Why Analog TV Signals Don't Look as Good on an HDTV

A high quality TV picture begins with the source

After decades of watching analog TV, the introduction of HDTV has opened up the TV viewing experience with improved color and detail. However, as an unwanted side effect, many consumers still watch analog television programs and old VHS tapes on their new HDTVs. This has generated many complaints about the apparently degraded picture quality of analog television signals and analog video sources when viewed on an HDTV.

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HDTV: It Doesn't Always Look Better

One reason to make the change from analog to HDTV is to access a better quality viewing experience. However, having an HDTV doesn't always improve things, especially when viewing non-HD analog content.

Analog video sources, such as VHS and analog cable, in most cases, look worse on an HDTV than on a standard analog television.

The reason for this situation is that HDTVs can display more detail than an analog TV, which you would normally think is a good thing. For the most part, it is. However, a new HDTV doesn't always make everything look better, as the video processing circuitry (which enables a feature referred to as video upscaling) enhances both the good and bad parts of a low-resolution image.

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The cleaner and more stable the original signal, the better result you'll have. However, if the picture has background color noise, signal interference, color bleeding, or edge problems (which may be unnoticeable on an analog TV because it's more forgiving due to the lower resolution), the video processing in an HDTV will attempt to clean it up. However, this may deliver mixed results.

Another factor that contributes to the quality of analog television display on HDTVs depends on the video upscaling process employed by HDTV makers. Some HDTVs perform the analog-to-digital conversion and upscaling process better than others. When checking out HDTVs or reviews of HDTVs, note any comments regarding video upscaling quality.

Most consumers upgrading to HDTV (and now 4K Ultra HD TV) are also upgrading to a larger screen size. This means that as the screen gets larger, lower resolution video sources (such as VHS) will look worse, in much the same way as blowing up a photograph results shapes and edges become less defined. In other words, what looked great on an old 27-inch analog TV won't look as good on a new 55-inch LCD HD or 4K Ultra HD TV, and it gets even worse on larger screen TVs.

Samsung UNJ5000 Series LED/LCD TV

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Suggestions to Improve Your HDTV Viewing Experience

You can take steps that will enable you to kick that analog video viewing habit on your HDTV. Once you see the improvement, those old VHS tapes will spend more time in your closet.

  • Make sure you have the best signal possible. If you are on cable or satellite, switch to digital cable, HD cable, or HD satellite. If you have a high-performance HDTV, don't waste your money by supplying it with an inferior signal source. You are paying for HD capability. You should reap the rewards.
  • If you have an HD-cable box or HD satellite box, connect those devices to the HDTV using HDMI or component video connections (whichever type of connection is used by the cable or satellite box to transfer HDTV and digital signals), rather than a standard screw-on or push-on RF connection.
  • Stop recording and playing VHS tapes. Either record your home video or TV programs on DVD (although this is getting more difficult due to several factors), or a DVR (preferably one with HD capability) from your local cable or satellite service. Some DVRs record over-the-air HD TV programs, such as the Channel Master DVR+ and The Nuvyyo Tablo.

The Bottom Line

If you still have an analog TV, all over-the-air analog broadcast television signals ended June 12, 2009. This means that old TVs won't receive over-the-air TV programs unless you get an analog-to-digital converter box or, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, rent a box with an analog connection option (such as RF or composite video) that is compatible with your TV. Most cable services offer a mini-converter box option for such cases. Refer to your local cable or satellite provider for more information.

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