What Does “Fully HD” Mean?

In Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty proclaims “A word means what I want it to mean!” That’s certainly a creative view of vocabulary, but it can become a barrier to effective communication when different people start using a term to mean different things.

For example, take “Fully HD.” Some people use it to mean 1080p displays, implying that 720p displays are somehow less than HD. The fact is that both resolutions are HD, according to the SMPTE definitions. At Pacific Media Associates (where I work as a Senior Research Associate), we use the term to mean that a display can receive HD signals on its own. This means that it is Digital Cable Ready or has an ATSC digital tuner, or both. This is to distinguish such displays from “HD Ready” displays that still need some other device, such as a set-top box, to receive and process the digital signals. But then some people use “Integrated HDTV” to mean that the display has a digital tuner, and “HDTV Monitor” to mean one that doesn’t. It seems to me that if a display can’t receive television signals on its own, it’s a bit generous to call it a TV, however; shouldn’t it be called an “HD Monitor” instead?

Confused yet? Get in line. Sure, it would help if we could get all the manufacturers and retailers and journalists to use the same terms the same way. But if you check the resolution and whether there’s a tuner in the display, you’ll know whether you’ve got an HD display or not, no matter what it might be called.