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What is HDTV?

Posted by Michael on December 16, 2009

Sometimes I think that technology is moving forward so quickly and I'm getting left behind.  Don't get me wrong... I understand the blogging world, the iPod phenomenon, and facebook.  But I've been totally confused when it comes to HDTV, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and the benefits of Blue Ray.  Don't hate me when I say this, but to me, a TV is a TV! How different can this new and improved television system really be?

Is anyone else confused about this HDTV revolution??  Who's with me?!

I've decided that since HDTV is not going to be going away anytime soon, that I should at least attempt to understand this new language.  I'm sick of being ignorant.  I thought maybe some of you would like a little educating too (Maybe I'm the ONLY one that doesn't get it....but I really doubt it.)

So, after lots of research, and conversations with people that DO get it... here's what HDTV means in simple terms...

Digital vs. Analog Signals

First you have to understand the difference between analog and digital signals.  Analog signals were the traditional, easy way of doing everything in the past.   Records, cassette tapes, and older televisions all used analog.


Digital signals are newer, and better.  Computers, dvds, and cds are all digital.  Doesn't it make sense that television would switch from the old analog way of doing things, to the updated digital way?  Just this past June, the Federal Communications Commission required all high-power analog U.S. television stations to turn off their signals and move to a digital-only transmission.


Why is digital better than analog?

Analog signals are like a light dimmer.  Digital signals are like turning a light switch on and off.  If you were standing hundreds of yards away, would it be easier to tell what percentage of light you could see, or whether the light was simply on or off?  That's a No Brainer, right?

Since analog signals are much less obvious than digital signals, analog tends to have a lot of signal degredation, meaning the signal can fall apart and get worse the farther away that you are.  Digital signals are clear, and easy to recognize.  The signal stays fresh even when you are far away.  Simply put, digital signals offer a better, clearer, quality picture on your television than analog ever could. 


What's the difference between 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions?

Picture a television screen as a table of colored dots, called pixels.  There are rows and columns of hundreds of dots that fill up the entire screen.  The resolution is the number of rows, or horizontal lines per screen.  On analog television sets, there are about 480 horizontal lines, or rows of dots, and on high definition television sets, there are either 720 lines, or 1080 lines.  As you might imagine, more lines = more dots= higher resolution= better quality and sharper pictures.

The i (interlaced) and the p (progressive) in the resolution formula simply describes the type of scan used by the TV to display the picture.  So which one is better? It's a hot debate, but the best answer is that they are just different. 

Interlacing alternates the odd lines of pixels with the even lines- changing them so quickly that the viewer sees a cohesive, image.  Progressive displays each line of pixels sequentially.  TV usually uses interlaced, while movies use progressive.  With interlaced, you tend to get more fluid, smoother motion, and with progressive you get more of an artistic feel.


Why is Blu-ray so much better than a regular dvd?

Remember when dvds came out and the world changed completely?  Now we had such a better picture!  That's because we threw out our analog video tapes and replaced them with digital dvds. Now there was less signal degredation.  Well, it turns out that we can even get better than our plain old dvds.  Blu-ray is simply a dvd, but with more dots, or pixels, so it's like HDTV on a dvd.  My friend Dave put it this way when describing dvds vs. Blu-ray, "It's the difference between taking a picture with your cell phone and a real camera."  Blu-ray is WAY better! Hooray for technology.

So, I guess knowledge is power.  I'm not going to lie, I think that I will always care more about what sofa is in my living room over what type of television I own, but I'm making progress.  My homework tonight?  Go home and figure out if I need to upgrade my TV.


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