In the year since we first looked at High Definition Television all the major stations are now starting to broadcast (there should be 100% compliance by 2005) and the price of true HDTV sets has almost dropped in half!
You can find an occasional special, such as one we recently saw, with a round tube, square screen (4:3 ratio like a standard TV set) Hitachi that is a true HDTV set (6 million dots and HDTV tuner) priced well under $600, along with letter box, wide-screen format sets priced starting at $999 for a 32” direct picture tube.
The projection sets are also getting better, but the prices are still quite high, upwards to $3,000 minimum, but the image quality we saw today rivals a motion picture theater in one of those multiplex theaters. Edge to edge brightness in a sun-lit room was excellent giving a big, brilliant picture from a distance of over 20 feet away. As you get closer to the set, say around 3 feet, you start to see the edges get dim, but you are not supposed to view the set at this distance. These large screen sets are designed for back of the room viewing and they work at a very wide angle.
The lower priced “common” television sets now start to look grainy and fuzzy when compared to the HDTV sets, even in the $499 price range!
For those not familiar with U.S. HDTV, it is a compressed digital transmission that delivers either no signal at all (if you are far from the station) or a rock solid picture with no ghosts, no static, no hiss, no flicker, no bent images like you get on broadcast TV in fringe areas.
Most American broadcasters use the 1080i format which delivers 1,080 scan lines of picture done in two passes for odd then even picture lines. ABC TV uses the 720p format which creates the picture using 720 lines in a single scan or progressive mode. Both format deliver roughly the same amount of definition, but there is some debate on extra jiggle caused by the interlaced scanning in the 1080 mode. All HDTV sets can receive both types of broadcasts, plus they can also tune in regular broadcast television which uses a 480i picture format which is a fourth the size and picture quality. The HDTV set can expand the picture to fill the larger screen by spreading the picture across multiple dots.
Europe and Asia uses a widely different format of HDTV, some of which is still traditional broadcast, some is almost compatible with their regular broadcasts, some is a special format that only some sets can receive.
HDTV has over twice the picture quality of a DVD disk or a digital home video (Digital 8 or Mini DV).
HDTV also has multi-track audio, but you usually have to buy a special sound system to hear the 7 channel theater quality stereo surround sound.
There are also two types of color filtration. One which uses a single filter to separate the color from the light another using separate filters to provide a more brilliant image with better color purity. The better filter system adds to the overall price.
By next year we should see HDTV sets in smaller, round tube screens down to under $500, maybe as low as $399. We may also see the wide screen sets drop to $699 in the near future for entry level quality.
We were very impressed with what we saw in the $600 to $1,000 range, so HDTV is starting to get within the price reach of mainstream viewers just in time to see all the new fall shows being simulcast in this higher quality, larger image format!