GIMME SHELTER- Picture quality: What the heck is HDTV?

Mark Farrington
Harmony Home Theaters


Q: I've heard about HDTV.  But what is it exactly and how does it work?

A: HDTV is the first upgrade in the picture quality of broadcast television since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) standards for color television in 1941. The picture quality of a television broadcast (or any video signal) is largely determined by the number of pixels in the display.

The old standard specified 640 x 480 pixels, whereas the new HD standard specifies either 1280 x 720 or 1920 x 1080 pixels.  A standard definition television has about 300,000 pixels, where a high definition television has over 2 million pixels. Also, HDTV is broadcast in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. For the first time, you can watch your favorite TV shows in true surround sound (if you have a surround sound system, of course), just like in the movie theater.  

Because the high definition format is the new standard, there are many new devices that let you take full advantage of an HD television. Some of these include HD video game consoles, BluRay and High Definition DVDs, computers, and HD camcorders.

In Charlottesville you can watch HDTV from Comcast Cable, DISH Network, DirecTV, and over the air with an antenna. To watch HDTV, you'll need a high definition television and a high definition tuner. The tuner may be built into your television, or it may be a box supplied from the cable or satellite company. If you use a cable or satellite box as a tuner, you'll need to connect a video wire from the box to the television.

The type of video wire you use to connect the tuner to the television can have a significant impact on picture quality. Only component wire and HDMI wire are capable of carrying a high definition signal. I recommend using an HDMI wire to connect the video signal from the cable or satellite box. HDMI is the only way to maintain the digital signal all the way from the broadcaster to your television. This will give you the best picture quality available.