High-Definition Television (HDTV) Buying Guide

Television in the living room
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With High Definition (HDTV) programming becoming more available by the day, it's important to know the answers to some common questions.

Is High Definition the Same as Digital?

Yes and no. High definition is the top-level resolution offered within the digital television category. Digital cable comes in three formats — standard, enhanced, and high-definition. Standard has a resolution of 480i, enhanced is 480p, and high definition is 720p and 1080i. Therefore, HD is digital, but not all digital is HD.

My Friends Bought High Definition Sets, but They're Expensive. Do I Really Need One?

The need for an HD television is debatable. After all, not all programming is offered in HD, and there is an additional charge for HD programming. If you are wanting to upgrade but don't want or need the added expense, you can get a wonderful picture with other digital (SDTV and EDTV) televisions. You could also wait a year or two and see what happens with prices and programming.

How Much Does a High Definition Television Cost, and Who Makes Them?

Most television manufacturers make HDTVs in a variety of styles. You can buy HD in tubes, CRT rear projection, LCD, DLP, LCOS, and Plasma. Prices range depending on picture size and technology used, but an average price gap is $500 for a small CRT monitor upwards to $20,000 for the latest in Plasma technology.

Do I Have to Subscribe to Cable/Satellite to Get HDTV?

No, many network affiliates around the United States already send out high definition signals over-the-air. What you need is an HDTV with built-in tuner, and HD Antenna to decode the signal. However, if you want to receive a non-broadcast station's HD signal (TNT, HBO, ESPN), you will need to order a cable/satellite HD package.

Does My Cable/satellite Provider Offer HDTV? If So, What Do I Need?

Many cable/satellite providers offer some sort of high definition programming. Usually, they charge an additional fee and require you to rent or buy a high definition receiver. However, you can lower your monthly cost by purchasing an HD receiver at retail and online outlets. To find out terms of use and costs, contact your local cable/satellite provider.

I Have the HDTV Package Offered by My Cable/Satellite Provider, but Don't Receive the Hd Signal. What Gives?

You're receiving the signal but may not have the tools to get it. First, make sure you own a high definition television and receiver. If so, locate the HD channels on your programming lineup as channels are split between HD and non-HD channels. Also, verify the program you're watching is offered in HD. Many HD channels run a non-HD signal when showing non-HD programming. It's also important to note that you might need to check your televisions configurations to make sure it is set at 1080i or 720p. If it's at 480p, then you're not watching HDTV even though the program is offered in HD as 480p is the resolution of enhanced definition.

What Kind of Programming Is Offered in HD?

Programming varies from station to station, and please note that not all television stations feature high definition programming. Some of the larger channels transmitting HD programming include the four major broadcast networks, TNT, ESPN, Discovery, ESPN, and HBO.

What Do 720p and 1080i Mean?

When you watch television, the picture you see is composed of many independently scanned lines. Put together, they compose the image on the screen. Interlaced and progressive are the two scanning techniques used. Lines of resolution vary for digital televisions — 480, 720, and 1080. Therefore, the resolution of a television is defined by the lines and types of scanning. A 720p resolution is a television with 720 progressive scanned lines. A 1080i resolution has 1080 interlaced scanned lines. Side-by-side, a progressive scan will show a clearer picture than interlaced, but you'll notice most HD programming is shown in the 1080i resolution.

What Aspect Ratio Does High Definition Come In?

A high definition signal is transmitted in a 16:9 aspect ratio. 16:9 is also known as widescreen or letterbox — like the screen in movie theatres. You can buy high definition televisions with either a standard (4:3) or widescreen aspect ratio. Really, it's a matter of preference, whether you like the square or rectangular screen. Most programming can be formatted to fit whatever aspect ratio you prefer.