When Is 1080 Not HDTV?

Plasma makers are making a big push back against the gains of LCD panels in HDTV applications, and they’re pulling out all the stops. Buyers will have to look closely and read carefully to make sure that they get what they think their getting. For example, consider the new “1080” plasma panels put forth by Hitachi, in models such as the P42H401 or P50H401.

Hitachi promotes these as “HD1080 Plasma HDTVs“. They have 1,080 lines of native resolution (using an interlaced ALiS technology, but that’s no problem). The problem is that they only have 1,024 pixels per row. That’s only 53% of the 1,920 pixels defined in a 1080p or 1080i signal. Nearly half of the information in a 1080p gets thrown away, as a result. Half the detail of the image is lost.

Lost pixels is nothing new. We’ve been giving a pass to plasma panels with 1,024 by 768 pixel resolution, letting them call themselves “720p” even though they don’t have enough pixels to display the required 1,280 pixels per line. And earlier this year, a federal judge formally decided that this practice was okay. But now we’re talking about losing almost half the information on the screen.

Here’s where the looking closely comes into play; can you see the difference between the detail on this display and a “real” 1080p display? Only you can answer that question, but I expect that anyone will see the difference when viewing an image that pans across closely spaced vertical detail, such as a pinstripe suit. If you can’t see the difference, then there’s no reason not to get this “sort of” 1080 display. But I encourage you to look closely; these panels physically cannot display the detail that a panel with 1,920 pixels per line can.