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Pogue Covers HDTV

We’ve had our big screen LCD television since the summer, and boy, do we love it.  Of course, that’s not saying much, since our previous television was purchased by myself and my college roommates in 1998 for $100, and had awesome green and purple spots if you watched for more than 30 minutes.  But we have the television, we have the surround sound, and it’s perfect.  And the Yule Log, broadcast in HD, looks totally awesome.

I came across another great David Pogue article in the Times today, in which he gets a Best Buy employee to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about HDTV.  I figured I’d know all the answers, but I’ll be honest: this one got me.

Q: OK, how about this one: 720p or 1080p?

A: These are measurements of how many fine lines make up the picture.

You’d think that 1080p is obviously better than 720p. Trouble is, you won’t get a 1080p image unless you feed it a 1080p signal — and that’s hard to come by. There’s no such thing as a 1080p TV broadcast (cable, satellite, anything), and won’t be for years. Even most games, like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, generally send out 720p (or less).

So the *only* way to get a 1080p picture on a 1080p set is to buy a high-def DVD player (Blu-ray or HD DVD). That’s the only way. *** Xbox????

[D.P. adds: Even then, you won’t see any difference between 720p and 1080p unless you sit closer than 10 feet from the TV and it’s bigger than 55 inches or so.

And even then, you’re not getting any additional sharpness or detail. Instead, as CNET notes, you’re just gaining the ability to move closer without seeing individual pixels: “In other words, you can sit closer to a 1080p television and not notice any pixel structure, such as stair-stepping along diagonal lines, or the screen door effect (where you can actually see the space between the pixels).”]

Q: But a 1080p set costs a lot more than an identical 720p set, doesn’t it?

A: Yeah.

[D.P. adds: At this point, he showed me two plasmas, same brand, same size, same model line, mounted one above the other: one 720p, the other 1080p. The fancier set cost $2,000 more — and the image quality was pixel-for-pixel identical.]

You learn something new every day.  (Like I probably paid too much for my 1080p television.)

  • The TV I currently own is the one my parents gave me as my college graduation gift on March 13, 1998. And it’s still going strong. My parents don’t always buy the best electronics as gifts, but this Sanyo is a warhorse. I hope it lasts all the way until the digital conversion next year.