Truth Patrol: Digital TV Misinformation Abounds

HDTV Truth Patrol

Okay, the fact is that I could probably write every entry from now until February 17, 2009 finding errors in what’s being written about the digital TV transisition. Some of the errors apparently are made out of ignorance, and some are cases of the writer over-simplifying. But the fact remains that there’s a lot of misleading information out there, and it only adds to the confusion. When a media outlet with a strong reputation like Silicon Valley’s Mercury News gets it wrong, it’s likely to confuse a lot of people.

Yesterday, the paper ran a story on the digital transition that was generally excellent. But then they stubbed their toe:

If you own a high-definition (HDTV) set, you’re fine. And if you were looking to replace your old TV set anyway (a perfect holiday gift to yourself), keep in mind that all sets built in the U.S. since 2006 are equipped with a digital tuner. If you have any doubts about the status of your television, contact the manufacturer and have your model number handy.

No. You’re not fine for sure if you have an HDTV. I’ve got an HDTV, and it sure doesn’t have a digital tuner in it. Lots of people have HDTVs that don’t have digital tuners, and many HD flat panels were sold (and continue to be sold) without any tuner at all. All TV sets 36″ and larger were required to have digital tuners — if they have any tuners at all — as of July 1, 2005. All TV sets 25″ to 36″ that had tuners were required to have digital tuners by March 1, 2006. Anything with a TV tuner (such as VHS or DVD recorders) including TVs of any size were required to have digital tuners as of March 1, 2007. If you purchased an HDTV in those categories that was made prior to those dates, it probably doesn’t have a digital tuner.

So while it is likely that your HDTV has a digital tuner, it’s far from guaranteed. The second part of the quote is still sound advice; if you don’t know, check with the manufacturer. They remain the best source of information about what your set has inside.

Truth Patrol: Wal-Mart Goof

HDTV Truth Patrol

You have to be careful reading the specifications in advertisements, and we have a case in point this week in the Father’s Day flyer from Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart's Father's Day Sales flyer a strange resolution specification.

So what’s wrong with this picture? A 52″ LCD TV sounds interesting, and the under-$1,700 price sounds more like a plasma price than an LCD,so that’s news. The ad also says that it is a “Full HDTV”. But then it also states “1366 x 1080 (1080p) resolution“. Wait a minute!

First, 1366 by 1080 pixels is not Full HD resolution, nor is it 1080p. It needs to have at least 1920 by 1080 to be Full HD and 1080p. Now, the curious detail is that there are no 52″ LCD panels made with this strange resolution. There are some plasma panels with this pixel count, but no LCDs.

Fortunately, this cautionary tale has a happy ending. A little research on the Wal-Mart site — confirmed by a visit to the Sanyo Web site — shows that the resolution for the Sanyo DP52848 actually is 1920 by 1080, just as it should be. But the bottom line is that it’s a good idea to confirm the specifications in an ad before you make any decisions.

Truth Patrol: Not All RP Is LCD

HDTV Truth Patrol

NBC 13 in Birmingham, Alabama, certainly had its heart in the right place when it published “The In’s And Out’s Of HDTV” on its Web site for its viewers, but it would have been better if they got their facts straight before they tried to explain these topics. The story has a number of glaring mistakes, but here is the one section that I’ll pick on here:

“If you want to get the absolute biggest screen for your buck… check out a rear-projection LCD set. They come with technology names like ‘DLP’ and ‘LCOS’ They’re thicker, but lighter than LCD and Plasma displays. They’re also cheaper for bigger screens but they’re powered by a light bulb that will have to be changed every few years, to the tune of about a couple hundred bucks.”

Now, I’ll admit that this becoming a moot point, since American buyers continue to stay away from rear projection in droves, in spite of the fact that some deliver the best picture quality available from any technology, and they certainly do provide bang for the buck. But if we’re going to mention them, let’s get it right. Yes, there are rear projection LCD HDTVs available on the market. But the technology “with names like” DLP and LCoS are not LCD; they’re something very different. There are three different flavors of rear projection HDTVS: LCD, DLP, and LCoS. (And note that Sony calls its LCoS “SXRD”, while JVC calls theirs “D-ILA”.) Each of the three has its own advantages and disadvantages in terms of cost and performance.

As for the lamp issue, it is certainly true that many rear projection sets still rely on traditional UHP projector lamps, and these do cost $200 to $300, and they do get dimmer over time. It’s probably fair to say that you’ll want to replace them every three years or so, depending on usage. But — and this is a big but — not all rear projection models use these lamps. For example, Panasonic has models out that use a LiFi light engine, which uses microwaves to excite plasma in a tiny quartz capsule, and it probably will not need to be replaced in the lifetime of the HDTV. Samsung also has models with solid state lighting — high brightness LEDs — that should last as long as the television set. So if the lamp issue is a turn off for you, know that you have alternative choices that still let you pick a rear projection HDTV.

Thanks to Emily for spotting this misinformed item. If you find HDTV information on the Web that is a bit off-base, send it in and you too can win a coveted “Truth Patrol” t-shirt if we use it.

Truth Patrol: It’s Not 1080p

HDTV Truth Patrol

Today is Black Friday, the day we all get excited about incredible deals on all sorts on consumer electronics. But just because we get excited, it doesn’t mean that we should let accuracy fly out the window. And that goes double if you’re part of the technology media whose mission is to help separate fact from fiction for consumers who are confused enough already. So, you can imagine how I felt when I read the following in a Yahoo!/PC World article entitled “Great HDTV Deals Beckon ‘Black Friday’ Shoppers“:

Here’s one of the best bargains I’ve spotted so far: Sears is selling Hitachi’s 42-inch P42H401 1080p plasma for just $776.99 through November 21.

Okay, loyal readers, where’s my beef? I hope you all spotted it; the Hitachi P42H401 is not a 1080p plasma HDTV. It does have 1080 lines of pixels, but it only has 1024 columns of pixels which is barely half of what it needs to produce an 1080p image. Not even Hitachi calls it “1080p” (though they do call it “HD1080“, whatever that means). Check out the spec sheet for yourself.

Now, I’m not saying that a 42″ plasma TV under $800 isn’t a good deal, but please don’t call it 1080p when it isn’t.

A tip of the leftover turkey to Tom for bringing this to my attention. You too can win a coveted “Truth Patrol” t-shirt if we use an item you send in that blows the whistle on a HDTV ad or article that goes astray.

Truth Patrol: EDTV is Analog?

HDTV Truth Patrol

I know I did a Truth Patrol entry last week, but this one is too good to pass up. The WCPO Channel 9 Web site ran a story from the E.W. Scripps Co. about what you can expect to pay for an HDTV. The piece was doing fine until it ran off the tracks at the end:

However, be careful of flat screen TV’s for much under $300: They may look like an HDTV, but may still be analog. For instance, an “EDTV” is really analog, and won’t pick up signals after 2009. Avoid it.

Okay, this is wrong on so many counts. First, any new television sold in this country has to have a digital tuner. If a store is selling old stock that does not have an analog tuner, then it has to have a prominent disclaimer that makes it clear that it will not be able to receive digital broadcasts after most local television broadcasters shut off their analog broadcasts on February 17, 2009. After that time, you’ll need a converter box to receive the free over-the-air local television broadcasts. (It looks as though my prediction of $50 converter boxes is going to be on target, and after the federal government’s $40 rebate coupon, it will cost you $10 or less.)

EDTV is not an analog broadcast resolution. Only standard definition can be broadcast on an analog signal, and that’s an interlaced 480 line resolution. No matter how you define EDTV — either progressive scan 480p standard screen width, or wide 480p with 848 by 480 pixels — it requires a digital signal to convey that much data. You can get that from a DVD player, but not over the air.

EDTVs with just analog tuners do exist, just as HDTVs with just analog tuners exist. But there is nothing about an EDTV that requires it to only have an analog tuner. And any EDTV with a digital tuner is going to work just fine in 2009.

Is anyone surprised that people are confused about this?

Thanks to Rob for sending in this one. You can win a coveted “Truth Patrol” t-shirt if we use an item you send in that manages to get HDTV explanations twisted sideways.

Truth Patrol: Radioactive HDTVs?

HDTV Truth Patrol

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t pick on the Nigerian press, especially after all that country has done to help make sure that everyone gets plenty of email. But when I received this item from Vanguard Online, I couldn’t believe that someone would actually publish this:

General Manager of [LG]’s Nigerian operation, Mr. Tae-Joon Park also noted that … “Plasma displays were also said to have short life spans because of the radioactive half-life of the gases they use.”

Excuse me!?! Radioactive half-life? So that’s why plasma screens glow!

Okay, before you all start running for your lead aprons and Geiger counters, there are no radioactive gases in a plasma display. The gases used in these panels are mixtures of inert gases such as argon and neon. They are not radioactive.

Someone got a bit sideways along the track here, but whether it’s the reporter or someone else is anybody’s guess. The early plasma panels did have short life spans. The display industry measures useful life as the time it takes until the amount of light produced by the display drops to half its original value. (For a variety of reasons, it will still look brighter than half as bright as the original level, but that’s another topic.) So somebody took “half-life” and must have assumed that they were talking about radioactive material, which also has a half-life.

The fact is that there is no radioactive gas in a plasma display, and any new panel that you buy will last at least as long as a traditional CRT picture tube television.

Thanks to Jamie for sending in this one. You can win a coveted “Truth Patrol” t-shirt if your submitted HDTV weirdness gets picked for debunking in the HDTV Almanac.

Truth Patrol: What This Ad Means

HDTV Truth Patrol

This weekend, I found an a sales circular from Target as I was compiling the data for my Weekly Intelligence Report. One item prompted me to single out Target on the wording of one of their items:

Target has advertised a

The ad shows a 37″ Magnavox listed as a “1080i LCD HDTV“. Two out of three ain’t bad in most arenas, but in consumer electronics, a miss is as good as a mile. People are confused enough about their choices without adding to the problem. The fact is that there are no 1080i resolution LCD HDTVs, at least as far as I know. The “i” stands for “interlaced”, and while this is how all CRT (picture tube) televisions work, all LCDs use a progressive scan to create the image. (This is what the “p” represents in 1080p and 720p.) The industry standard practice is to refer to LCD TVs by their native resolution, or by the HDTV resolution that they can display without having to scale the image up or down.

In this case, the Magnavox model has a Wide XGA native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. This also is enough pixels to show a 720p HDTV signal. So this model should be advertised as Wide XGA or 720p; either would be okay.

1080i is not okay. It is true that this model can accept a 1080i signal and scale it down to fit the screen, but so will just about every 720p LCD HDTV on the market. At the very least, some copywriter misread the specifications and nobody caught the error. At the worst, someone at Target made a conscious decision to try to make the display sound more capable than it is. The bottom line, however, is that some shoppers will undoubtedly be misled by this description.

Are you confused by the different HDTV resolutions and technologies? Make an informed and confident purchase with now available in paperback from Amazon or other fine booksellers.

Truth Patrol: Not All Digital TV is Wide

HDTV Truth Patrol

I hate to pick on National Public Radio (NPR) because they do such an excellent job of broad and deep reporting on a wide variety of subjects. Following a sequence of links, I came across a piece on their Web site that does a pretty good job of addressing the problem of the upcoming cut-off of analog TV over-the-air broadcasts, and how to make sure you’re getting an HD picture on your HD resolution TV set. The article does a great job right up until the end, and then you run into this:

The good news: After February 2009, most programming will be created in digital widescreen formats.

No, after February 2009, all programming broadcast over the air will be in digital. This will have no effect on cable systems, and it’s likely that many will still operate on an analog signal. But how programming is distributed does not change how it was created and produced. Most primetime programming on the major networks is already in wide-format high definition. Some of the primetime standard definition shows are also in wide-format; presumably it’s less expensive to scale down the image for standard definition than to maintain two different production streams. And many advertisements are in wide format — both standard and high-def — probably for the same reason.

But tons of programming remain in standard definition and standard 4:3 aspect ratio. HD production equipment — cameras, editing gear, storage, and more — is expensive, and it will take a long time before all the video production will switch over completely. The amount of standard format content will certainly decline over the next year and a half, but I think it’s premature to claim that “most” programming will be in widescreen format by February 2009. And unfortunately, statements like that add to the confusion rather than reduce it.

If you see something about HDTV that is wrong, or just makes you go “huh?”, write me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com and you could win a cool Truth Patrol t-shirt.

Truth Patrol: Are DVDs HD?

HDTV Truth Patrol

Everyone knows that people are confused about HDTV. And lots of people are trying to help consumers understand this technology and the various choices; that’s why the HDTV Almanac exists in the first place. These efforts are commendable. But sadly, many responsible individuals and companies spread confusion and misinformation rather than eliminate it. Under the Truth Patrol’s spotlight this time is Crutchfield.

The company’s latest catalog has a “Televisions Shopping Guide” on page 31 that has some good information. One of the highlights is one of the better viewing distance/screen size tables I’ve seen (though it doesn’t take resolution into account, so I still think the one in Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV is better.) But then they go and stub their toe big time:

If most of your viewing is DVD-quality or better, you’ll see more details by sitting closer. If you watch more regular (non-HD) video, sit farther back for a smoother picture.

Hmmm… they make a distinction between “DVD-quality” and “non-HD” video. Folks, unless you’re watching a Blu-ray or HD DVD disc, you’re watching “non-HD” video when you watch a DVD. Yes, there are “upscaling” DVD players that take the standard definition DVD signal and scale it up to fill an HD screen. For every 10 by 10 block of pixels, these enlarge the image to about 20 by 20 pixels. In other words, they take the 100 original pixels and expand them to use 400 pixels. They do it very cleverly, so that lines look smooth and you don’t get a big blotchy image that looks like a mosaic. But these players still can’t invent detail that’s not already in the image, so a DVD still only has standard definition content. Lots of people think that DVDs are high-definition because they look good on a large screen, but they’re not. Crutchfield has a good reputation for reliable information, so it’s unfortunate that they have added to the confusion.

Thanks to George in Chicago for pointing this one out. If you see something about HDTV that is wrong, or just makes you go “huh?”, write me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com and you could win a cool Truth Patrol t-shirt.

Truth Patrol: More Digital TV Confusion

HDTV Truth Patrol

The headline on the BizBlog on the Idaho Business Review Web site screams “You need to buy an HDTV in the next 24 months”. This proves that there is at least one more Chicken Little writing about television in the blogosphere.

Here are the facts, folks. In February 2009, analog broadcast over the air will cease. Digital broadcast over the air will continue, as it is available now. If you get your television over the air, you will need a digital tuner to receive the signal. You do not need an HDTV to view television content broadcast with a digital signal. You can use your existing television and simply add an external tuner. Your existing antenna may even work well enough that you won’t need a new antenna.

If you have cable or satellite service, you don’t have to change a thing.

So the bottom line is that television is not going to switch to HDTV — high-definition television — in February 2009, and you don’t have to buy a new television. And the sky is not falling.

If you see something about HDTV that is wrong, or just makes you go “huh?”, write me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com and you could win a cool Truth Patrol t-shirt.