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. They are disappointed when they find out that a recorded analog show looks worse on their new HDTV than on their old analog set. After investing 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 or HD cable service, HD streaming media, or local HD programming. In 2009, all television broadcasts switched from analog to digital transmissions, and many are high-definition. Other high-definition sources are Blu-ray Disc players, HD-DVD players, and cable or satellite HD-DVRs.

DVD recorders with ATSC or QAM tuners can receive HDTV signals. HDTV signals are downscaled to standard definition to record onto DVD, and the DVD recorder doesn't 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

When you want to get the most from your HDTV, you need 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 a 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 an HDMI output. This isn't true HD, but an upscaling DVD player can provide a 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 have HDMI output connections.

These sources don't provide an HD signal:

  • DVD recorders, DVD recorder/hard drive combinations, and DVD recorder/VCR combinations that don't 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 a popular source of TV content. Many new TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, and set-top boxes can access internet-based media content, much of which is a high-definition resolution. However, the quality of the streaming signal depends on the speed of your internet connection. A high-speed broadband connection is recommended for the best picture quality.

Roku Express (top) and Roku Ultra (bottom) media streamers


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

Confirmation Your HDTV Is Receiving an HD Signal

The best way to verify whether your HDTV receives a high-definition video signal is to locate the INFO button on the 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 with the resolution of the incoming signal, either in pixel count terms (740 x 480i/p, 1280 x 720p, or 1920 x 1080i/p) or 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 is true 4K. There are additional factors to take into consideration regarding what you see on the screen. As with HD, you need Ultra HD-quality programming to realize the potential of your television.

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