SBE 24 - DTV Shop Tips

Buying A Digital Television

When purchasing a digital television, three bits of information are important in order to make the correct purchase for your situation; 1)what kind of display unit will fit your needs, 2)from where will you be receiving your HD programming, and 3)what kind of audio system do you desire.

What Kind of Display Unit Will Fit Your Needs

When selecting your display you'll be faced with two decisions; 1)the aspect ratio of the screen, and 2)the size that best fits your viewing room.

The aspect ratio refers to the screen dimensions, width vs height. The traditional analog TV picture you've been watching for years is described as a "4 by 3" aspect ratio, its almost square. True HD programming is produced in a "16 by 9" aspect ratio more commonly referred to as "wide screen" and more rectangular than "4 by 3". The "wide screen" format more closely resembles that of a movie theater screen. While there are HDTV screens available in the old "4 by 3" apect ratio in order to get the full HD experience it is recommended that a "16 by 9" wide screen display is purchased. Watching a true HD program on a "4 by 3" display will put black bars at the top and bottom of the picture which effectively reduces the screen size.

The type of display is a very personal choice. The most popular types of display for HDTV are Plasma, LCD, and DLP. The traditional CRT (picture tube) display is being phased out and soon won't be widely available. Both HDTV and Plasma screens are thin and are usually pictured in commercials hanging on a wall. The DLP screen is a projection type and has greater depth than Plasma or LCD. The DLP display is designed to sit on the floor or on a sturdy cabinet shelf.

Which type of screen looks the best is entirely subjective. To determine what looks the best to you ask the retailer to put the same HD program into all the screens you are contemplating and then choose which one looks the best to you. Costs between the various types and sizes vary widely so your budget will also help you decide which is best for you.

When determining the size that best fits your situation it's important to realize that bigger is not necessarily better. While it's generally true that the HD experience is more impressive on large screens than small screens the maximum size of your screen will be limited by the size of your viewing room. To aid you in determining how big is too big, there is a size rule in viewing HDTV. Its called the "three times rule". It means this: the closest a viewer should be to an HDTV screen is three times the screen height. In other words, if the screen is 2 feet high the closest a viewer should be to the screen is 6 feet (2 times 3). If a screen is 4 feet tall the closest a viewer should be to the screen is 12 feet (4 times 3). You get the idea. To apply this rule to your home viewing room determine the minimum distance from the screen to the nearest seat. If that distance is 9 feet your screen size limit is 3 feet high (9 divided by 3). If that distance is 6 feet your screen size limit is 2 feet high (6 divided by 3). No, you won't burst into flames if you sit closer to the screen than the "three times rule" dictates. Your eyes, however, will begin to see the mechanics of the screen rather than the beautiful High Definition resolution of the program. So in order to get the most out of the HD experience, remember the "three times rule".

Once you've determined the right size screen you need for your home you need to know that there are generally two different ways to purchase an HDTV; 1)an HDTV Ready display which requires a separate tuning device, or 2)an HDTV set with the tuner built in. An HDTV Ready display is lower cost than an HDTV set of the same size so it may be tempting to purchase. Before you do you need to determine where your HD programming will come from.

From Where Will You Be Receiving Your HD Programming

If you intend to receive HD programming over-the-air from your local TV stations, you might be best served by purchasing an HDTV set with a built in over-the-air DTV tuner (sometimes referred to as an ATSC tuner). That way you only need to connect an antenna to the set to tune in those local HD channels. If you purchase an HD Ready display you will need to also purchase an over-the-air DTV tuner as a separate component to connect to your antenna so that you can tune in those local HD TV channels. Be aware that if you choose the HDTV Ready display with a separate over-the-air HDTV tuner you will need a special cable to connect the two units. This cable does not usually come with the display or tuner. The type of cable needed will vary depending on the manufacturer of the tuner and the display. You will need the help of your salesperson in determining the proper connecting cable for your combination. Be aware that these cables can be very expensive and, when factored into your purchase, may make the added cost of the HDTV set with the built in tuner a better choice.

If you will be subscribing to HD Cable TV or to HD Satellite TV the tuner box will be supplied by the vendor so an HD Ready display will work for you. Any necessary connecting cables will likely come with the supplied tuner units. There are also HDTV sets available with the HD Cable TV tuner or the HD Satellite tuner built in so that would be an option for you to. In that case everything you need is built into your HDTV set and you need only connect the appropriate cable to the set once you've purchased the service. The Cable or Satellite company will activate the tuner inside your set once you've arranged for payment.

Upgrading Your Sound System

When purchasing a digital television, you should be aware that high definition digital television has the capability of six-channel surround sound. In order to experience the full audio and visual effect of the HD program, you will need a surround-sound audio system. These systems usually need to be purchased separately and include an amplifier, five surround speakers, a low frequency sub woofer and a remote control. For very large rooms a seven speaker surround system is available.

A surround sound system is not required to view an HDTV program but will enhance the experience. If you do purchase a surround audio system, you will likely need an audio optical cable or digital coax cable to connect your digital television set or tuner. And with six speakers some additional audio wiring and speaker installation will be needed in your home. If you're not handy enough to do that yourself you should talk to your sales person who can recommend installation companies.

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