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I have an HDTV - Am I Seeing High Definition?

Last Updated on Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 1:27 PM

The answer to this question is whether you are watching high definition content on your high definition capable display, and if you have the proper connections to take advantage of the higher quality that true High Definition can provide.

Buying an HD-capable display is just the first step towards enjoying the best picture and sound quality possible. Next, you need to send some high definition content to it.

High Definition Content

To see true High Definition quality, you must have a source capable of giving you the proper signals. That means that you must be watching one of the following sources of content:

  • Broadcasts of High Definition Material
    • Over-the-air (from an antenna)
    • Cable
    • Satellite
  • High Definition Discs (HD DVD or Blu-ray)

Broadcasts of High Definition Material

Many HDTVs have ATSC tuners built into them, which make it possible for you to use a TV antenna to receive the HD broadcasts of many local TV stations. If you already have a TV antenna installed, you will most likely be able to receive at least the major networks in your local viewing area at no additional charge. For more information about what you might need in terms of equipment, etc., please see AntennaWeb.org

If you receive your television signals from a cable or satellite box, you will want to acquire a high definition version of that box from your cable or satellite provider. If you do not, the picture quality that you will see will be no better than standard definition, which is nowhere near what true HD will look like on your new set!

Some HDTVs also have the ability to receive unscrambled HD cable signals. You may notice the "QAM" designation in the owner's manual. This capability allows you to receive HD via your cable service without the need for an external cable box. Some HDTVs implement CableCards, which allows you to receive a special card from your cable company, providing you with access to their scrambled channels as well, but this feature is uncommon as a result of a less-than-spectacular show of support from cable companies around the country.

The quality that is possible from broadcast signals is high, but the reality of the levels of compression necessary to broadcast these signals, the best quality is going to come from the disc-based high definition formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray.

High Definition Discs (HD DVD or Blu-ray)

The HD DVD and Blu-ray high definition disc formats is where High Definition is truly allowed to shine in all its glory! Not confined by the strict limitations of squeezing as many channels into the same space as possible, these discs provide stunning imagery and fantastic sound, all on a disc the same size as a DVD.

An important note to mention here is that the standard DVD format that has been around since 1997 is not capable of delivering the kind of quality that your HDTV is able to display. Whereas DVD has a resolution of 720x480, both HD disc formats have a native resolution of 1920x1080. If you do the math, you'll find that to be 6 times the total resolution of DVD! Also, upconverting DVD players do not provide true HD quality. For more information about this, please read I have an Upconverting DVD Player - Am I Seeing High Definition?

If you enjoy watching movies, you will love watching movies on HD DVD and Blu-ray! For more information about these formats, please read What are the HD DVD and Blu-ray High Definition Disc Formats?

High Definition Connections

Composite Cable

S-Video Cable

Component Cables

HDMI Cable

The final step to make sure that you're getting all the quality possible from your HDTV is to connect your equipment with the necessary cables so that the picture can get from your source to the display.

Standard DVD players could be connected to a display via composite video (the single cable with a yellow RCA connector), S-Video cable (a single cable with a round connector containing four tiny pins), or component cables (three cables with RCA connectors). These connections are ordered in the least to best quality.

Only the component connection is capable of delivering HD video to an HDTV. The advent of HD has brought with it a new connection, HDMI. It is a flat connector that is capable of carrying both video and audio. You must use one of these two types of connections in order to get true HD from a cable/satellite box to your HDTV.

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