By Erica Ogg
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
September 5, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
When it comes to high-definition television, size matters.
So says the maker of the largest plasma TV on the market. Paul Liao, chief technology officer of Panasonic North America, says high-quality HDTV comes down to a specific equation: The larger screens get, and the closer you sit, the more lifelike the viewing experience. Or as he put it recently at a conference in Beverly Hills, "You get beyond a sense of reality."
When watching a movie on a 50-inch HDTV, viewers need to sit about 6 feet away to achieve that hyperreal feeling. Any closer, and you'll be able to pick out individual pixels, Liao said. If you go bigger--say, 65 inches--you can sit at least 6.5 feet away. (For similar formulas, see CNET's Ultimate HDTV buying guide.)
Sounds simple, but getting the full HD experience takes more than just a flashy TV, an expensive video player and appropriately arranged seating. And as sports fans head to the electronics store to pump up their home entertainment systems for this year's football season, they should know what kind of sticker shock they're in for, what gear they need and which TV channels offer HD content.
"It's not enough anymore to have great hardware or great video or great content. One leg doesn't make things happen. You really need that unified ecosystem of all that infrastructure built up and available to people," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at The NPD Group.
Several types of televisions can be considered "high definition." In general, HDTVs are set apart from standard-definition TVs by their high screen resolutions and rectangular displays. HDTVs come in display resolutions of 720p (720 lines of detail) or 1080i (1,080 lines of detail). A standard TV has 480 lines. The "p" refers to progressive scan, in which each of the picture frames that appear are drawn line by line from top to bottom on the screen, causing on-screen action to appear smoother. The "i" stands for interlaced, meaning that every second line of a picture is drawn in sequence.
HDTVs that display 1080p content are relatively new to the HD world. They have the reputation of being the best for TV viewing, since they combine the smooth image of progressive scan with the sharpness of 1,080 lines of resolution.
That said, the proverbial HD ecosystem is still evolving. The idea of high-definition entertainment isn't exactly new--Japanese consumer electronics companies began working on it two decades ago--but the sheer amount of content available today is. Currently, more than 600 hours of television is being broadcast or delivered through cable or satellite in crystal-clear resolution and wide-screen format. The sports industry, in particular, has become a sweet spot for HD broadcasts, and ESPN has been leading the way, presenting games, news and ads in high definition.
But buying high-definition DVDs could be tricky for some time to come, thanks to a nasty battle between backers of the HD DVD and Blu-ray formats. By the end of the year, 55 film titles will be available in the Blu-ray format, and 71 will be available in HD DVD, according to the Digital Entertainment Group, a format-neutral trade association of leading consumer electronics manufacturers, movie studios and music companies.
As with most new technology, getting into HD isn't cheap. Not only do you need a TV capable of receiving a high-definition signal, but to watch those slick high-capacity discs, expect to pay between $400 and $800 for an HD DVD player and about $1,000 for a player that runs the Blu-ray format.
The cost of a high-end HDTV can be steep as well, but market analysts say prices are dropping pretty swiftly. The average price of a 40- to 42-inch liquid crystal display TV, for example, was a little more than $2,900 in the second quarter. By the end of the year, research firm iSuppli sees prices for LCD televisions dropping to less than $2,200.
It makes sense, then, that iSuppli reports that 29.6 million HDTV units have been shipped worldwide in the first half of 2006, compared to 16.9 million the previous year. The firm expects a total of 69.4 million units to ship by the end of the year, which is 64 percent more than the number of units shipped in 2005.
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Editors: Jim Kerstetter, Zoë Slocum
Design: Mitjahm Simmons
Production: Jessica Kashiwabara
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