HDTV: What Does “High Definition” Really Mean?

HDTV: What Does “High Definition” Really Mean?

If you’ve shopped for a new television anytime in the past few years, you’ve likely seen all sorts of models that advertise that they are high-definition ready, or “HD”.  Even television networks are getting into the action, often making HD broadcasts alongside traditional programming.  However, what does the term high definition really mean?  A surprising number of people misunderstand what it actually is, and the significance, so we’re going to take a closer look at it.

    • High Definition Means High Resolution – The technical definition of high definition television relates to the number of pixels per square inch that your display has.  Traditional analogue broadcasts are of a similar level of quality to standard digital format, which provides 480i of resolution.  Increasing levels of quality are 480p, then you cross into true high definition at 720p, and it finally caps out currently at 1080i.
    • Resolution Isn’t Everything – Despite the fact that HDTV has significantly higher resolution than standard broadcast, that doesn’t mean that the picture quality is that much better.  In fact, resolution comes in fourth in a list of factors which contribute to picture quality according to most studies.  Contrast ratio, color saturation, and color accuracy all are more important.  So make sure you pay close attention to the actual picture quality of models you’re looking at.
    • Pay Attention to Native Display – One last thing to keep in mind is that the native resolution of your device should match the format of whatever you’re viewing as closely as possible.  Do you watch a lot of broadcast HDTV?  Find out whether your favorite stations put out their signal in 720p or 1080p and purchase accordingly.  If you try to play a signal on a device where the native resolution is different, you will lose some of the digital data which comprises the picture in translation, which leads to lower overall quality.
    • Be Aware of Diminishing Returns – In the vast majority of settings, it can be quite difficult for people to differentiate the various levels of HD quality.  In many cases, you don’t necessarily need to make the most expensive purchase of the latest technology, because not only will broadcasters and content producers not be using the latest formats, but you may not even be able to tell the difference in picture quality.

Hopefully this helps you to understand the basic difference between high definition signals and normal ones.  Being aware of these basic differences will help you to purchase the television model that will best suit your needs.


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