FAQs — What is HDTV

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What is High Definition Television? 

High Definition Television (HDTV) is the new standard for television broadcasting that will replace the current broadcast standard. TV Stations will stop broadcasting analog signals on February 17, 2009. 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 the cable company or an HDTV capable TV with an integrated HDTV receiver.


Why is HDTV Better ?

HDTV offers programming that is 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 , 16x9 or 1.85 (which is 16 divided by 9) which refers to the ratio of the width to the height of the picture.

In contrast, the picture shown on a standard television is roughly square. Often the picture size on a standard TV is referred to as 4:3 , 4x3 or 1.33, 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 6x more 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


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. (Click on the images to see the full scale pictures)

The image below shows what a standard TV broadcast picture might look like.

More  (and larger) snapshots of High Definition programming which will better demonstrate the differences in the broadcast can be found here.

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 surround 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 further insight on how HDTV works, click here.

For more 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 ?

NO! Digital Cable offers a digitized version of the Standard Broadcast.  Digital cable is as good as a quality Standard TV broadcast. Even with digital cable, including the local stations will look the same they do on basic cable. If you suffer from ghosting on the analog cable channels, digital cable channels will look better.

Bright House Networks offers almost all their standard definition channels on the digital tier, which includes the lower channel stations like ESPN, CNN, HGTV and the local TV stations. A digital cable box, a cable card and cable card ready TV, or a TV cable of decoding QAM signals is required.

Bright House Networks does offer HDTV on their cable systems and it requires a High Definition digital cable box (such as the SA8300HD) to receive HDTV programming. At this time, BHN does not charge any additional fees to receive HDTV programming above their digital cable package price. BHN carries all of the local HDTV broadcasts plus most of the national HD channels. Some of the premium HD channels are now available in the HD PAK tier for $6 a month.


Is Digital Satellite the same as HDTV ?

Once again, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOT ! 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, though the satellite companies are compressing the channels so much they loose a lot of the detail when viewed on a large screen TV .

Both DISH and DirecTV offer HDTV over their systems and it requires an HDTV capable set top box to receive HDTV programming.  DirecTV now offers an HD package for $10.99/month. Dish offers one for $8.00/month. Both offer Showtime-HD and HBO-HD at no addition cost over the regular rates charged for Showtime and HBO.

DISH and DirecTV  now carry HDTV broadcasts of local channels.

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 you 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 and is often sold as EDTV while an HDTV can display 1280 x 720 or 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 be missing the greater level of detail in the HD programming.

An HDTV should say HDTV  or HDTV Ready somewhere on the TV set.

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


Are Adelphia and Comcast Cable offering any HDTV?

Yes, Adelphia and Comcast are offering HDTV service in some areas of Central Florida.