HDTV Tutorial

High Definition TV

It is Super Bowl time and many folks will now be purchasing high definition TV’s for their Super Bowl Parties. I did not quite make it last year because the HDTV I finally settled on was not going to be available until Feb 11th. Sooooo, this will be my first Super Bowl in HDTV, and I am really looking forward to it.

The following article describes some of what I learned about HDTV since I started looking with the hope that it may help you in your search for the perfect TV.

One day, in Feb 2005, we were slogging along watching hum-drum TV then the next day, after the big Best Buy truck rolled thru our neighborhood and dropped off our new HDTV, I was hooked for life. Since that day, I have had many firsts: my first Giants baseball game in HD, my first 49er game in HD, and very soon, my first Super Bowl in HD. I can even watch my favorite show, NCIS, in HD. I have been to Vietnam, Thailand, Italy all in HD with Laura McKenzie. I have been snake hunting with the Snake Hunter and in the jungles of Africa with my buddy Jeff (Corwin). I sit mesmerized in the mornings with “Sunrise Earth”….50 minutes of nothing but nature in high definition.

Enough of that….you get the picture. And it is a very very fine picture at that.

My quest for High Definition actually started in the mid-1980′s  when my colleague introduced me to the technology at some trade shows. I was blown away, but, I also knew I had to be patient. As it turned out, patience was required because it took fully 20 years before I finally got my own high definition TV. And then I was not even the first to get it. Arrrghhh.

When I went HDTV hunting, I knew virtually nothing (other than the picture was great), and found out that most of the people I talked to, also knew very little. I will enlighten you on some of the details you may need to know when you go get your HDTV in time for the 2006 Super Bowl.

What Technology to Buy?

DLP?

Two of my current colleagues raved about how good the DLP technology was. They had seen it at a conference and they told me it was the “ultimate”. So my original HDTV investigation centered around DLP TV’s. At the time, Samsung seemed to be the leader in DLP HDTV’s. So we looked at the Samsung’s every time we went to Best Buy. Sure enough they were very nice.

I did some on-line research on DLP technology and basically it is composed of a bunch of micro-mirrors and a rotating color disk all timed perfectly to produce an image on your screen. I was a bit put off by that since I remember my Aunt and Uncle simulating color TV by placing a rotating color disk in front of their black and white TV. It was great in the 50′s even though it did not work. Don’t get me wrong, DLP works, but, being an engineer, I am concerned about two things: the mirrors, and the timing. Either one, to me, can be tough to control, and easy to knock out of whack. I may be wrong, but…..that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Plasma?

The picture quality on these is also very good (it is HDTV after all) but one bad experience and listening to some sage advise from other fairly old techy’s, plasma was not even something I cared to investigate. We had a plasma TV at work (note the past tense). One day we had a slight power surge and the plasma was dead. To get it fixed you had to replace it. That sucks. I have also heard of limited life for the plasma, inability to work well at altitude…all sorts of stuff. TelBitConsulting suggests no plasma, but, if you like it, and like to live your life on the wild side…be my guest. You can mount it on the wall…..that is a great feature.

LCD?

One big plus in my mind for LCD is that it is used, reliably, in millions of computer monitors. But, I have heard that LCD technology did not reproduce “black” as well as the others and that the viewing angle is limited. Well, the viewing angle is limited, but not so much that a normal set up in your living or family room won’t allow everyone to see it well. Viewing is better straight on. So make sure you get the first seat selection…if you are the Dad, pull rank on the kids (I know you can’t pull rank on the Mom)! As for the “black” issue….I can’t see it. Black looks black.

One day in early Feb 2005, my wife and I took another stroll through Best Buy and I saw a Sony rear projection LCD TV (55” of pure heaven) sitting next to a Samsung DLP 50+ inch HDTV. I compared the pictures and was blown away by the LCD. The Samsung DLP did not even come close to the quality of the Sony. We bought it. For the record: Sony, 55” rear projection (it is thin, and fairly light for a huge TV), KDF-55WF655. I have had it almost a year now and am still awed by it’s quality.

Oh yeah…we had a power glitch a few weeks ago. After the glitch, the picture was gone but the audio was fine. My worst fears of the plasma event ran thru my head. I decided to turn off the power and let it sit for a few minutes. After I turned it back on…it was fine! YeeHaa. It survived the power glitch. I may need a new power strip, though, since this one did not do anything obvious to save my electronics, but maybe it did the saving quietly.

Display Resolution

I’ll give you the short story here.

Digital TV signals come in a few flavors each with a p (progressive) or an i (interlaced) stuck on the end of it. There are differences between i and p (p is supposed to be “better”) but my eyes see great quality on both. But all this is too technical to get into in depth here…the Super Bowl is looming.

+480i/480p really sucks on the big screen and is more for “digital” TV signals that are not HDTV. Yes, digital TV (as spoken by some people and news accounts) is not necessarily HD even though HD is digital. Confused? Sorry, lets move on.

+720p is used by FOX and ABC/ESPN. It is awesome.

+1080i is awesome-er. When a great TV show comes on in 1080i it blows away everything else away (even though my TV has less than optimal resolution). CBS, NBC, Discovery, INHD all use this.

+1080p is supposed to be the very best and new TV’s on the market are just starting to support it. If what I have is awesome…I may have to get my heart checked before I see this. I have not seen it.

TelBitConsulting says: Make sure your TV has at least 1366 x 788 pixels of resolution (mine supposedly has 1386 x 788 and, for me, I guess you have gathered this, it is GREAT)! The full HDTV resolution is 1920 x 1080 and will support the 1080p delivery of signal. If you can afford it, get it! TV’s are now coming out with the maximum HD resolution of 1920 x 1080, but, I don’t know of any programming using 1080p yet…but, I may have missed it. I’m sure it is on the way.

By the way….my HDTV quality is better than the picture quality at our local CineMark Theater. Sorry, but it is. It does not, however, come with the ambiance of rowdy kids, buttered popcorn, good friends out on the night…or Barnes & Noble (see my TracyReaderDad book reviews) nearby for after movie reading. So we still go to the movies.

Cable Cards and Cables Boxes

We could not get an answer on what exactly was needed when it came to cable connections. Seemed like no one really knew what to tell an inquiring engineer (maybe my questions were too hard?). But eventually, I learned enuf to “experiment”. Our Sony HDTV comes with a cable card slot, how that was used I had NO idea (since, like I mentioned, no one could explain it to me satisfactorily) but I did find out that it was free (a cable box cost a few bucks per month) and I could sign up for the HDTV service with the cable card. So I said ok, when the TV comes, lets install the card, see how it works and decide from there. We did that. The Comcast technician spent a few minutes installing the card (it is easy) and a bit more time getting it to talk properly to the head-end (techy talk for the cable company technical nerve center). This was a little harder process than I originally thought it would be, but, now that it is done, it has been working fine. No regrets. Since the card belongs to Comcast, I suppose I will need to pop it out and give it back if I leave the area (not anytime soon).

What I have learned since, is that I lose some features by going with the card over the external box. Mainly I can’t do interactive TV (pay on demand, etc.) with it. I don’t care. I save a power port, I save space, I don’t have to dust the cable box, I save a little on my monthly bill…..and I still get great HDTV.

TelBitConsulting says: Make sure you get an HDTV with a cable card slot…so you keep all your options open!

Power Strips

Here again, Best Buy has a full display of VERY expensive power strips from Monster Cable and seemed to indicate that these would be needed. All the arguments sounded good. The expensive power strip has filters to filter out noise (and, theoretically, improve your picture quality), and it would keep the TV safe and cozy during a power glitch, etc., etc. Well, since I was experimenting with the cable card….I decided to experiment with my old reliable and relatively inexpensive power strip too.

Not a problem. I have been using it for a year (the picture quality is fine) and I am just now thinking I’ll get a new one (based on the fact it did not break the power connection during the power glitch, but, appears to have let the TV take the full brunt of it). I won’t buy the Monster strip though…..

TelBitConsulting says: Go with your ordinary computer power strip for now. You can always upgrade later when you stash enuf cash away to afford the Monster Porsche of power strips.

HDMI

High Definition Multimedia Interface. This gives you pure digital to digital transfer of information from your set top cable box or DVD player or other HDMI capable box. Staying digital is the best possible signal since nothing is lost in the signal in a digital to digital transfer. If the signal had to be changed from digital on the DVD player to “analog” on your TV (which is what happens if you were using the regular “yellow” tipped video cable) there would be some loss of the signal. So HDMI provides the best signal transfer. Got it?

TelBitConsulting says: This is a must. Do not buy an HDTV without at least one HDMI input (and better if you can find one with more!). I’ll tell you why.

HD-DVD is coming this year! Soon you will be able to buy a DVD player (see Feature Article #1) that will give you a high definition picture from your DVD player. Pure and simple, this is great stuff and you don’t want to be left behind. And you also don’t want to go back to the “analog” world when you can be pure digital.

For now, I have a DVD player that supports HDMI and when I watch Star Wars on it, I am getting the most awesome picture you can imagine….but this is only going to get better when HD-DVD comes out.

Also, the HDMI cable I am using is a free one supplied by my DVD player. The Monster HDMI cable is hecka expensive and not really, in my opinion, necessary (you can always upgrade in the future).

Splitting Cable TV

I had installed a splitter at the entry of cable TV to my house so I could feed multiple rooms (our house came wired, we bought it new 20 years ago, with cable to multiple rooms). When the HDTV was installed, I quickly found out that I had to do some unsplitting to provide sufficient signal strength to my HDTV.

Really quickly: I had a 4-way splitter originally which knocked down my signal by 6 db (a lot) then I had another splitter at the Family Room TV (where we put the HDTV) to feed my Toshiba DVR (oh, keep this in mind: the Toshiba DVR does NOT record “digital” TV stations…it only works the regular TV stations) which knocked it down another 3 db. The HD signal was not strong enuf to overcome 9db of signal loss, so I had to change my scheme.

I now have only a 2-way splitter at the entry (-3db) and only use the splitter to the Toshiba when I need to record something on regular TV (less now than before since regular TV looks awful on the 55” screen). So my total loss to the HDTV is now only 3 db. Did I tell you that the picture was awesome? I kept our old TV in the living room so I can go in there to watch regular TV when the kid is doing homework. I can’t get TV in any other room, but, that is a small price to pay for having HDTV.

TelBitConsulting says: Split judiciously.

Channels to Watch

My favorite part!!!!

Comcast here gives us the following HD channels:

See the very latest channels in Tracy, CA here.  

903-Sacramento NBC station

906-Sacramento PBS station

908-Sacramento FOX station

910-Sacramento ABC station

913-Sacramento CBS station

919-INHD1

920-INHD2

922-Discovery HD Theater

923-ESPN HD

With the normal stations (NBC, FOX, etc) whether you gt HD or not depends on the show. I can watch “NCIS” in HD, and “Still Standing”, “House”, and a few more. The news is pretty much still regular signal, making it kind of crappy. Football is pretty much HD now, although the crummy games (like the 49ers versus some other crummy team) tend not to be HD if the station decides it costs too much to do HD (and they think no one is watching anyway…except me and Pat).

ESPN HD is pretty good but again there are times when the games are not in HD. Luckily the past few Kansas (Rock Chalk Jayhawk!) basketball games have been in HD and they won! So life is really good….

The PBS station is good. Lately it has been putting up better HD programming than when we first got the TV. So it is climbing.

BUT the best stations, by far, are the INHD’s and Discovery Theater. These are ALL high definition and are all super high quality. I am even watching Sandra Bullock’s new husband build vehicles….and I’m not a car geek at all. But in high def…everything is awesome. I figure if Sandra ever shows up…..then awesome just got awesome-er.

I love “Sunrise Earth” on Discovery. It is so cool, and relaxing to veg out for 50 minutes watching and hearing nothing but nature. “Sunrise Earth” points an HD camera (and some great sound systems) at nature and lets the TV viewer just get caught up in the experience. Following close behind, for me, are the Snake guy and Jeff Corwin….I like nature. And nature in HD, is almost like being there.

INHD (www.inhd.com) shows a lot of IMAX films and has my favorite HD show, the Laura McKenzie Travel show. I love just about everything on INHD, but, the travel show takes me places I will never go and does it in such detail, that it is totally amazing.

I’m looking forward to Super Bowl 2006….let the game begin! Go Niners!

Arrggghh….dreaming again of the good old days.

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About Mike Pihlman

Owner of AltamontCowork, a coworking location in Tracy, CA. I am the Director of ForCarol.com a 501c3 non-profit that awards college scholarships to local scholars in honor of my daughter's best friend, and our part-time daughter, Carol Phan who we lost on Sept 18, 2010, Book Review blogger (TracyReaderDad.com).

Posted on November 2, 2007, in HDTV and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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