Court Rules Almost HDTV Is Okay

According to a report in the Newark Star-Ledger, a federal court in New Jersey has decided to dismiss a case in which a California man, Jason Ford, claimed he was defrauded by Panasonic for selling him a plasma television as an HDTV even though it did not have enough pixels to qualify. The Panasonic model — like many plasma panels — has a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. This is enough lines of resolution to display the 720 lines required for HDTV, but does not have enough horizontal pixels to display the 1,280 specified in the ATSC standard for 720p images.

According to the report, the judge ruled that HDTV standards are “absolutely clear” and that the Panasonic set meets them. That’s curious, because the pixel count is described clearly by the ATSC; see page 24 of the Guide to Use of the ATSC DTV Standard for a table that looks pretty clear.

The entire industry has turned a blind eye to the question of horizontal resolution on plasma televisions. The federal judge even cited a Consumer Reports review that picked the Panasonic model as the best HDTV at the time Mr. Ford bought his. The missing 256 pixels represent 20% of the information. This is a lot, though with good scaling and video processing, most people may not notice the difference.

The problem is that settling on the number of lines is not sufficient to define set resolution. We’ve already seen manufacturers come out with plasma panels with 1,080 lines of resolution. Does this mean that they handle 1080p? Well, some have only 1,024 horizontal pixels; they’re missing nearly half of the 1,920 pixels required for 1080p. Why do they do this? It is much harder for plasma makers to increase the number of horizontal pixels for a panel of a given size, so they look for other ways to compete with the higher resolutions offered by LCD panels.

The judge reportedly said that the buyer was “told what he was getting” in the specifications for the set. And that points to the solution for this problem. The court is leaving it up to the consumer to be informed and make their own judgments about whether or not a given model is suitable for their purposes or not. So it remains up to the buyers to choose whether or not to purchase those models that do not meet the ATSC standards.