What You Need to See High Definition on an HDTV

HD sources are plentiful

Consumers who purchase their first HDTV sometimes assume that everything they watch on it is in high definition, and they are disappointed when they find out that their recorded analog shows look worse on their new HDTV than they did on their old analog set. After investing a lot of money on a new HDTV, how do you get the high-definition picture everyone is talking about?

This information applies to televisions from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, those made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

You Need High-Definition Sources

If you have an HDTV, the way to view true HD is to have true HD sources, such as HD satellite and HD cable service, HD streaming media, or local HD programming. In 2009, all television broadcasts switched from analog to digital transmissions, many of which are high-definition. Other high-definition sources are Blu-ray Discs, HD-DVD players, and cable or satellite HD-DVRs.

DVD recorders with ATSC or QAM tuners can receive HDTV signals, but they are downscaled to standard definition to record onto DVD, and the DVD recorder does not pass the HDTV signal directly from its tuner through to the TV. 

Person holding a trophy, choosing from several HDTVs
 Lifewire / Miguel Co

HD Sources

If you are interested in getting the most from your HDTV, you need to have one or more of the following high-definition sources connected to your TV:

  • HD cable or HD satellite service.
  • HD cable DVR, HD satellite DVR, or TIVO-HD or similar device.
  • Over-the-air antenna combined with an ATSC tuner in the HDTV.
  • Blu-ray Disc player.
  • Upscaling DVD player or DVD recorder with HDMI output. This is not true HD, but an upscaling DVD player can provide a much better image on an HDTV than a standard DVD player that doesn't upscale.
  • High-definition camcorders such as HDV or AVCHD format camcorders, and the compact hard drive and memory card camcorders that also have HDMI output connections.

Sources That Don't Provide an HD Signal

  • DVD recorders, DVD recorder/hard drive combinations, and DVD recorder/VCR combinations that do not feature HDMI outputs and DVD upscaling.
  • VHS VCRs.
  • Standard resolution analog and digital camcorders.

High Definition and Content Streamed From the Internet

Streaming TV programs, movies, and videos are an increasingly popular source of TV content. As a result, many new TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, and set-top boxes now incorporate the capability of accessing internet-based media content, much of which is a high-definition resolution. However, the quality of the streaming signal ultimately depends on how fast your internet connection is. A high-speed broadband connection is recommended for the best picture quality.

Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers
Images provided by Roku

For example, streaming services may provide a 1080p high-definition signal for your HDTV, but if your internet connection speed is too slow, you get image stalls and interruptions. As a result, you may have to select a lower resolution option to watch the content.

Some services automatically detect your internet speed and match the image quality of the streaming media to your internet speed, which makes viewing convenient, but you may not be seeing a high-definition result.

Confirmation Your HDTV Is Receiving an HD Signal

The best way to verify whether your HDTV is indeed receiving a high-definition video signal is to locate the INFO button your TV's remote or look for an on-screen menu function that accesses the input signal information or status.

When you access either of these functions, a message should display on the TV screen that tells you the resolution of your incoming signal, either in pixel count terms (740x480i/p, 1280x720p, 1920x1080i/p), or just as 720p or 1080p.

4K Ultra HD

If you own a 4K Ultra HD TV, you can't assume that what you see on the screen at any given time is true 4K. There are some important, additional, factors to take into consideration with regards to what you see on the screen. Just as with HD, you need to have Ultra HD-quality programming to realize the potential of your television.