High definition rules in today’s video world. Cable and broadcast TV are now in high definition, even cameras and camcorders shoot in high-def, so it makes sense that the movies we watch at home should be too. A new generation of DVD players and discs is providing just that, with a little something extra.
New high-def discs hold a lot more information than standard DVDs—up to five times more—and that lets movie studios include more features, outtakes, and interviews. More important, it also means that the movie itself is richer, more fully realized, and much better suited for viewing on new high-definition TVs.
The features that make digital TV so special are also part of the new DVD formats, bringing the viewer closer to a theater experience than anything ever seen on a home screen. But this is technology, so there must be something to unnecessarily complicate matters. In this case, it has been dueling formats: Blu-ray disc versus HD DVD, not unlike the VHS versus Betamax of yesteryear. The battle between the two formats raged for a couple of years, but Blu-ray is now the undisputed winner. HD DVD, like Betamax, has fallen by the wayside.
Blu-ray delivers sharp, high-quality images, packs on more extras, and provides a more thrilling movie-watching experience at home. Sometime in the next year, more interactive capabilities will be built into the players via Ethernet ports that bring high speed to the high-def experience.
Will these new discs replace DVDs? Ultimately yes, but there’s no need to trash your existing video library. Blu-ray devices will play older discs. Many claim to “up convert” older discs to high-def through a feature that lets the player add pixels, or lines of resolution, essentially reformatting standard discs for a more vivid picture. Not quite the full high-def experience, but an improvement nonetheless.
Eventually, your current DVD player may join the VCR in the recycling bin, however, because it can’t play the new-format movies.
Making the switch
On February 19, 2009, TV will change forever. That is the date when all TV broadcasts must be sent in high definition—HD—and the old analog signal will be shut off forever. It may sound a bit ominous, but there’s no need to panic. Here’s what really matters and how to painlessly make the switch to digital TV.
You’ve probably been seeing the letters “HD” quite a bit, with electronics companies, retailers, and networks all singing its praises. There’s already a lot of content being broadcast digitally, and by this time next year, all stations will be required by the government to send program signals digitally. No excuses.
Therefore, to watch TV after that date, you will need either a TV with a digital tuner inside or an external converter box. Having a flat-panel TV—LCD or plasma—or even a TV labeled “digital ready” doesn’t mean it will receive the new signals. But any TV bought after May 25, 2007, already has digital tuners inside. Cable or satellite TV subscribers are likely getting digital signals courtesy of a digital cable box or satellite receiver. For those precious few receiving TV signals with an old-fashioned antenna, converter boxes are available along with coupons (two per household) good for $40 toward the purchase and currently available at most retail stores.
However, the TV will determine the quality of the image. While the term 1080p may seem like gibberish, it’s one you need to know because not all digital TVs are created equal. There are actually three formats based on varying degrees of resolution or clarity. The higher the numbers, the higher the picture clarity. The number 1080 is assigned to high-definition TV (HDTV), which delivers the crispest detail and color. Currently, 1080p is the highest resolution available—it’s often referred to as “true high-def.”
More information about the switch-over is available on the Federal Communications Commission Web site, dtv.gov.
Get the picture?
So, you’ve got a new HDTV and next-generation DVD player with improved resolution. Getting the crispest, clearest, highest-quality picture means everything needs to work together perfectly—the signal, the TV, and all the components. Here are a couple things to remember to get the most out of your viewing experience:
- Make sure you’re receiving a digital signal. Double-check with the service provider just to be sure and use an HDMI cable for the best-quality (tech speak is “lossless”) transmission.
- Calibrate the TV to make sure the picture is as crisp and colors as bright and true as they can be. Have this professionally done by the retailer or installer, or get a disc from a local retailer that walks you through the process, ensuring that colors are worthy of the money and effort spent on a new digital home-entertainment system.