What appears to be a 1080p TV, may actually not be a 1080p TV

Chicago (IL) - Shame on us. Last week, we reported about four new LCD TVs from Hitachi that integrate a new generation video processor that is capable of "advanced 1080p histogram processing" for about $2200 in a 32" package. Our conclusion that the highest grade of high definition - that we generally see advertised in glossy ads and TV commercials - is finally heading for the mainstream was drawn too fast. Turns out, the existence of a 1080p processor does not necessarily translate into a 1080p capable TV.

Bill Whalen, senior product manager at Hitachi, told us that while the chip can create and convert the highest resolution, the TV itself cannot. In fact, the chip may take a 1080i (interlaced) or 1080p source, convert it to 1080p (in case of 1080i sources) - and then render it back down to a resolution the TV actually supports. In the case of the four new Hitachi LCD TVs, which will be introduced later this year for prices between $2200 and $3000, that would be 768p (1366x768 progressive).

Confused? You may not be the only one that feels that it is increasingly difficult to decide which high definition version may be best for you and what benefits the different high definition values may offer.

Whalen conceded that "that it is confusing to look at the specifications of a HDTV" and actually recommends consumers not to buy a TV simply by looking at the spec sheet but by comparing actual picture quality. An eagle-eye may turn out to be the consumer's best tool for buying an HDTV in the near future.

If you already put one of the Hitachi LCD TVs on your shopping list because of our article, then we have to apologize. 1080p - generally referred to as full HD - remains a feature for enthusiasts who are willing to spend more than $3000 for a TV, at least for now. Whalen told us that 1080p is not mainstream topic for this year, as such high-resolution panels are still too expensive to produce. 1080p may be more interesting in 2007 or 2008, he said.

So, which HDTV do you buy today? Wait some time for 1080p or jump on 720p/768p today? Whalen said that this decision pretty much depends on the physical distance between the TV and the viewer: "If you watch TV in a distance that is less than three times the screen height of your TV, then 1080p is worth the wait. If the distance is greater than three times the screen height, then today's [720p/768p] HDTVs, such as 42" units, offer an incredible value." According to Whalen, in most cases the price premium of a 1080p TV is "hard to justify" today.

We wholeheartedly agree and will look even closer into those HD press releases in the future.