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Sunday, November 16, 2003
Updated: June 13, 4:36 PM ET
Ask The Experts

By Brooks Flynn
Product Specialist Philips Consumer Electronics

I do a lot of training on High Definition televisions and HD technology in my job with Philips. In all of this training I get fed all sorts of questions and concerns about HD. I also get questions all the time from my friends and family about HD technology, from the very broad to the extremely specific. I thought that it would be helpful for everyone if I covered some of the questions I have come across frequently, because there seems to be consistency in the problems people have understanding this new technology.

I am already watching HDTV, because I see a HDTV logo pop-up when I'm watching my favorite primetime programs.

Not Necessarily: The HDTV logos displayed at the beginning of most network primetime programming are just sponsorships for the HDTV presentation. Companies give money and equipment to have the logo pop-up at the beginning of the programs they support in HD. They are displayed on the regular standard definition broadcasts too. Some people have erroneously concluded that when you can see the logo it means you are watching HDTV. To get HDTV you need HD service from your cable/satellite provider (or be within range of an HD broadcast stations tower), a HD set-top box, and a HD-Ready or HD Television.

I don't watch a lot of movies, so a widescreen TV is not for me.

The FCC has mandated that all broadcast television stations will completely switch to digital broadcasts by the end of the year 2006. By definition all HDTV broadcasts are in the widescreen 16:9 format. Many HD cable stations are already making the switch, and more are expected to follow shortly after the 2006 FCC mandate. All widescreen TV's offer formatting modes so that your regular TV programs will fill up the entire screen.

High Definition TV doesn't look all that much better, I can't really tell the difference.

Then you obviously haven't watched true HD! Many HD stations offered by your satellite and cable providers don't have enough HD content to show all day. Some of the material on the HD channels is standard definition TV that has been up-converted. It is not the same. Tune into ESPN HD for a HD game or the series Playmakers, and you can immediately see the difference. Games and shows shot in HD, with HD cameras, are easily noticeable and contain more than 5 times the information of a standard definition broadcast.

I saw a plasma TV at a discount store for under $3000, is that a good deal?

Yes and No: Most plasma's available today for under $3000 are EDTV's. That means they are not capable of displaying HDTV. An EDTV will take in a High Definition signal, but will then down-convert it to display it. You will loose most of the detail and three dimensionality of the original HDTV broadcast. This may be a good buy if you really just have to have a plasma to mount on your wall, and if you don't really care about watching High Definition. Although if you don't really care about High Definition then you probably aren't reading this article.

Is my DVD player HD?

No: DVD's are High Quality, but not High Definition. A DVD player's video signal is the same basic standard as regular broadcast and cable television. DVD's are a much higher quality video because they are free of video noise and interference that can enter broadcast and cable television signals. DVD's also have an increased resolution over regular television. Regular television has a horizontal resolution of 330 points, and a DVD has a horizontal resolution of 540 points. Just to compare, ESPN HD's signal has 1280 points of horizontal resolution!!

When connecting my HD source to my HD television, what kind of connection/cable do I need to use?

4 types of video connections can currently carry a high definition video signal. In order to make the proper connection, you will first need to see what types of output/input your devices have, and find the best matching connections. Starting in order I will list the 4 types of connections from the most basic to the most advanced. The most common HD video connection on consumer electronics today is called Component Video. Component Video consists of 3 cables, red/green/blue, usually bound together. Each cable carries a portion of the video signal; a separate audio connection must be made. A VGA connection comes next and is found of many plasma panels and on some select HD set-top boxes and decoders. This is basically a 15-pin computer video cable; once again a separate audio connection will have to be made. A new and emerging connection you will probably read about is DVI. This is a fairly new digital connection that is now used in both computer and TV applications. You should look for DVI connections with HDCP. HDCP is High Definition Copy Protection, and is a copy standard that is not currently in use but may be enacted in the future to prevent recording of movies and television shows. It is important to look for this feature on consumer electronics, as it will guarantee that you will be able to watch HD well into the future. DVI connections also require a separate audio connection. The last type of connection, which is currently available only on a very few products, is called HDMI. This is one cable which will carry both HD video and Digital audio. Look for this type of connection to be prevalent in the next few years.

Will the HD standard change again in another few years, and will I have to get a new TV when it does? Very Unlikely: It is very unlikely that the HDTV video standards will change again in the near future. It is a very complicated and cumbersome process to switch formats for both television stations/ studios, and for home consumers. There are no current predictions for the next format update, or even if there will be another update. So, rest assured that the HDTV you buy today won't be obsolete any time soon.

Can I record HD television on the DVD recorders I've seen advertised? No: All of today's DVD recorders are only able to record standard television signals. The discs recorded on a DVD recorder though, will have a much higher quality than your VHS tapes.