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HDTV – 720p, 1080i, and 1080p?
It seems like everyone is buying a new HDTV set this year. Conversation around the water cooler is full of technical jargon. When HDTV standards in the US were originated by the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee), they defined eighteen different standards, but not all standards are in equal use.
The standards you should be familiar with for HDTV (High Definition TV) are 720p, 1080i and more recently 1080p. The number in the format (for example “720”) is the vertical lines of the display resolution, and the letter in the format (for example “p”) is the display technique. The letter “p” means “progressive” scan, and the letter “i” means “interlaced”.
HDTV (both 720p, 1080i, and 1080p) has a wide screen ratio of 16:9 (width:height). EDTV (Enhanced Definition) is standard definition TV (SDTV was the predecessor to HDTV), but with some software “interpolation”. EDTV delivers a picture that is superior to SDTV, but not as sharp as HDTV. EDTV uses progressive scanning. EDTVs sometimes have an aspect ratio of 16:9 (widescreen).
For reference, standard definition TV (SDTV, the predecessor to HDTV) has 480 lines of vertical resolution and an aspect ratio of 4:3. The SDTV signal in the US has historically been an interlaced signal. This means that your TV set captures each frame in two passes: once for even horizontal lines and a second pass for odd lines. The specification for the technology is maximum resolution, but often, signal sources are less than maximum. For example, VHS tape has approximately 240 lines of vertical resolution, SDTV has approximately 330 lines of vertical resolution, and SDTV DVD has approximately 480 lines of vertical resolution.
Televisions in Europe and Japan were (and are) progressive in nature. A progressive format makes a single pass for all lines. Progressive pictures look a bit smoother than interlaced images, especially when there is a lot of movement on the screen, such as sports.
To add to the confusion, BluRay DVDs do, and later this year, satellite TV companies will broadcast in 1080p. This standard has both a high number of lines of vertical resolution and a preferred progressive format. Dish Network will begin satellite broadcasting in 1080p with 150 HDTV channels in August 2008, and DirecTV will begin broadcasting both satellite and Internet with about 130 channels of HDTV programming by the end of 2008. Satellite companies compress their signals using MPEG-4 technology, which reduces the bandwidth required for transmission. Currently, the only source material for 1080p is movies, especially movies originally made for IMAX. None of the major networks (ABC, ESPN, etc.) have announced support for 1080p yet. In addition, Sony PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have 1080p games.
HDTV video formats: 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, higher numbers are better, right? Although 1080i is technically a higher resolution, it’s not the obvious choice. 1080i has 1080 vertical lines of resolution and 1920 horizontal lines of resolution. 720p has 720 lines of vertical resolution and 1280 lines of horizontal resolution. But the 720p system is scanned slowly. This compensates for the lower level of resolution. A 1080p signal is the best of both worlds, more picture information with progressive format.
If your signal received, for example from a satellite receiver, is primarily standard definition, then a 1080p TV will not significantly improve your picture compared to a 720p TV. Picture quality is fundamentally limited by the source signal (480 lines of vertical resolution). Similarly, if your signal contains a 720 source, a 1080 TV will not improve your picture. All high def sports broadcasts on Fox, ESPN and ABC are broadcast in 720p.
Some networks have opted for the 1080i format because it provides more picture information, while ABC, Fox, ESPN and the National Geographic Channel have opted for the smoother 720p picture. HDTV programming from CBS, NBC and other networks is broadcast in 1080i. A newer 1080i or 1080p HDTV will probably render this type of programming somewhat sharper than it appears on a 720p TV. This becomes more important because as TV screens get larger, the visible difference in detail between 720p and 1080i and 1080p displays becomes more pronounced. Because of this, HDTV sets larger than 50 inches are 1080p or 1080i.
1080p HDTV System Capability:
1080p HDTV displays all input signals at 1080p, as this is the normal resolution of the unit. If the system is lower than 1080i or 1080p, a special purpose chip in your HDTV measures the signal. It will interpolate as EDTV does with SDTV signals. If the signal is 1080i, the system will combine the odd and even interlaced frames and display the full signal as 1080p. The resulting performance should be similar to a true 1080p video source.
More than 100 million US homes can receive HDTV from their cable system, and all of the nation’s top 100 cable markets offer HDTV programming. Unfortunately, most cable providers carry only a few of the 50+ available HDTV networks.
While the selection of HDTV local channels is generally better on cable than on satellite, the major satellite companies offer more national HDTV channels than almost every cable provider. DirecTV and Dish Network both promise to offer more than 130 HDTV channels by the end of the year. Bob Sherman, Satellite Business News.
Screen resolution for HDTVs has become comparable to microprocessor clock speeds for personal computers. Although clock speed is not a perfect indication of overall system performance, consumers often think it is.
Interestingly, when the SMPTE (Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers) expert group recently ranked the importance of resolution, it came fourth. SMPTE ranked contrast ratio, color saturation, color temperature, and grayscale next to resolution as important. The Imaging Science Foundation came to a similar conclusion. However, most HDTV manufacturers integrate quality features such as improved contrast ratio with higher screen resolution into their top-of-the-line HDTVs. So if you buy a set with a top-of-the-line screen resolution, you’re likely getting the top of the manufacturer’s product line for other important screen criteria.
Prices have fallen significantly over the past two years, but recently the rate of price declines appears to be slowing down significantly. “Television buyers who visit mass merchants may be more concerned about getting the lowest price and may not seek expert advice. However, television buyers should be aware that the fact that they find lower prices at mass merchants tends to be in these stores. Sony or Panasonic To carry a second-tier brand TV instead of a similar major brand. When the price of a particular television model is compared at each type of retailer, the prices are surprisingly similar,” Larry Wu of JD Power.
And on a final note, make sure to account for the audio side of your system. George Lucas (Star Wars) once said that audio is half the experience of watching a movie. This is also true for a good football or basketball game.
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