HDTV in the UK
Today in the UK we are witnessing a revolution that is transforming our television viewing experience. That revolution is HDTV (High Definition Television).
HDTV technology offers truly superb picture quality with a depth and clarity that has to be seen to be believed. Conventional TV’s which use the PAL standard, with 576 visible lines, offer a level of detail that doesn’t come close to the 720 or 1028 lines provided by HDTV.
The difference in quality becomes more apparent when you compare the total number of pixels (the individual dots that create a picture) provided by PAL with 720 across and 576 vertically and Full HD with 1920 across and 1080 vertically. PAL offers a total of 414,720 (720 x 576) pixels while Full HD (1920 x 1080) can generate an astounding 2,073,600 pixels.
HDTV has arrived in response to the poorer quality Standard Definition (SD) format. You might be more familiar with this SD format as the PAL system in the UK. It has been around for a long time, since the early 20th Century in fact. Large flat panel displays quickly exposed the shortcoming of the old SD format with low resolution PAL signals on larger screens often producing a grainy picture which lacks sharpness.
Note: Once you have bought your HD Ready TV you are not necessarily done with SD. More and more broadcasts are being offered in High Definition, but not everything is available in the new format. You might not be willing to spend more on an HD subscription from the likes of Sky or Virgin Media, in which case it is important to look for a flat panel TV which copes well with the old SD signal. We will be covering more of this aspect of buying a TV later in this guide.
You may have already started looking at HDTV's in your local electrical showroom and noticed that they come with different resolutions, usually 1366 x 768 and 1920 x 1080; does this mean that the 576 lines (PAL) coming down through my aerial will not work with my new HDTV? Don't worry! You don't have to be concerned with matching an incoming TV signal with the resolution of the TV screen.
Your new HDTV will take the incoming 576 lines from a PAL signal and 'Scale' it to fit the resolution of your screen; in the case of a TV with a resolution of 1366 x 768, it will take a Sky HD signal (1080 lines) and scale the signal down to fit the screen.
How does HDTV it work?
Instead of using the conventional 576 lines to plot a TV picture, HDTV uses 720 or 1080 lines. In addition, the pixels in each of those lines are closer. This results in a hugely improved picture quality, clarity and colour definition.
Standard Definition v High Definition
Note: Remember that the quality of your picture depends on the source of the broadcast as well as the quality of your TV. You can watch Freeview (576 lines) on a Plasma or LCD screen, but the quality will not be as good as Sky HD (1080 lines). A Plasma or LCD TV will actually scale whatever source it is fed to fit the screen. The quality of the scaling mechanism of an HDTV differs greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, producing widely differing results in terms of picture quality.
What about 3D TV?
You might be aware that an increasing number of TVs are being sold with built in 3D capability. Films are now being sold on special 3D Blu-ray discs that you can play on your 3D TV. Sky have launched a dedicated 3D channel in the UK.
Should you consider 3D when buying a new TV? Well, most big retailers have demo areas for you to experience the extra dimensional experience, its actually very good fun. Inevitably, there is an extra cost involved. You will need a new 3D capable Blu-ray player to play movies in the new format. Sky's 3D channel is free but only to its HD subscribers and of course, you will need at least one pair of 3D glasses.
If you are not sure, one option is to buy a 3D 'Capable' TV which comes without the 3D transmitter you get on a 3D 'Ready' TV. It works out a little cheaper and you are future proofing should you decide to embrace the joys of 3D at a later date.
If you would like to find out more, you might like to read our 3D TV Guide.
Is high Definition just for TV's?
In parallel to the introduction of HDTV services, consumers can take advantage of the 'Blu-ray' High Definition DVD format.
Hook up a Blu-ray player to your TV, insert a Blu-ray disc and prepare to be impressed. The picture sharpness and level of detail is simply astounding. Most new film releases are now available on Blu-ray.
If you would like to find out more, you might like to red our Blu-ray Guide.
Another area of interest within the high definition revolution is gaming. Microsoft’s xbox 360 is already HD compatible with an optional HD DVD drive. Sony's PlayStation 3 comes equipped with a Blu-ray drive as standard.
Manufacturers such as Canon and Sony have recently launched a range of High Definition camcorders which has further expanded the possibilities of working with this exiting new format.
If you would like to find out more, you might like to read our HD Camcorder Guide.
So where does this leave the ordinary consumer like you or me who is interested in being part of this exciting revolution? The rest of this guide looks specifically at HDTV and takes a step by step approach to the point where you can confidently buy the kit that is right for you, and start enjoying the HDTV experience.
If your interest is directed towards the other HD technologies mentioned above there is a HD-DVD guide, and a HD Gaming guide. We also have a HD Technology section which has been designed to optimize and enhance your HD viewing experience …