Reader Question: Pixelated Text

Q: Why do HDTV’s at major retailers look pixelated, especially on lower third text effects at bottom of screen? Is it just me or is something wrong?

A: There are a number of possible explanations for this. The most likely one is that the retailer is using a distributed signal from a single source to all the sets on display at once. If they cut corners on the signal processing and distribution (cables and amplifiers and splitters and such), the signal could be significantly degraded by the time it gets to the set.

Another possibility is that some sets have difficulty with a “text crawl” which can mess up the image quality in the area of the screen where the crawl is located (usually the bottom).

Yet another possibility is that the source image is in standard definition and the image is being scaled up to HDTV. If the scaling is done badly — either as part of the signal distribution or in the individual TV sets — the text quality could suffer.

My advice is to ask to hook up a DVD directly to the set that you’re might want to purchase. That way you’ll know you’re getting a clean signal, and any problems with the image will be the set’s. Use a standard DVD player; an upscaling player won’t let you see how good or bad the TV’s scaler is. Also, use a DVD that shows real scenes; animated and computer generated scenes are typical too consistent to reveal much about image quality. Close ups of actors’ faces can be an excellent test image.