Even with DVD’s you don’t get a perfect image (part of that may start hitting on the limits of what a projection TV can really do) but you do see a lot of detail. And with movies, because they are widescreen, I now get to see the whole 51″ diagonal of the widescreen TV instead of the 23″ diagonal of the letterboxed 25″ screen.
Getting the best picture just about requires a Ph.D. There are levels for blackness, whiteness, colors, and even sharpness. Then there are settings that handle motion as you go from frame to frame. The projection systems get even more complicated by the fact that behind the screen there are 3 different color tubes shining up and combining into one image. If they don’t line up just right then it starts looking like the funny papers where one color isn’t in the right place. Then you can stretch a 4×3 image to fill 16×9, making everyone fat.
Market timing is nothing in terms of overall complexity than learning about HDTV , picking a TV, and then getting the best picture.