The Coming Age Of HDTV - What Does It Mean To Me?

By: Lloyd Howard

HDTV - high-definition television: it is something that has been discussed for some time now, however not everyone has a strong sense of what it is and why he or she would want to have it.

Because all television stations will be required to broadcast a digital signal after February 17, 2009, many viewers are beginning to ask a lot more questions about how the new digital age of television will affect their personal viewing experience. They want to know whether or not their television set will be compatible, whether or not they will have to replace it, and what steps they will have to take in order to keep watching their favorite shows.

How To Identify If Your Television Is An Analog TV

Analog television has been with us since the inception of television broadcasting. Analog is the old way of processing a television signal.

Television technology took a big leap in the 1960's with the transition from television tubes to circuit boards, but that conversion failed to bring with it any major strides in the quality of the television picture.

If your current television does not have a logo on its front that indicates DTV (Digital TV), EDTV (Enhanced Definition TV), or HDTV, then your television set is an analog TV.

Understanding The Transition From An Analog Signal To The New Digital Signal

Digital image processing is a technology that began in earnest during the 1970's, when Japanese technology companies began to explore the concepts of HDTV. The Japanese TV manufacturers were exploring ways to improve the picture quality of the television image, as a way to find more customers for their television products.

While Americans were busy playing with building the computer industry, the Japanese were hard at work trying to build a better television set. The first HDTV systems developed by the Japanese still relied on the old analog system of sending a broadcast signal to their televisions, but they were still able to produce a better television viewing experience.

When initially introduced to the U.S. Government, the new HDTV system produced a myriad of concerns, which included the issue of an analog HDTV-system needing more bandwidth than what was currently allotted to the television broadcasters.

In 1993, a consortium of American researchers and manufacturers (known as The Grand Alliance) joined forces to find a way to bring HDTV-quality to the American public, while keeping the bandwidth requirements of broadcasters within the existing limits.

Researchers soon understood that they would need to push at least part of the television signal in a digital format to make sure that HDTV could be transmitted within the limits currently allotted to the television broadcasters. By the time they had finished their work, the Grand Alliance had created a system that was 100% Digital.

In 1995, after considerable opposition from the television broadcast industry, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission officially set the standard for completely digital HDTV broadcasting system. This put into motion the events that are just now coming to fruition, with the rollout of the new Digital Television broadcasting system.

Although most television stations have been broadcasting a Digital Television Signal now for a few years, analog television owners have been none the wiser. But that will all change on February 17, 2009.

Will My Analog Television Stop Working In 2009?

The simple answer is "yes", but that does not mean that you will have to buy a new television in order to get the new digital broadcasts. While you may not need to replace your television set, you may have to make changes in how you get your television signal.

There are in fact three ways that the average consumer can continue to get a television signal using their old television set:

1. Subscribe to a cable television service (and use their digital television converter);

2. Subscribe to a satellite television service (and use their digital television converter); or

3. Buy a DTV converter (Digital TV Converter) to receive signals from your analog antenna and to convert that signal back to analog, so that you can continue to use your analog television. (If you receive your television signal over-the-air, the Federal Government has implemented a Coupon Program to help consumers offset the cost of the DTV converter boxes: )

Understanding The Three Facets Of The New Digital Technology

1. Lines Of Resolution

The newer digital technology is all about Lines Of Resolution. With more lines of resolution, the viewer will receive more image information, therefore bringing the viewer much more picture clarity and detail.

When the Japanese rolled out HDTV on the Japanese mainland, the lines of resolution numbered 1080. To put this into perspective, the standard analog TV signal exhibits 330 lines of resolution. This makes it more than clear that the original analog HDTV format really was a real issue for television broadcasters in the United States. To produce a resolution of 1080 lines on a system designed for 330 lines would have literally required three times the bandwidth of the current analog system.

Here are the standard television resolutions:

* Analog Television - 330 Lines of Resolution

* VCR's - 240 Lines of Resolution

* DVD's - 480 Lines of Resolution

* EDTV - 720 Lines of Resolution

* HDTV - 1080 Lines of Resolution

There is a caveat to this chart though. The minimum requirement of the FCC is that broadcasters must produce a minimum of 720 Lines of Resolution. As a result, some broadcasters like ABC chose the 720-resolution, and yet they can still legally call their programming standard, HDTV.

Other broadcasters like PBS opted for the higher 1080 format. Good for them.

In 1998, when the first HDTV's became available to the buying public, the Headline News newscasters were joking that with the rollout of HDTV, we the audience would be able to see every blackhead and blemish on their faces. Of course, they were probably correct in that assumption. The detail of the HDTV-signal is absolutely amazing.

2. Aspect Ratio

Another factor connected to the new HDTV-format is the Aspect Ratio.

In a standard analog television, the Aspect Ratio is a 4-by-3, which nearly looks square. The 4-by-3 ratio means that it can be measured 4-parts wide to 3-parts high.

With the new HDTV format, the Aspect Ratio has been changed to the same format seen in the movie theatre - a 16-by-9 Aspect Ratio, or 16-parts wide to 9-parts high.

3. Sound Quality

The third factor connected to the new HDTV-format is Sound Quality. In fact, most HDTV programming will carry with it Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, as frequently heard on DVD's. So long as you have a surround sound unit attached to your television set, the surround sound will enable to the television viewer to be immersed in the sound, so much so as it often feels as if you are in the middle of the action happening on your television set.

In Conclusion...

While it is true that you do not need to upgrade your television from the analog format to the new digital format, you might seriously consider doing so anyway.

Now that we are quickly approaching the end of the analog-television era, the cost of HDTV television sets has fallen considerably. Whereas five years ago, the average HDTV cost in the range of $3-4,000, the cost of most HDTV's has fallen to under $1200 today. After February 17, 2009, the cost of HDTV should drop again, making it much more affordable to the general public.

Although it will be possible to convert the digital television signal to analog, you will lose the extra picture detail on the conversion. So, if you stick with your analog television, you will be restricting yourself to the quality of picture you are currently receiving, even after the change in television broadcasting formats is complete.

Although color-technology was first introduced to audiences with the release of The Wizard Of Oz in 1939, color television did not become mainstream until the late-1960's. And although the technology of color was mainstream, black-and-white televisions were still being manufactured and sold well into the 1980's.

Fortunately, this transition will be a bit quicker than the conversion from black-and-white to color. Under the FCC rules for the transition to digital television, television manufacturers were required to include a digital tuner in all television sets manufactured after March 1, 2006.

This conversion is much like the transition from AM to FM as the standard listening medium in the radio industry. Radio listeners could not listen to FM stations until which time they had upgraded their radio from AM to the AM/FM format. The same thing will happen here as well. If you want to receive the beautiful, high-quality HDTV images, you will need to upgrade to a television set capable of displaying the HDTV images.

If you have any lingering doubts about the better HDTV standard, all you need to do is to visit your local television store and see for yourself just how awesome of a picture HDTV actually produces. Just as Dolby Digital Surround Sound enables the listener to feel as if they are in the middle of the action on the television, HDTV permits the viewer to feel as if they are standing in the same room as the actors, on the sidelines at the football game, or on the same beach as the models - it really is that good of a picture.


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