High-Def TVs?

Hi all!

Last weekend I went shopping for a 50-inch plasma TV. The picture looked great as long as there was a high-def signal. I asked the salesman to change the channel to a non high-def channel. He did and it looked absolutely horrible! My old 27-inch tube TV has a far better picture at its 480 resolution than the plasma did at 480. Why would anyone want to watch a TV with such a pitifully poor picture?

The salesman explained about the HD channels and non-HD channels. He said that the local channels do not broadcast in HD 24 hours a day. That surprised me. He talked about cable and satellite channels.

I learned a lot that day. Basically that these new TVs are not worth the money until every station/channel is broadcasting in HD 24 x 7. Does anyone know if that is supposed to happen by a given date?

You still get digital channels beside HD channels which is still better than analog.
You saw a likely analog channel and that should get better as Feb 2009 everything will be digital. The new monitors magnify the flaws of lesser signals, I guess if it bugs you dont buy one but thats the way it is. You have to take the good with the bad but in 5 yrs I bet most everything will be HD.
they're great for anomorphic dvd's
seems like a bit of an over reaction - might I suggest doing an audit of what you actually watch - chances are that most all of it is available in HD

The switchover takes affect on February 17, 2009. By then, won't have a choice. Because TV Stations will no longer broadcast shows in an analog signal. Everything will be broadcasted in an all digital signal.

So, that's when it would be wise to invest in a new HDTV (if not before then).

It would either have to be that??? Or else keep your old analog TV, but you'll have to buy a DTV Converter Box, or otherwise, your old analog TV will no longer be working on that date and beyond.

So, I wouldn't jump the gun as far as buying a Plasma TV is concerned. If you see one that is available at an incredible price, now might be the time to dive in and make the purchase.

Believe me, you won't be sorry that you have done so come February 17th of next year.

Some HDTVs do a much better job upscaling standard def pictures than others. Don't know which model(s) you were looking at, but my Panasonic 50" plasma does a pretty darn good job with a good standard def signal to the point that I don't mind watching it at all (sometimes I even have to doublecheck the channel to see if that I'm not on an HD channel). That said, there are some substandard broadcasts that will never look good on any HDTV, but those are in the minority and most are very watchable (this will obviously vary by area/provider). I've seen standard broadcasts in the stores too, and they always look much worse than they do in my home. I tend to think they have a poor signal spread among too many TVs, and the HDTVs themselves are almost universally poorly set up, which only makes the situation worse. Even the HD broadcasts don't look that great in the stores, which is probably why you often see them using blu ray to demo HD.

Anyway, most of the stuff I watch is available in HD and that content is and will only continue to expand. Everybody's different, but in my experience I end up seeing a stunning HD picture the majority of the time, which far, far outweighs those times when I have to watch a standard broadcast. I think you'd be throwing the baby out with the bathwater if you're using that as an excuse to not buy an HDTV, and there are some scorching deals to be had now since stores/manufacturers are desperate for sales. For what it's worth...
Three points:

-- A standard definition program blown up to the size of a 50 inch screen WILL look horrible, unless viewed from a considerable distance. One of the most fundamental reasons for hd is to support large screen sizes.

-- Different hd sets will differ in picture quality when displaying sd material.

-- The February 2009 changeover to all-digital broadcasting only affects over-the-air broadcasts, that are received through an antenna. It has no relevance to cable users.

-- Al
One more point. The conversion to over-the-air digital broadcasting does not mean that everything will be hd. Digital broadcasts can be sd or hd. SD digital broadcasts will generally look sharper, though, then sd analog broadcasts. The downside of digital broadcasting is that if the signal strength is not above a certain threshold, instead of seeing a weak snowy picture (as with analog), you will see either nothing or a picture that intermittently breaks up.

-- Al
As I understand it, the only TV's that will not work after the 17th are ones that have no coax cable input on them. If your TV has a coax input, you should be fine.
More precisely, the TV needs to have an ATSC tuner, rather than an older NTSC tuner, to receive digital over-the-air broadcasts without a converter box. There is not necessarily a correlation between that and the presence of a coaxial input connector.

-- Al
Dave, what you've observed is ABSOLUTELY correct, as is your conclusion. The standard-definition picture looks bad on the set you describe . . . because this set has a bad picture. And unfortuneately, this is the case with most new TVs, of any technology.

Whether or not they look great with a high-definition picture is irrelevant . . . if you were shopping for new speakers, and they only sounded good on SACDs, but worse than your current pair on CDs, would you buy them? With a good HD source, it's easy to make a television look good . . . just like if you had a Studer A-80 reel-to-reel playing Tape Project reels as a source, you could make some pretty modest amps and speakers sound amazing.

It seems that the market for TVs these days is much like mass-market stereo receivers in the early 1970s -- major wars going on between big Asian companies for market dominance. The major target for their efforts are middle-class males, who have an insatiable appetite for armchair technical analysis and a cheap price tag. Hence, if you want the biggest numbers and most acronyms for the lowest price, it's a buyer's market.

But the intelligent way to buy a television is the same way one would shop for audio . . . bring in your own media on DVD, and compare the picture quality to what you already have at home.
I learned a lot that day. Basically that these new TVs are not worth the money until every station/channel is broadcasting in HD 24 x 7. Does anyone know if that is supposed to happen by a given date?


No, nobody knows when all channels will convert to HDTV 24 X 7. They may know that analog signals end in February 2009, but that has nothing to do with HDTV.

My question to you Dave, is are you planning on watching TV 24 X 7?

I have owned a HDTV for about 4 years now, and cannot go back. Not only is the picture quality in HD MUCH better, but I have HD material availible 24 X 7. Even if most channels do not broadcast in HD 24/7, my cable company always has 'On Demand', which means I can watch sports, movies or shows in HD any time I want. Most of it is free with subscription, some is pay-per-view. The bottom line is I don't watch SDTV anymore. I haven't seen an SDTV program in a couple of years now, so I don't see this as an issue.

As for the poorer picture quality of a HDTV in SDTV mode, I do agree with this, and I've heard a couple of explainations for it. First of all, yes 480 lines of resolution will look better on a 27 inch screen than a 50 inch screen, that's just simple mathematics.
Secondly, I have also heard that HDTV manufacturers invest most of their budget on the HDTV tuners, and tend to use the cheapest SDTV tuners made, whereas a SDTV manufacturer will spend a bit more money on their SDTV tuner.

Understandable, once you watch HDTV, who would want to watch in SDTV?

"Why would anyone want to watch a TV with such a pitifully poor picture?"

Because we don't buy HDTVs to watch standard definition TV.

If your prime interest is still in standard definition broadcast/programming, you simply might not be a good candidate for HDTV. But, don't blame the technology...a small amount of resolution can only be enlarged so much before it looks crappy.

Think of taking a 128k MP3 and running it through gear that upsamples to 24/192 and expecting some big increase in quality. Sounds like crap on your "big rig", but it might sound just fine on your iPod.
Man some of this posting about the Feb 2009 Digital cutoff is scary!

Nobody can make anyone think its worth an upgrade to HDTV, HD looks great and other channels will vary but will look poor and the bigger the screen the more obvious it is.
Seems to me that for someone who wants to watch both hdtv and sdtv extensively, and have reasonably good picture quality in both modes, the key is to simply select a screen size that will be the right compromise for both modes. Select it to be somewhat smaller than what would be ideal for hd for your particular viewing distance, and a little bigger than what would be ideal for sd at your viewing distance. Then find the set in that screen size that handles sd the best.

With prices so low these days, there seems to be little reason to wait several years for hd to become the predominant broadcast mode, or to try to future-proof by buying a screen size that is too big for sd. Just buy another set with a larger screen in several years, once hd has become predominant, and meanwhile have most of the quality that both modes offer.

-- Al
Al, that would make sense if the main picture-quality bottleneck for SD programming was its native resolution . . . but that's not the case. Pristene-quality NTSC video is actually quite stunning, it's just that the common modes of consumer delivery (analog broadcast, analog cable, and compressed digital QAM from cable and DBS services) make quite a mess of it. A typical mid-1980s high-end video setup was an 8' diagonal screen with a Kloss Novabeam projector . . . such a system with an analog C-band satellite feed could easily embarass anything in Best Buy playing HD.

Here are what I see as some of the biggest picture quality problems with consumer TVs:

7. Poor viewing angle - this continues to be a problem with most RP and LCD technologies. RPs still frequently have poor corner focus as well.

6. Excessive luminance peaking - the classic "sharpness control" set too high, causing lots of noise

5. Non-linear grey scale - LCDs typically have problems at the black end, all technologies seem to have problems at the white end, mostly processing/calibration related

4. Grey-scale linearity doesn't match between each color

3. Color balance is usually WAY, WAY off

2. De-interlacing artifacts

1. POOR SCALING ALGORITHMS!!! Really, there's no excuse here, just corner-cutting. It's interesting how many of them have noise issues that are amplified by common MPEG compression.

All of these issues (except for #1 somewhat, and sometimes #6) exist for BOTH standard and high-definition broadcasts. It's simply that with HD, the source is that much better to start with, so most people don't notice it as much.
Kirkus -- Thanks for your thoughtful insights.

Actually, they reinforce the decision I made about 3 years ago to buy the last and perhaps best crt-based hdtv of its screen size ever made, just before it became unavailable. A Sony 30 inch 16:9 hdtv set, model KD-30XS955 (all 155 pounds of it!). The display technology-related issues that comprise much of your list were, of course, even more pronounced then for flat panel sets, but of course essentially don't apply to crt-based sets, which in my view at the time provided much better picture quality for much lower prices.

We watch Cablevision cable channels on this set, from a distance of about 7 feet. Analog sd channels are quite nice, digital sd channels are significantly better, and hd channels are as good as I can conceive of.

When I bought the set, I also purchased an Avia setup dvd, but I never saw fit to use it because everything seemed so perfect right out of the box (once I turned off the set's default "vivid" mode, that is).

Too bad the manufacturers have pretty much unilaterally taken the option of high quality crt-based hdtv sets away from consumers.

Thanks again for your good comments.

-- Al
Ah, yes. There were some wonderful CRT sets made as a lovely swan song to what became a very well-developed technology. A similar thing happened a few years prior with CRT projectors . . . the 9" Barcos were truly stunning.

I think the main problem with continuing to manufacture high-end CRT sets was the availability of high-quality picture tubes . . . widescreen tubes are very costly and have a high rejection rate, and all picture tubes have some pretty nasty chemicals inside that make RoHS compliance very difficult.