HDTV Help: HDTV v. HDTV-Ready? DVDs Better? Under $600?
July 27, 2004 10:01 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are considering a new television, our first in more than a decade. I'm lost. There are so many acronyms that I'm beginning to drown in alphabet soup. What's the difference between HDTV and HDTV-ready? Are they the same? Will DVDs look noticeably better on an HDTV set (or HDTV-ready set)? All I really want is a smallish widescreen high-definition television under $600. Is this even possible? Can you recommend some good web sites to help my research and decision?
posted by jdroth to Technology (9 answers total)
HDTV-Ready means the TV could conceivably display HDTV, but you'll need to buy a decoder box (for a couple hundred more) to do so. HDTVs come with a built-in decoder.
posted by falconred at 10:16 AM on July 27, 2004

DVDs will only look better on an HDTV if your old t.v. had less than 520 (give or take a few) lines of resolution and you buy some good component cables. So if your first t.v. is more than a decade old, then you'll likely see a major jump in the quality of DVDs. HDTV will look even better than your DVDs for now, though, given the amount of resolution it puts out.

In a few years they're going to have Blue-Laser DVDs that are backwards compatible with the current DVDs. They can hold substantially more material so you're going to see a rather large jump in home-movie resolution capabilities again. For the first year or two you can expect them to be prohibitively expensive, but my guess is in five years or so they'll be priced competitively; they better be, or they're never going to take over the marketplace (it's been my experience that a large number of DVD converts don't care about the visual quality as much as the ease of use that DVDs bring).
posted by The God Complex at 10:25 AM on July 27, 2004

DVDs have a maximum resolution. The quality you get onscreen is related to the screen, not to the screen's status as an HDTV(-ready) monitor or not. Videophiles (that is, snobs) have tons of little heuristics and measurements they use in evaluating a good picture, and they'll all tell you to buy one of the DVD home-theatre setup discs and follow its instructions.

<$600 should be possible with, say, Samsung or LG, which, despite being Korean, are not low-quality products at all. (Korean products in the '90s were like Taiwanese or Japanese products in the '70s-- immediately suspect. No longer.)

Other advice nobody's gonna give you: Check the caption fonts. Some are shite.
posted by joeclark at 10:29 AM on July 27, 2004

Best answer: Just went through this. CNET. AVForums. HDTV Forums. eCoustics. And possibly the best for last, Extremetech HDTV guide.
posted by anathema at 10:32 AM on July 27, 2004

See also.
posted by anathema at 10:34 AM on July 27, 2004

Response by poster: anathema, that Extremetech HDTV guide is great. I'm the kind of guy who needs info just like that, and it's helping me wrap my head around the subject. Of course, the real, test is applying this in the real world, but still...

posted by jdroth at 11:54 AM on July 27, 2004

Response by poster: For others finding this thread later, I found this television database to be helpful: just plug in your parameters and it spits out models that match!
posted by jdroth at 12:13 PM on July 27, 2004

For your average consumer players, dvds should look better on a widescreen set (or a 4:3 set with a squeeze mode).

Most movies on most dvd players will look a little bit off on a 4:3 tv. If you watch an SF movie where there are moving starfields, you'll often see stars get brighter and dimmer (or even disappear) in a vertical pan. To put a 16:9 image on the 4:3 tv, most dvd players just throw away every fourth line of the image, resulting in that effect. More expensive players will sample and downmix the image, but the effect doesn't disappear. On a widescreen tv, none of this is necessary, so you see every pixel in the original 720x480 frame.

So there's a real advantage to having a widescreen tv (or a 4:3 tv with a squeeze mode).

HDTV or HDTV-ready does not automatically mean that dvds will look better, --but-- it's a good bet that the picture will be generally more accurate (color, geometry, etc) on an HDTV(-ready) set.

HDTV or not, you definitely want to hook up the player to the tv using component or at least s-video cables. The improvement over standard video-in (composite) cables is staggering.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:27 PM on July 27, 2004

Also, not to plug a specific brand, but a lot of the more sophisticated HDTV-ready sets that are 4:3 will actually compress the scan lines in widescreen 16:9 mode. (The Sony WEGAs do this, but I'm sure other brands do as well.)

That means that in a traditional 4:3 image that fills the screen from top to bottom, the set spreads the scan lines evenly from top to bottom, just like you would expect. When it detects a 16:9 image, though, instead of just wasting the lines at the top and bottom that would be in the black letterbox bands, it actually compresses all the scan lines into the widescreen image area. That means that when you're watching a widescreen source, you've actually got higher line density than the normal 4:3 mode--combined with a progressive component image from a DVD player or HDTV box, it really looks great.

(You can also use DVI on most newer sets, which is a digital cable, rather than analog.)

It's going to be hard to find a set with all these features in your price range, though, I think--even though prices have come down, the more robust features still run more than $600, I think. That's actually kind of the price barrier for HDTV right now...you can get a great non-HDTV set for $600 and under, but HDTV capabilities are going to put you more into the $1000 range.
posted by LairBob at 5:42 AM on July 28, 2004

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