Earlier this year, we tested 54 2005 HDTV sets to learn how they process all the detail contained within 1080i high-definition signals. The results were disappointing. Slightly less than half of the models tested failed to properly deinterlace a 1080i high-definition signal, resulting in a loss of picture resolution. Thanks to our readers' response to dealers when shopping for high-definition TVs, a number of manufacturers took notice.
This time last year, we tested 61 2006 HDTVs to learn how they process all the detail contained within 1080i, the most common high-definition broadcast format. It's the highest resolution format the majority of HD broadcasters and cable channels use, including CBS, NBC, CW, HBO, and Showtime. The results of our 2006 tests were quite disappointing; less than half of the HDTVs were able to properly process the interlaced broadcast signal to the TV's native, progressive resolution. This year, we have expanded our testing to include 74 HDTVs that range from 19 to 67 inches. We have added a new test for 1080p displays to judge their resolution with motion as compared to their stationary resolution. This test illustrates how all HDTVs lower the amount of detail you can see when the camera is panning or where there is action in a scene, such as on a football field. More on this later.
In the November 2007 issue, I tested 74 HDTVs for their ability to process 1080i signals, the highest resolution standard found on most of the broadcast and cable networks. A number of the remaining HDTVs to be introduced in 2007 arrived too late for our November issue. We decided to follow up with some more displays. Due to space constraints, this article will refer to previous articles more than we normally do. On the bright side, all the articles mentioned (including the November 2007 test) are available on this site.
The current top HDTV broadcast resolution is 1080i (interlaced). Most television and cable networks use it, including CBS, NBC, the WB, HBO, Showtime, HDNet, The Movie Channel, Starz HDTV, and others. What happens to this HDTV signal when one of the latest digital HDTVs processes it? Does it take the full 1,080 lines of transmitted resolution, change the signal from interlaced to progressive (called deinterlacing), detect and compensate for motion, and send it to the screen, as it should? Or does the display's processor cheat you out of seeing all the detail within the broadcast?
One of the biggest complaints about high-definition televisions pertains to the poor way they handle standard-definition television signals (broadcast, over-the-air, cable, satellite) and SD DVDs. The culprit? Mediocre to poor source material and the herculean effort needed for an HDTV using as many as 1,920 by 1,080 pixels to calculate all the missing pixels when it upconverts a signal that is interlaced with only 720 by 480 pixels or less. In the words of President Bush, "It's hard work."
I'm a huge fan of the video hard-disk recorders (HDRs), also known as digital video recorders (DVRs), that have revolutionized the TV viewing habits of millions. As the ads say, you can watch what you want when you want. But the options for time-shifting high-definition programs have been limited.
On Wednesday, September 10, the Federal Communications Commission approved a package of standards designed to make digital televisions compatible with a wide range of digital and high definition cable television programs. The "plug and play" agreement will allow consumers to connect digital televisions directly into cable systems, without a set-top-box.
Wish your satellite or digital cable-TV provider offered more high-definition channels, or maybe just a better picture? Take heart: now rolling out, VERIZON FiOS TV delivers more than 350 standard-def channels as well as 20-plus high-def ones. FiOS TV - that's Fiber Optic Service - is already available in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Texas.
Just ask anyone who's spent any amount of time watching a high-definition TV - it's addictive. Maybe it's the seductive picture or the cinemalike sound, but the half-dozen HDTV channels I had available until recently were about the only ones I regularly watched - even though there were hundreds of standard-definition channels I could have tuned in.