Monday, July 17, 2006

Defining High Definition

HD - the buzzword in the AV industry or atleast in the visual industry. TV shopping is not easy anymore. Maybe it never was but there were very standard and established guidelines for the common buyer. How many inches and what brand were the two and the only two questions that needed an answer before stepping into an electronic shop and coming out with a brand new TV.
The answers to the two questions were pretty easy to arrive at too. Budget for most people and maybe room size for some, decided on the size and make of the TV. Those who had the extra cash went for Sony and most landed up with an Onida, BPL, Sansui or Videocon. The general opinion (mine included) was that Sony was the best. The most popular size would have been the 21". 90s saw the 25" TV gain popularity since by then it was pretty much affordable. 29" was still a distant dream for many. Baron Electronics and Akai changed the face of the TV industry in India. (Actually they had a big hand in the audio industry too but thats out of the purview of this post) They started selling TVs at a price previously thought impossible. To cut a long story short - TV has evolved. Size, price, brands, features (Nicam stereo, timer, automatic settings, organiser and headphones) evolved.
This century saw the maturing of new technologies - LCD, Projectors, Plasma, Rear Projection TVs. CRT technology has ruled the roost for half a century. Will it soon lose its ascendency to any of these upstarts? The net is filled with countless articles articulating the differences between these technologies. The common feature among these articles is the fact that they dont agree with each other on which is the best among the lot. To keep things in perspective the good old tube will continue to be the TV of choice for the majority of people simply because it continues to be much much cheaper than the rest. The people with the moolah or the gadget lovers with a little bit of moolah will have to decide from one of the following - HD CRT, LCD and Plasma. (I think rear projection TVs are out of contention. I am leaving out projectors too from the list since they are more likely to be found in pubs and other public places)
Before going further, what is HD? Whats all the fuss? Why the fuss? Is the fuss justified? Simply put, HD will provide the view sharper pictures and more detail - provide cinema-like picture quality. I think that justifies the fuss (With the rising multiplex ticket rates, getting cinema experience at home is no small thing). Analogy would be a the difference between 1 megapixel and a 5 megapixel digital camera. The 5mp camera is able to capture and display more detail than the 1mp camera. The HD TV will be capable of handling and displaying more detail. A HD TV can display HD signals (from set-top boxes, dvd players, videogame consoles, handycams etc). Those of us with the progressive scan DVD players can finally use the feature to get better resolution on a HDTV.

Shopping for a HDTV

Fix your budget. I can't emphasise enough how important this is. I guess this holds true for any kind of shopping nowadays because there are commodities available to take care of all kinds of purses - the large, the small and the everything-in-between. The cheapest HD TV would be around Rs 30000 and I have seen TVs that go upto Rs 300000. Fixing the budget helps in a couple of things - deciding on the type of tv (plasma/lcd/crt) and the screen size -- My budget was Rs 50000. Was sure that I would be looking for a screen of size around 29 to 34 inches. With that kind of a budget, Plasma was out of the question. Had to decide between LCD and CRT (LCD being the more expensive in terms of money per inch of the diagonal)

Do some homework. The first time at the shop, let the salesman do the talking. What you should be doing is listening and listening good. At the end of the sales pitch, it is helpful if he hands over a brochure otherwise it is important that the model numbers of the TV sets are noted down. Head home and check the net for reviews. Never buy on your first visit - there's a very high chance that this will lead to regrets. Download manuals. Compare features. Ask friends -- At the end of this stage I decided against the LCD TV. Reasons being contrast, refresh rate and also the cost to a certain extent. The cons of medium priced LCD tvs are that they can't handle shades of black as well as their CRT cousins do (contrast). The refresh rate is also a lot less. This will be apparent when playing very fast moving video games (ghost images/lower frame rate)(apparant in desktop PCs too - CRT monitors vs LCD (not TFT LCD) monitors - the game environments look so much better on CRT). The cons of a CRT TV are weight and bulk - nothing else. A 29" TV weighs 50 Kgs and a 34" is around 75 Kgs!! Image quality in my opinion is better than LCD and the same as Plasma. Of course the other con being that CRT TVs dont come in sizes larger than 34". So if one is looking for a 40" or larger TV then CRT is out of the options.

After about a month of looking around at various showrooms and reading up article after article on the net, the options I had were pretty limited in terms of brands. Only Philips and Sony had CRT HD TVs. I decided on Sony because they had a few models to choose from (Philips had only one - the PixelPlus series) and from past experiences. Whatever be said of Sony, they do make excellent Television sets.

These were the models I finally shortlisted

da29m80 Rs 49990
db29m80 Rs 44990
hz29m85 Rs 59990

The differences between all of these were not significant. They had to do with the number and type of optional line ins and the highest model supports teletext. Otherwise all three support resolutions upto 1080i (not 1080p which is the highest available in the market) and have the same kind of picture tubes (Trinitron - aperture grill CRT). I finally went for the da29m80. I have no regrets. DVDs are amazing. Cable TV too looks a lot cleaner.

In closing, CRT I feel still has some way to go before it dies a natural death. Theres still a lot of room for improvement in Plasma and LCD technologies. Till that happens and till the cost comes down they pose no challenge to CRTs (for buyers like me - no money to burn but will burn if convinced). And when they do I shall be ready to bid adieu to CRT. I must say that it's a wonderful period in time for all the technology freaks out there. The AV industry is passing through some very exciting phases.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Things are moving slowly from Hi Fi to Hi Def.
Well this is nearly a year since you kept this comments.
HD World has changed - as it was expected in India too. Slowly HDTV sets are getting its footage. LCD prices has dropped to nearly 1/2 the price tag a year before. DVI is old, HDMI (High Defn Multimedia Interface) has entered into the market & some bugs in previous version of HDMI got removed recently - many people are buying these products although as usual you cannot expect them to be HD aware. They do not know that they are buying a stock which is in the shelf for more than year - and a buggy version of HDMI protocol is residing inside its Firmware. Sellers are trying to clean their shelves as quickly as possible - not their fault - manufacturers sometimes need to push the old lot completely out - before new one comes - just some sort of marketing strategy, nothing is wrong or right.
I see people buying Progressive Scan DVD player - but they don't have a TV set that takes progressive-scan. Market got flooded with ~3000 Rs DVD players - and honestly speaking how many people are aware that to get a good picture quality on a bigger screen & Progressive Scan they should know what is the output Video DAC's (Digital To Analog Converter) capability in terms of its native spec like - 10Bit/12Bit/14Bit 54MHz/108MHz/216MHz?

Remember 10Bit vs 12Bit the quality difference is 4 fold - i.e. 4 times smoother gradients & moire reduction - 108 vs 256 is twice denser v-pixels, and hence together what it means & such a good DVD player can make a big hole in their pocket.

While buying HD DVD players - they should also protect their investment to at least featuring/capable to play SACD or DVD-Audio formats (Although in India I didn't get many such albums available on DVD-A discs - only 2 or 3 I believe ).
There is an enormous difference in quality & transparency of sound - provided they purchase a good A/V Receiver & matched Speakers.

The audio quality difference between a CD & DVD-A as measured through waveform shape & integrity
is nearly 12,000 times - well, not all ears (above the age of 35Yrs) can catch the real difference. No matter the user's head can interpret the wave-shape purity or transparency, they will never be too deaf to catch discretely recorded 6 channels in DVD-A or SACD versus a vanilla CD.

Virtual Surround technologies can never mimic real discrete ones.

In terms of speakers, back in 2003-4, people outside India has got rid of small virtually invisible cubes - as it is well known in audiophile world, that they cannot deliver purity - they have colorations - well it has reached late in India, hence some still buys those - or their dups from many other Taiwan based products.. The true quality of acoustically engineered floor standing ones will still be outstanding and unmatched compared to any acaustimass satellites and a conscious user will not hesitate to pour a couple of more $1000 bills.