HDTV Buyers Guide


HDTV Buyers Guide - Making Informed Decisions

Trolly with HDTV inside

HDTV Buyers Guide: Before you replace that 'fading-old' traditional Analog or even updating your Digital TV, there are an array of decisions you will have to make.

When you go to the store take this free checklist with you. Download PDF file here

The New Digital TV Era

In addition to describing the distinct differences there are - between traditional Analog TV and Digital TV, as well as the various different TV Technologies. This 'Guide' will also tell you what to look out for – while helping you identify essential details to consider, before you begin shopping.

Key Elements and Components

Digital TV: Receives and displays 'Digital' TV Signals instead of Analog TV Signals; which in turn provides significantly improved TV Picture Quality.

Integrated HDTV: A Digital Television with an Internal "High Definition" TV Receiver. The price tag on these 'complete' HDTV systems is considerably higher than Digital TV's. However, if price is no object, they offer the convenience of one less component to deal with. Just plug it in, connect to a High Definition TV broadcast source, and enjoy HDTV!

But be aware that the Internal HDTV Receiver may not be compatible with your cable/satellite TV service; each Service provider has their own, proprietary HD-Receiver that only functions with their specific encoding process.

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Digital-HDTV technology is dynamic; it is changing at “light-speed” in a continuous evolution. For the consumer this means that today’s HDTV may be obsolete in a matter of months. This is an important factor that buyers should include in making their decision. Having to replace an obsolete, external component (such as the HDTV Receiver) is preferable to replacing the complete, Integrated HDTV System.

What is: HDTV-Capable or HDTV-Ready?

Digital TV’s (also called Monitors) can RECEIVE and DISPLAY both NTSC (National Television Systems Committee) Analog TV signals and ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) Digital TV signals. A Digital TV that is ABLE to DISPLAY an HDTV quality picture is said to be HDTV-Capable; BUT since it does NOT have an HDTV Receiver, it can NOT Receive an HDTV Signal.

A Digital TV that is HDTV-Capable REQUIRES an External, High Definition TV Receiver in order to receive HDTV signals. An HDTV Receiver may also be referred to as an: HDTV-Tuner; Set-Top-Box (STB), or Decoder.

HDTV-Ready (*) is frequently used in place of HDTV-Capable. But be careful – “HD Ready” does NOT (always) mean HDTV-Capable. (* see Note below)
It’s important to verify that the external HDTV Receiver is compatible with the HDTV Monitor, and with the Satellite/Cable System being used; and that the HDTV Receiver is able to receive Over-The-Air (OTA) TV Broadcasts.

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(*) "Digital READY" and "HDTV-READY" do NOT necessarily mean the TV will receive and display digital "High Definition" television programs. Be sure you verify that the set you are considering CAN indeed DISPLAY true HDTV resolutions. Some models are called “Ready” that are able to ‘accept’ an HDTV signal, although they are NOT able to DISPLAY any TV pictures in HDTV Resolutions.

Screen Size

The TV’s size refers to the display screen – measured diagonally. Naturally, the larger the screen, the greater the display area will be. Screen size is primarily a matter of personal preference, along with available space. However, the larger the display the more HDTV excels! This is quite different from the “Big Screen” Analog TV’s of several years ago. Analog TV’s lower picture quality and inherent artifacts are magnified as the screen size increases. But since Digital-HDTV has virtually a perfect picture, increasing the size of the screen enhances the picture quality. Compare different displays and select the size that best fits your situation.

Direct View or Projection

Direct View Sizes range from approximately 30" to 40."
Rear Projection TV (RPT): Sizes range from approximately 40" to 70".
Wide Screen (16:9 ratio): Consider a Wide Screen if most of your viewing will be High Definition Programming. Traditional Square Screen (4:3 ratio): Preferable if most viewing will be standard (NTSC) analog TV.

HDTV Resolutions

The ATSC Standard for High Definition Television requires a resolution of (either), 1080 interlaced lines, or 720 progressive scan lines; or higher. Lower (Digital TV) resolutions – 480i and 480p are both acceptable as SDTV Resolutions.
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Although NTSC Analog TV also has 480i resolution, SDTV’s 480i improves the picture quality, since it’s Digital.

A Digital-HDTV Monitor is able to accept all ATSC TV Signals; the incoming DTV signals are converted to the TV’s "native" resolution. However, an External HDTV Receiver is required before an HDTV Resolution can be displayed. At present, Digital TV’s have both NTSC Analog TV and ATSC Digital TV Receivers built-in, allowing display of both Analog TV and Digital (SDTV) pictures.


Don't overlook the audio system. The Standard for HDTV is "Dolby Digital" (5.1 Channel Surround Sound – or better). However, at the present time, many manufacturers feature their own proprietary audio system. While many of these produce a quality audio-experience, to get the maximum enjoyment from your system, "Dolby Digital Surround Audio" should be your First choice.

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To obtain the true effects of Dolby Digital Surround Sound, an external A/V Receiver and “matched” Surround Speakers are required. Complete audio system “packages” – commonly called Home Theater Systems - are readily available in a wide price range. Depending on how much of an “audiophile” the consumer is, even some lower priced systems are able to produce a surprisingly amazing Audio Experience with HDTV.

Video and Audio Connections

Select an HDTV Monitor that offers a maximum number of (In/Out) ports, with multiple Connector Options. There are a number of different types of Connectors and Cables; these differ in the way they work and the type of component with which they are used. HDTV requires proper HDTV Connectors and cables.

HDTV Video: HDMI (High Definition Media Interface); DVI (Digital Video Interface); HDTV-Component (Y/Pb/Pr).

SDTV Video: Same as HDTV; or S-Video Connectors; (Standard 3-wire RCA can be used, but not preferred).Analog Video: Standard 3-wire RCADolby Digital Audio: Digital Coax; Fiber OpticStandard Stereo: RCA – 2 or 3 wireAdditional Front (or Side) ports offer added convenience.

The type and number of ports depends on what external components you plan to install - Cable/Satellite TV Receiver (Set-Top-Box); PVR/DVR/HD-DVR; DVD; A/V Receiver; Video Game; VCR; PC - etc.

NOTE: - You can NOT have too many connection ports!

HDTV Receiver - (aka: Set-Top-Box (STB); HD (TV) Tuner; Decoder)
An External HDTV Receiver is needed to receive High Definition Television Signals, regardless of the source. This includes Cable, Satellite, OTA Broadcasts, and (High Definition) Digital-VHS recordings; also HD-DVD’s, when available. An HDTV Receiver is also needed to properly display DVD’s with Progressive Scan, as well as Progressive Scan and HDTV-Capable Video Games.

Verify the HDTV Receiver will be compatible with your HDTV Monitor, as well as the DTS - "Direct TV Service" – Satellite or Cable, you subscribe to; and that it is capable of receiving OTA (over-the-air) Broadcasts.

Some STB's are for exclusive use with a specific Satellite or Cable Service. But there are also 'stand alone' HDTV Receivers for receiving OTA Broadcasts.

Cable subscribers will need to check with their Cable Company to up-grade their Cable Set-Top-Box to an HDTV STB.

Satellite subscribers will also have to upgrade their Satellite Set-Top-Box to an HDTV STB.

Additional Items to consider:

Some other issues and details to check, or give some thought to. These will vary depending on your individual circumstances - the Type of Display you are looking at; how you receive the TV Signal; what other components you have; etc.

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IMPORTANT - Remember to ask any questions you have, BEFORE you make your purchase. And if you cannot get satisfactory answers, check with another source. This Means - YOU'RE satisfied with the information you receive, and you’re confident the information is reliable. If you have unanswered questions – Wait - Don’t Buy.

Will you need any 'add-on' components? Examples: Digital-HDTV-Capable sets require an external HDTV Receiver. Some Plasma Display models do not include any internal audio components; FPT (Front Projection TV) models may not include an internal television receiver.

Do you need additional or special Connectors, Cables, or Converters?

Are all the cables and proper connectors included; are the cables of sufficient length for your set-up; and are they compatible with all your audio-video components?

Do you have surge protectors? Recommended! Caution: Some lower priced devices that are called surge protectors, do NOT offer any Protection! But it is just as easy to over-pay; thinking the more you spend the more protection you will buy is not accurate.

Will you need a second, or special-size-shape "satellite-dish" to be able to receive HDTV Signals from your Satellite Service?

If you have Cable or Satellite Service, what do you have to do to upgrade your STB (set-top-box)? A combination, STB-HDTV Receiver is necessary to receive HDTV Signals from your provider.

"OTA Antenna"

If you anticipate receiving Over The Air (OTA) Digital TV or HDTV Broadcasts, some type of TV antenna will be required.

You will need to determine what type of External Antenna is needed in your area. You may be able to get by with a simple “rabbit-ear” (set-top) antenna, or one installed in the attic – depending on the distance between the transmitters and your location.

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CAUTION – Be wary of all the hype being generated about so-called HDTV-Capable Antennae! To receive HDTV Signals, generally all that is needed is a good quality UHF antenna; or in some locations, possibly a VHF-UHF combination antenna.

In most cases a suitable TV Antenna will be in the price range of $35.00 to $100.00. (approximate) However, if you are located in the fringe-area of your Local Station’s broadcast range, (approximately 50 miles) an antenna rated for maximum reception may be required; these can be somewhat more expensive.

TV reception can be affected by any surrounding tall buildings, trees – which will vary by season, high or low terrain, as well as nearby electronic interferences. Also, at the present time, many Local Stations are transmitting their Digital-HDTV signals at significantly REDUCED power; reception of these weaker TV signals at increased distances is extremely problematic for even the best TV Antennae.

The addition of the proper type of Amplifier can significantly improve reception in many cases; however, an amplifier can just as easily make reception worse, if it is the wrong type for the application.

Installing an Antenna Rotor can help by enabling more accurate positioning of the antenna. The use of an antenna rotor may be even be required if there are several transmitting towers located in different directions within your area.

If you decide to use an Antenna Rotor, look for one of the newer designs that offer a hand-held, digital controller. The added convenience is well worth the few dollars more in price.

Delivery & Set-up

Is Delivery/Set Up Included? This is especially important for 'big-screen' projection sets which can weigh several hundred pounds! Know what is included in delivery. This can mean “curbside only;” or may include unpacking and actual set-up inside the house. However, if there are stairs or even a couple of steps on the way, the delivery may be halted. Be sure you have discussed the complete details included in the delivery and set-up. Set-up may be defined as unpacking and inserting the electric plug into an outlet!

Extended Warrantee - Service Contract

You will have to decide whether the value is worth the extra charge? While this is a personal preference item – Be Careful! Extended Service Contracts are often a prime source of sales commissions – Meaning they are apt to benefit the sales person, more than you.

Consider an extended warrantee as you would (should) any Insurance Policy – What will you get in return for the premium you pay? What is covered and what isn’t covered? If it’s not in writing – it doesn’t exist.

Where will Service be done? Is “In-Home” service spelled out? Even carrying a moderate sized monitor to the service department can be difficult. In general, service contracts may provide for an annual servicing, involving some superficial cleaning and minor adjustments. Whether or not this has any true value notwithstanding, with an HDTV it poses a potential risk since there is no way of knowing if the servicing technician is qualified to work on an HDTV Monitor.

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Important: Read any Extended Maintenance/Service Contract carefully to be certain you know - What’s covered – And what's Not!

HDTV Calibration

To assure you obtain maximum enjoyment from your new HDTV monitor, plan to have any HDTV Monitor you select – and especially an RPT Monitor – properly Calibrated by a Certified HDTV Technician, after about the first 100 hours of “ON” time. Moving the television – as in shipping or transporting – can easily cause internal components get out of alignment. In addition, there are internal adjustments that can only be performed by calibration; this can greatly enhance the overall Video and Audio quality. While calibration provides improved viewing benefits, it also helps extend the useful life of the TV.

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CAUTION: It is recommended that calibration and general servicing of any HDTV Monitor be performed only by an experienced – Certified - HDTV Technician.

TV User Adjustments

Televisions are shipped with the settings for Contrast, Color and Brightness adjusted extremely high by the Manufacturer, to compensate for the general ambient conditions that exist in retail showrooms.

It is IMPORTANT that you LOWER these settings – at least by 50% - or to a minimum level that still allows acceptable viewing.

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The darker your TV viewing room is kept, the lower your adjustments can be; if you must have light in the room, avoid any light that reflects off the screen.

And One More Time: Before buying - be sure that the Digital-HDTV Monitor and all components are compatible – meaning that each component has proper type, and sufficient number of In-Out ports to allow connections with all other, applicable audio-video components: PVR/DVR; DVD; A/V System; Video Game; Computer; Digital Video Camera) etc.

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This overview of Digital TV and HDTV essentials is offered as an HDTV-Buyers-Guide, to provide the 'Non-Tech' Consumer with a better sense of the various items that need to be considered - Before Buying - a new television.

More in-depth information on many of these topics, as well as other HDTV-related items of interest, can be found else-where on this website, under specific headings.

Reference: HDTV Basics .. Digital HDTV Glossary .. HDTV Resolutions .. And other specific topics related to Digital HDTV.
To access additional resources related to your topic of interest, try a quick search:
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Use the Link below to access a handy HDTV-Buyers Guide Checklist. Print copies for use when comparing different Digital-HDTV models and as a quick reference of details to consider; it is also a handy way to keep a record of different Models you are comparing.


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