What is HDTV ?


What is High Definition Television ? 

High Definition Television (HDTV)  is the new standard for television broadcasting and will replace the current broadcast standard in 2006. Much like the advent of color television, HDTV is dramatic departure from standard television. In short, HDTV offers a clearer, sharper picture with truer color that almost looks as if it were a photograph.

To receive HDTV, you must have an HDTV capable TV and an HDTV capable satellite receiver, an HDTV capable digital cable box from Time Warner or  an HDTV capable TV with an integrated HDTV receiver.

Why is HDTV Better ?

First of all, HDTV offers programming that can presented in widescreen, just like in the movie theater. Most HDTV's are widescreen, that is they are rectangular so they can show the full height and width of the program or movie. The picture size of a widescreen TV is often referred as 16:9 or 16x9 which refers to the ratio of the width to the height of the picture.

 In contrast, the picture shown on a standard television is mostly square. Often the picture size on a standard TV is referred to as 4:3 or 4x3, which refers to the ratio of the width to the height of the picture. Broadcasters have to 'chop' off parts of a movie to show it on a standard television because the movie is wider than the TV can display and the standard television standard can not support the wider picture. Many times the network will 'letterbox' the movie, that is compress the movie so it fits in the width of the standard TV screen, but this results in black bars at the top and bottom of your TV. When the network 'letterboxes' a movie, they have to reduce the resolution (clarity) of the picture. When a move is show in widescreen, the whole picture is displayed.

Second, HDTV programs have up to 10x as much resolution as a standard television. Naturally, an HDTV capable TV set is required to view HDTV programming. The table below compares the resolution of VHS Tape, Standard TV, DVD and HDTV. (note: a pixel is the smallest amount of information a television can display).

Television Format Resolution
VHS Tape   300 x 480 pixels
Standard TV  460x 480 pixels

 460x 480 pixels (standard TV)


 700x 480 pixel (widescreen)


 1280 x 720 pixels (widescreen)


 1920 x 1080 pixels (widescreen)

Some of you may have noticed that the ratio number of horizontal pixels and the vertical pixels does not quite work out to 4:3 for Standard TV. This is because some of the pixels in both horizontal and vertical dimensions are not being used to display picture information.

To illustrate the difference in picture resolution (and quality, clarity & etc), the image below shows what a HDTV picture at 1920x1080 would look like.

The image below shows what a standard TV broadcast picture might look like. This image was reduced in resolution through software from the above image

Third, HDTV broadcasts are of higher quality than standard TV broadcasts. HDTV is digital (MPEG-II ) video, while the standard TV broadcasts are analog. Analog broadcasts are highly susceptible to noise, ghosting, pattern artifacts (which you typically see when some wears a striped shirt or tie). Analog also  has poor color reproduction. HDTV has none of these problems. HDTV uses the same MPEG encoding methodology as DVDs.

Finally, HDTV offers Dolby Digital sound, much like DVDs. HDTV offers the home theater enthusiast Dolby Digital  5.1 surround sound.  Dolby Digital Surround Sound is a method for encoding digital sound offering greater dynamic range than analog audio and a wider frequency range (bass to treble). It also has separate left and right rear surround channels, a low-frequency effects channel (sub woofer), and a center channel in addition to the left and right front channels. While it is not necessary to have a home theater sound system to hear HDTV, it certainly enhances the movie or program.

Standard television audio is FM, while it can provide limited surround sound, the quality of sound from Standard TV is a far cry from what can be heard from HDTV ,sort of like comparing FM radio to the sound from a DVD (DVD can offer higher quality sound than even a music CD).

For for further insight on how HDTV works, click here.

For for information on how standard TV works, click here.

Click here to see snapshots of movies and sporting events shown in HDTV.

Is Digital Cable the same as HDTV ?


Digital Cable offers only a digitized version of the standard broadcast. In addition the cable company compresses the digital signal (meaning they remove small pieces of the picture) so they can fit more channels on their cable system. At best Digital cable can be as almost as good a clear Standard TV broadcast. Even with digital cable  those channels below 100, including the local stations will look the same they do on basic cable.

Time Warner cable does offer HDTV on their cable systems and it requires a modified digital cable box to receive HDTV programming. At this time, TWC does not charge any additional fees to receive HDTV programming above their digital cable package price. TWC carries most all of the local HDTV broadcasts plus the PBS HDTV network feed (WMFE is not on the air yet).



Is Digital Satellite the same as HDTV ?


Digital Satellite offers only a digitized version of the standard broadcast. In addition the satellite company compresses the digital signal (meaning they remove small pieces of the picture) so they can fit more channels on their satellite  system. At best Digital Satellite can be as almost as good a clear Standard TV broadcast.

Both DISH and DirecTV offer HDTV on their cable systems and it requires a an HDTV capable set top box to receive HDTV programming. At this time, DISH and DirecTV do not charge any additional fees to receive HDTV programming.

DISH and DirecTV do not carry HDTV broadcasts of local channels, you will need a TV antenna to receive local HDTV broadcast over the air.

The FCC has stated that local laws and home owner covenants can not prevent you from receiving TV broadcast over the air and can not prevent from installing a TV antenna or satellite dish. To read the FCC ruling on antennas, click here.

Is A DVD Ready TV the same as an High Definition TV ?

No they are not the same, a DVD ready TV can only display 700 x480 pixels while and an HDTV can display up to 1920 x 1080 pixels. Most HDTV receivers will allow you to convert the HDTV signal down to 700x480 pixels (called down converting) but you will not being watching the program in High Definition.

An HDTV should say HDTV somewhere on the TV set.

Be forewarned that many TV sales people do not know the difference.

Is High Resolution TV the same as High definition TV ?

No they are not the same. The FOX network labels its 700 x 480 pixel broadcasts as High Resolution Widescreen TV.  700 x 480 is not considered High Definition and is often referred to as Enhanced Definition (EDTV) because it is widescreen. The FOX broadcasts are the same resolution as DVD. FOX has stated it believes viewers can not tell the difference between HDTV and High Resolution TV.  Granted High Resolution EDTV looks much better than standard broadcasts as any DVD owner would know.  When you compare the two, High Resolution Widescreen TV is inferior to High Definition TV.

Most Importantly.....

 HDTV is available now in the Orlando area either from Time Warner Cable or it can be received off the air with a regular TV antenna. By the summer of 2002, all commercial TV stations in the Orlando/Melbourne/Daytona Beach area will be broadcasting Digitally. Late in 2002 and early 2003, WMFE, WBCC and WCEU will join the ranks of Orlando area HDTV stations. While not all programming is in High Definition (HD), the digital broadcasts of standard definition programming is far superior to that of their analog counterpart.

Both satellite and cable services offer additional programming such as  HBO, Showtime and HDNet in High definition.  It is likely additional HD programming will be offered by cable and satellite services as time goes by.