Though the 2006 deadline for complete digital conversion has been pushed back indefinitely, the major networks continue to roll out more and more programming in HDTV. Cable companies and satellite providers, eager to capitalize on a new for-pay service amidst falling profits and numerous bankruptcies, likewise continue to offer more high-definition channels. But what does this mean for the consumer? Is it worth paying upwards of $1000 for an HD-ready television, plus the additional monthly cost to the cable company? How much better can the sound and picture be, anyway?
Part one of a continuing series.
ABC, like Fox, has chosen to broadcast its HDTV signals in 720p, based on the superiority of progressive scan at creating a film-like quality and reducing jaggies and artifacts, particularly during action scenes in movies and sports. The other major networks, NBC and CBS, use 1080i, owing to the higher resolution of that format. While the debate about which signal is better rages, all the viewer really needs to know is that any HDTV can view either format, even if its not native to the set.
For viewing ABC's Sunday night line-up, my set-up was as follows:
- Sony 32-inch Plasma TV, 16x9 aspect ratio
- Motorola 5100 digital receiver
- Native 720p resolution on both TV and receiver
- Sony Dolby Digital 5.1 home theater
- Video and sound configured with THX optimizer
J.J. Abrams' spy drama is an excellent vehicle for showcasing HDTV technology. The progressive-scan picture is crisp and fluid, making the show look much more like a movie than your standard TV fare. The frame rate is smooth, and there are not noticeable artifacts.
Much of the March 14 episode, Facade, is set in very dark locations, such as a Belfast bar and the cargo hold of an airliner. These dark scenes are particularly noticeable in HD. Whereas on standard analog programming they would be blurry and indistinct, the action comes across as smooth and distinct. Brighter scenes stand our as well, with all colors rendered richly across the palette.