Part 1: The HDTV and Changing Needs

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It has been nearly 80 years since the firstpublic demonstration televisiontook place in a crowded laboratory in London.Since that time television has advanced from blurry black and white pictures tostunning high-definition images with life-like depth and realism. How werethese achievements made? More importantly, what should we expect in the futureas we approach television's first centennial?

A Look Back

Today, there are more than 220 milliontelevisions in the United States.These TV sets have their historical roots in technology that was pioneered inthe late 1920's and 1930's. While many television milestones took place during theseyears, it was not until 1949 that sales new sets really started taking f. In1953, the NTSC (National Television System Committee) standard was adopted forthe transmission color televisionand in 1954; RCA launched the first commercially available color TV. The 1950salso saw the beginning a shift intelevision architecture, moving away from vacuum tube chassis to more solidstate components.

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During the 1960s, the transition from black andwhite TVs to color was largely completed. Other advancements during this decadeincluded 'HiFi' TV sets and widespread popularity of remote control units. In the mid 1970s,the advent the VCR transformed thetelevision experience with the ability to record and play back videotapes. The1970s and 1980s were a time when many Americans took down their unsightly TVantennas and replaced them with cable TV boxes, offering a score of channels to flip through. The so called'MTV generation' was born into this era when television was no longerjust a family entertainment center, but the center point of personal and generational expression.While it would be unfair to say that the ensuing years have beentechnologically dormant for television, few would argue that the next majormilestone in TV was the advent high definition television (HDTV).

The Early Years

Modern-day has its roots in research that was started in Japan by the NHK (JapanBroadcasting Corporation) in 1970. In 1977, the SMPTE (The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)Study Group on High Definition Television was formed. The group published itsinitial recommendations in 1980, which included, among other things, thedefinition wide screen format and1100-line scanning structure. The first demonstration ofin the United Statestook place in 1981 and generated a great deal of interest. In 1987, the FCC (FederalCommunications Commission) sought advice from the private sector and formed theAdvisory Committee on Advanced Television Service. Initially, there were asmany as 23 different ATV (Advanced Television) systems proposed to thiscommittee, but by 1990, there were only 9 proposals remaining - all based onanalog technology. However, by mid-1991, the leading ATV designs were based ona new all-digital approach. A joint proposal from several companies detailingan all-digital ATV system was given to the FCC in 1995. Following certainchanges and compromises, this proposal was approved by the FCC in December,1996 and became the mandated ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee)standard for terrestrial DTV/broadcasting.

Today

After 35 years development, high definition television has finally started making inroads inthe consumer marketplace. Today, you hear a lot of HD buzzwords like: HD Ready, HDCompatible, Integrated , etc. Tohelp consumers deal with the mounting tide -related questions, the FCCcreated a consumer website http://www.dtv.gov in October 2004. The FCC has alsoset a timeline for the conversion from analog to digital television (DTV). Asit stands now, analog television will cease in the United States on December31, 2006, but there are many that believe that the FCC will extend this dateuntil the penetration DTV hasreached 85% or greater in most key markets. Those still using old fashionedanalog TVs won't be entirely out luck; the FCC mandate requires that consumers be able to purchase a converterbox so that their older analog sets can receive the new digital signals. Whilethese converter boxes should be affordable, they will only output the same lowresolution signals that our TVs currently use. If you want to see true HD,you'll need to spring for a fancy new set, projector or flat panel display.

What is ?

What is really all about? What's new, and why is it better? The best way to make acomparison between standard definition television (SDTV) and high definitiontelevision () is to considertoday's popular digital cameras. Some years ago, when digital cameras firstappeared on the consumer market, a popular digital camera featured a 1.6 MegaPixel (Mpix) image sensor. At that time, 1.6 Mpix was considered high quality.Today, one can easily find 5 and 6 Mpix cameras with far better image qualityfor a lot less money.

In a similar way, HDTV delivers significantly more resolutionthan SDTV. For example, a 1080i signal fers about six times theresolution a conventional 480i SDTVsignal. also features a wider(16:9) aspect ratio format that more closely resembles human peripheral visionthan the (4:3) aspect ratio used by conventional TVs in the past. Furthermore, HDTV is based on a system of 3 primary image signal components ratherthan a single composite signal, thus eliminating the need for signal encodingand decoding processes that can degrade image quality. Perhaps the biggestadvantage over the old analog SDTV system is that HDTV is an inherently digital system.If installed properly, digital can provide the ultimate in pristine image quality, but there are many factorsthat must be considered, as we shall see.

in the Home

What do you need to see HDTV? As in any visual system there arethree basic components to consider:

Sources:

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When examining possible sources, one must becareful to distinguish between true sources and those that fer EnhancedDefinition (EDTV), the latter being normal (SDTV) video that is scaled or'up-converted' to a higher resolution. While EDTV can certainlyprovide dramatic picture quality improvements over the original SDTV source, itcan never fer the same level of image quality as a true HDTV source.

Examples true HDTV sources are:

  1. f-air ATSC receivers using
  2. Digital cable Set Top Boxes (STB) that fer service
  3. Digital satellite receivers that fer service (i.e. DirecTV, DISH Network, et al.)
  4. Windows Media High Definition Video
  5. HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD players

Examples EDTV sources are:

  1. DVD players featuring DVI / HDMI outputs (with built-in scalars)
  2. Video image processors (scalers)
  3. Digital cable Set Top Boxes (STB) that fer EDTV service
  4. Digital satellite receivers that fer EDTV service (i.e. DirecTV, DISH Network, et al.)

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Another important consideration is analog versusdigital sources. As previously stated, the ATSC has adopted a digitaltransmission system for ; however,there are some sources on themarket today that only fer analogoutputs. Analog sources willbecome an increasingly greater rarity in a world of all-digital HDTV displays. This is especially truebecause all newer digital systems also employ HDCP (High-Bandwidth DigitalContent Protection) to safeguard digital content against illegal pirating. HDCPcannot be implemented in analog systems.

Displays

To realize the maximum potential of,the display must be fully HD compatible. For most users, this represents thebiggest challenge and largest expense in their HD migration budget. Picking theright HD display relies heavily on personal taste, while prices vary greatlyfrom under $1000 to many thousands dollars. Here are a few key points to look for in order to not only insure thatyour display is compatible, butmore importantly, optimized:

Wide screen: Your display should becapable displaying a widescreen(16:9) image. It should also beable to display a standard (4:3) SDTV image as well.

Resolution: Your display should haveenough resolution to faithfully display an image. For many displays, this means a native resolution (the display'sintrinsic resolution) at least 1280x 720 pixels. Higher native resolution is better, with so called 'full HDresolution' being 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Video Inputs: Your display shouldhave a full complement both analogvideo inputs (such as composite video, s-video, and component video) for legacycomponents as well as digital video inputs (such as DVI or HDMI) for new HDTV and EDTV sources.

Note: HDCP support is a must for all HDTV displays. If you buy a display with aDVI input you MUST insure that it supports HDCP; if it doesn't, you may not beable to view HDCP-encrypted source material from cable boxes, etc on thatdisplay! If your display has an HDMI input, you're in good shape as the HDMIstandard fully supports HDCP.

In December 2002, an industry consortium of cablemultiple system operators and consumer electronics manufacturers sent aMemorandum of Understanding (MOU) to the FCC detailing their plans to implementDTV / HDTV cable systems and related hardware. In this MOU, there was aspecific time table to rollout a new generation of displays that featuredigital video inputs with HDCP:

480i grade televisions - none.

480p grade televisions - as follows (either DVIor HDMI with HDCP), or 480P Y,Pb,Pr (analog) interfaces:

·With screen sizes 36 inches and above -- 50% ofa manufacturer's models offered for sale effective July 1, 2004; 100% of suchmodels effective July 1, 2005.

·With screen sizes 32 to 35 inches -- 50% of amanufacturer's models offered for sale effective July 1, 2005; 100% of suchmodels effective July 1, 2006.

720p/1080i (HDTV) grade televisions - as follows(either DVI or HDMI interfaces with HDCP):

·With screen sizes 36 inches and above -- 50% ofa manufacturer's models offered for sale effective July 1, 2004; 100% of suchmodels effective July 1, 2005.

·With screen sizes 25 to 35 inches -- 50% of amanufacturer's models offered for sale effective July 1, 2005; 100% of suchmodels effective July 1, 2006.

·With screen sizes 13 to 24 inches - 100% of amanufacturer's models offered for sale effective July 1, 2007.

Interconnections:

In order to allow sources and displays to work,they must be interconnected, usually with cables of some sort. This soundssimple enough, yet this is the area where most customer installation problemstake place. Today, a typical home theater system can cost anywhere from a fewthousand to tens of thousands of dollars, or more. Despite the fact that thesefigures represent a major investment for most end users, typically less than 3%of the total system price is spent on interconnection cables.

It is a regrettable fact that for most people acable is just that - a cable. However, when you consider that imperfections inthese signal 'pipelines' can seriously degrade picture quality;cables start to take on a more profound role. Nowhere is this truer than withthe DVI and HDMIcables needed to support digital HDTV.

While audiophiles may argue the complex dynamicsof ultra-high fidelity esoteric speaker cables, these cables must carryrelatively low frequencies, most of which are below 20 kHz. However, with DVIand HDMI signals, data rates of up to 1.65 Gbit/sec. are possible. In theanalog world this would be equivalent to 165 MHz which is more than 8,000 timeshigher frequency than most audio signals. For short cable runs of less than 5meters (16.4 ft.) there are usually not too many issues; however, these highfrequencies pose serious challenges for longer length DVI and HDMI cables. Ingeneral, the higher the frequencies and the longer the cable length, thegreater the likelihood that image problems will occur. For example, at lowresolutions a DVI signal might travel 20 meters without signal degradation, butat higher resolutions the same cable could exhibit significant imagedegradation. For this reason, cable lengths for higher resolution signals, suchas 1080p, are usually limited to 10 meters or less. Figure 1 illustrates thisproblem:


Image of800x600 screen with a conventional 20 meter DVI cable Image of 1600x1200 screenswith same 20 meter of DVI cable

To solve the issue of long digital cable runs andreap the full benefits of improved picture quality, cable manufacturers havemade various attempts to improve their cables with mixed results. Here are somekey points to look for:

  • Does the manufacturer offer high resolution, long length DVI or HDMI cables? Standard cables usually use 28-gauge or 30-gauge wire. High quality DVI and HDMI cables should use 24-gauge or 22-gauge wire. The heavier wire gauge helps avoid some of the high frequency attenuation that long cables suffer.
  • Does the cable use silver plated wires for the high speed TMDS data lines (the wires that actually carry the digital picture content)? At very high frequencies, the signal does not travel through the copper wire; it travels on the surface. The silver plating helps mitigate what are known as 'skin effect' losses and limits the insertion loss (i.e. less high frequency attenuation).
  • Does the manufacturer rely on highly embellished claims that sound more like science fiction than science fact? Do they provide a guaranteed level of performance? More than just a money back guarantee, does the manufacturer make a pledge of performance? If yes, this helps make sure you choose the right cable the first time and avoid hassles with returning substandard products.
  • What warranty does the manufacturer offer?
  • What level of support does the manufacturer offer? If you have a problem or an installation question, can you get fast, reliable answers?

These are just some of the important questionsthat must be answered when designing and installing a new HDTV display system. Formore sophisticated systems, you may want to rely on a professional home theaterdesigner and installer. CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and InstallationAssociation) is an excellent resource for both end-users as well as hometheater professionals. You can learn more about CEDIA at: http://www.cedia.net/whatis_cedia/

About High Definition

Whether you decide to 'do-it-yourself' or contract a professional,having deeper insight into HDTV's past and present will only serve to furtherenhance your own HD experience. In Part II of this article, we'll take a closerlook at the trends and technology that are shaping tomorrow's HDTV systems -and focus on why these factors are important considerations for today's buyers.

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