Wednesday, April 05, 2006

How to buy an HD TV

For some of us, the imminent arrival of high definition broadcasts promises to change the way we watch TV with far clearer images and sound than anything we’ve ever seen before. But the birth of this new technology coughs up new considerations for when you’re buying a new TV.

To receive HDTV (whether it's via cable or satellite), you’ll need a modern digital display adorned with an ‘HD Ready’ badge. This ensures that it will support a minimum widescreen resolution in various HD formats and boast the required compatible connectivity.

But what else do you need to know?

1. Size Matters
Ultimately, screen size is dictated by the size of your lounge, but it can also determine the type of TV technology you go for. Generally, smaller screen sizes between 15 and 32 inches are the domain of LCD, with anything above that moving you into plasma territory.

LCD Plus Points: High resolutions; bright, vivid colours; lower power consumption
LCD Minus Points: Low contrast; bleached blacks; restricted viewing angle; dead pixels

Plasma Plus Points: Improved contrast; deep blacks; wider, natural colour range; smoother movement
Plasma Minus Points: Digital artifacts; dead pixels; screen burn

2. Talkin’ About A Resolution
A screen’s resolution is the maximum number of pixels that it can display. Generally, the higher the resolution the better as more pixels are used to create enhanced detail and definition.

At the moment standard definition (SD) broadcasts use only 576 vertical picture lines of resolution. But Sky’s high definition service, which arrives this year, will initially use 720p (progressive) lines and 1080i (interlaced) lines. To receive HDTV you’ll need a 720p screen, that is to say, one with a minimum XGA native resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels.

And if you really want to future proof your set, even higher – preferably 1920 x 1080 and above. This will allow you to watch existing high-definition formats as well as preparing you for the advent of the next generation format 1080p – although it is isn’t expected for a while so it’s hardly a deal sealer.

3. Contrasting fortunes
The contrast ratio is the difference between the brightest whites and the darkest blacks in the picture. Screens with higher contrasts expose more subtle colours, detail and perspective as well as coping with bright light levels.

Contrast ratios vary wildly and are often inflated by over-eager manufacturers using different means of measurement. Try and choose the highest your budget will allow but if you can, compare screens side-by-side – poor contrast pictures reveal grey blotches where blacks should be.

4. Get Connected
Finally, you’ll need to ensure your TV is equipped with all the connections you’ll need. Check out the number of RGB enabled Scart sockets, which carry uncompromised signals unlike standard Scarts. And component inputs will allow you to employ progressive scan video from a compatible DVD player.

Although you can use analogue component inputs, to receive HDTV broadcasts, you’ll need a screen with HDCP-compliant digital inputs. Direct digital connections like HDMI and DVI also enhance image quality as there’s no need for any analogue conversion, which produces a purer signal.

Given the choice, HDMI looks destined to be the AV input choice of the future and it also carries multi-channel sound signals. Both connections are compatible with each other using, often expensive adapter cables. If you want to watch high definition quality films using a digitally equipped DVD player look for a screen with two HDMI inputs to save you from constantly switching between a single input.

5. The buyer's check-list
  • Screen Size: 15-32 inches (LCD) ; 36-65+ inches (Plasma)
  • Resolution: 1280 x 720 (720p,1080i) ; 1920 x 1080 (1080p) - LCDs have higher resolutions.
  • Contrast ratio: the higher the better (but watch out for inflated claims). Plasmas have better contrast ratios.
  • Connections: RGB enabled Scarts, component inputs for progressive scan DVD, HDMI (or DVI) for high-definition (preferably two), VGA inputs for PC and gaming.
  • Anything else: Style & build quality, sound performance, integrated digital tuner, integrated picture processing

Richard Arrowsmith


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