Set To Come
Remember the old expression from the 60s about the revolution being televised?
Well, this time the revolution will be about TV, but you’ll be able to see it better.
The entire TV industry has undergone a revolution in the last few years that’s brought the biggest change to your living room since the introduction of colour in the 50s.
Back then, the people who set the technical standards for these kinds of things had a big decision to make – pick a colour TV system based on a rotating wheel that couldn’t be seen on a regular set or use what’s called electron guns that were compatible for those who still had black and white TVs.
To their credit, they chose the latter, because the alternative would have forced everyone else to get a new set.
Since then, we’ve had stereo, satellites, cable, surround sound and more. And now comes the newest of the new, HDTV.
High definition television promises to put a movie-like picture in your living room that’s as breathtaking as it is big.
Screens measuring 40-60 inches have begun turning up in stores, and while price tags were in the thousands at the beginning, the widespread acceptance of the technology has allowed them to come down and be carried into more living rooms than ever before.
But unlike the colour decision in the 50s, this one has consequences. If you want to watch true HDTV, you must buy a new set.
The signals are digital, and can’t be picked up on the analogue classic most of us have in our homes.
You can still watch shows that have been converted downwards using a cable box or adaptor, but you won’t get the breadth of picture or the sense of enormity the new technology brings.
And in the U.S., those still getting their signals entirely off air face yet another dilemma – the government there has set February 2009 as the date when all existing old-style TV channels must sign off for good, so the frequencies they use can be sold to cell phone providers and other companies, bringing the U.S. government billions of dollars.
Canadians don’t have to worry about that yet – the CRTC hasn’t even broached the subject of turning all the channels off here, and most Canucks tune in via cable or satellite, which won’t be affected.
Still, if you watch your signals from south of the border off air, be ready. They’ll eventually fade to black.
Here’s a brief primer on HDTV and what you need to know to receive it.
There are all kinds and all makes. The more expensive ones tend to have bigger screens and more bells and whistles. But you don’t have to buy a giant sized TV to receive HDTV. The set just has to have the proper components inside.
If you don’t have an HDTV set, separate converters are available. But you won’t get the benefit.
Some have compared it to looking at a photograph, with exquisite detail. Others insist you can see every blade of grass during a baseball game and view fine details you might otherwise have missed.
Depending on how it’s framed, for example, you could see a pitcher throwing at a batter, while a player on first base contemplates stealing second – all in the same shot.
What’s the difference?
Here comes the technical stuff, which we’ll keep simple.
In essence, high definition provides at least twice the resolution of your regular set.
Your TV picture is made up of a series of scanned lines moving so fast, they fool your eye into thinking it sees a picture.
On the current sets in use in North America, that’s about 480 lines.
There are actually two versions of HDTV. One’s called 1080i, which provides 1080 lines of resolution, sending odd and even lines to your TV 30 times a second.
The other is 720p, which lets you see 720 lines of resolution every 60 seconds.
Both provide great quality pictures, and some broadcasters have chosen one over the other. Most sets should get both, but check before you buy.
How to get programs
You can receive them the way you do now, over cable or satellite. But there may be an extra charge for the box to convert the signals.
If you choose to see them over the air, you’ll need an outdoor TV antenna, but it has to be high and effective – the nature of HDTV’s digital form means it’s either 100 percent perfect or it’s simply not there at all.
There are plenty.
Better picture quality and clarity
Extra sharp picture
No ghosting or static
Ability to compress many sources into a lower definition or standard signal, creating the possibility of putting several different stations on the same channel.
Expect the prices of the sets to come down further as the demand rises and more and more of us buy them.
March 24, 2006
High-definition TV: How to get it and the best gear to buy
High-definition TV will be the biggest technological advance since the switch from black and white. Jimmy Lee Shreeve brings you the lowdown
Published: 22 March 2006
High-definition television (HDTV) is pitched as the biggest revolution in TV since the change from black and white to colour in the late 1960s. As far as the industry is concerned, HDTV is poised to become a fixture in all homes, and is the future for TV and movies. A grand claim. But witness a demonstration in a high-street electronics store and you're very likely to be impressed - even taken aback - by the sheer clarity of the picture, which is more than four times more detailed than standard televisions.
And 2006 is set to be the year HDTV takes off. But what do you need to get up and running? And what about programme availability? Read on to find out...
HDTV vs STANDARD TV: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
The difference between standard- and high-definition TV is in the pixels. HDTVs use either 720 or 1,080 visible rows of pixels (depending on the model), compared with the 576 used in traditional models. Besides improved clarity and definition, HDTVs offer more vivid colours and greater depth of field, bringing background scenes that would normally be blurred into focus. Improved picture quality is due to a number of elements: the way the footage is filmed, broadcast and shown on HDTV sets.
HD-READY TVs - A WISE INVESTMENT?
For James Atkins, marketing manager at consumer electronics maker LG, purchasing an HD-ready TV is a sensible move. "If you're planning to buy a new television, getting an HD-ready model will be kinder on the wallet in the long run because you will be future-proofing your purchase. You stand to get 10 years' use out of an HDTV, without having to worry about upgrading," he says. But he does admit that the HDTV market is a minefield.
"Some less reputable manufacturers are marketing sets as 'HD-compatible'. These will certainly play high-definition programmes, but they aren't real HDTV. The term consumers need to look out for is 'HD-ready', which denotes a genuine high-definition television."
Presuming you succeed in buying a bone fide HDTV, will it be a cinch to set up? "Absolutely," confirms Atkins. "HDTVs are very 'plug and play'. Everything is done for you. Plug in a DVD or set-top box and the devices will talk to each other and make the necessary configurations automatically."
ARE THERE ANY HIGH-DEFINITION PROGRAMMES TO WATCH?
Retailers report that a rush for televisions with the certified "HD-ready" sticker has begun (700,000 high-definition sets are estimated to be in use in the UK). Yet up until this month, when the cable giant Telewest became the first in Britain to roll out an HDTV service, there weren't any high-definition programmes to watch (unless you happened to be part of a pilot scheme). Even now, the only HD shows available from Telewest come from BBC Worldwide and include Blue Planet, Super Volcano and the docu-drama Pride.
But this shortage of HD content is not likely to last long. The BBC is planning to invest £700m in digital and HD broadcasting, and aims to produce all its programmes in HD format by 2010 - although it denies that this would make standard televisions obsolete. A Telewest added: "[We're] in talks with everyone you could think of to get more content. The pay-per-view film line-up will be announced in the next few weeks and we're hoping to have a channel of live HD by the end of the year."
WHO ARE THE HDTV SERVICE PROVIDERS?
Available now. Telewest's HDTV service is delivered via Teleport, its TV-on-demand service. You'll need a subscription to Telewest's TVDrive set-top box, which lets you pause live television. It also has hard-drive storage for 80 hours of standard-definition TV and three tuners to let you record from two channels while you watch a third. Cost: £10 per month if you take Telewest's top digital-TV package, £15 otherwise.
Smarting after being pipped to the post by Telewest, Sky plans to launch its HDTV service in Britain and Ireland in late spring. Programming will include movies, arts and documentaries. Sports in HD will include live Barclays Premiership football and Guinness Premiership rugby union - plus exclusive coverage of domestic cricket. But the biggest draw is likely to be the BBC's coverage of the World Cup in June, which is due to be broadcast via the (soon-to-be-available) Sky HD set-top box.
To get up and running you'll need a Sky HD box and the relevant Sky HD, Sky Digital and Sky+ subscriptions. Prices and further details will be announced soon. For a preview of the picture quality you can expect from HDTV.
IS IT EXPENSIVE?
Despite its programme packages costing more than £40 a month, Sky now has 8.1 million customers in the UK and is confident its HDTV offering will catch on. Sky's chief executive, James Murdoch, says: "Going out to the cinema is expensive, going out to a restaurant is expensive. We expect household spending on TV to grow."
Go to HDTV In The News page five
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