26" LCD TVs: Are They Ready for Prime Time?

HDTV Formats

HDTV - everybody talks about it, but few have really seen it. A major advantage of LCD TVs is their high native resolution, but few media are available that really take full advantage of it.

LCD TVs in sizes of 26" and over have a resolution of 1280x768. A classic PAL broadcast signal has 625 lines, compared to 576 lines for NTSC. A standard DVD has only 510 lines. In other words, we're still a long way from high resolution.

However, certain standard formats offer higher resolution to suit the capacities of current TV sets. Such formats are already widely distributed in the US, though they're taking longer to reach the average person in Europe.

720P is one such format, with a resolution of 1280x720. It's a progressive format, meaning that the lines are refreshed one after another, unlike interlaced formats. The 1080i format even offers 1920x1080 resolution, interlaced. 720P, though better suited to video due to its progressive format, is less common than 1080i. The progressive format can produce sharper images without the disagreeable "screen-door" effect. Unfortunately, it requires greater bandwidth; it's worth noting for example that computer monitors are normally progressive whereas CRT TV sets are interlaced.

HD-TV Media

What about the content available in these formats?

In the US, major TV channels are already broadcasting in HDTV via cable and satellite; Fox and ABC are the best-known examples. In Europe, the change is happening, but only very slowly. HDTV can be accessed via euro1080, a satellite channel. It broadcasts in 1080i, but only between 10 AM and 11:30 PM, with 15-20 minutes of video clips per hour. Broadcast digital TV should be a means for high resolution content in several countries, but not before the end of the year, and even then only if all goes well. Another channel that can carry high definition TV is ADSL. The ADSL2 standard should make it possible to distribute an HD video signal. But in Europe at least, all this is still in the future tense.

As for physical media, we'll have to wait for Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Announced for introduction in Europe and the US in early 2006, these new disks will bring high definition to DVD. As for gaming consoles, the next generation should also move to HD. Meanwhile you can connect a PC and show films in WMV-HD format - that is, if you can find any.

The upshot of all this is that for the moment, HD is not really widespread. Do you want to be able to view HD video starting right now? One solution is to film it yourself. See this article .