Last week the HD GuruÃ¢â€žÂ¢ posted his top 10 HDTV Scams, Lies and Video Ripoffs. As promised, here is a more in-depth look at the issues.
The worst connector design since S-Video and the most unreliable interface ever foisted on the buying public. It began with HollywoodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s solution to a non-existent problem, to create HDTV video/audio stream that is not possible to copy. Of course there has never been a copying problem with HDTV but that did not stop the MPAA from getting together with Intel to create a system called HDCP that rides along an HDMI connection. A consortium of companies created the HDMI standard. In a nutshell it is an uncompressed digital stream with a copy protection scheme (HDCP) that requires authentication between the source and display. The problem: it does not work reliably. There are untold combinations of sources, switches (Audio/Video receivers) and displays that wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work together, resulting in either no picture or an image of just snow (indicative of failure of HDCP authentication). Some combinations will work sometimes and other times not, requiring a power off/on of the components and crossed fingers.
The problem has been complicated because many equipment manufacturers did not have the ability to test their respective HDMI circuitry. The reason? HDMI/HDCP test gear was priced in the six-figure range. Furthermore, interoperability was limited to the participants in industry test sessions called plugfests, so only a limited amount of gear has been checked for interoperability.
What has further complicated the problem is the standard for HDMI keeps changing. First there was 1.0 then another followed by another. Now we are at 1.3 but there has been talk of another standard (1.4?) just around the corner. Some equipment makers and the HD GuruÃ¢â€žÂ¢ feel there should be no more changes until everyone and everything achieves full interoperability. Until then HDMI problems will continue to haunt dealers, installers and consumers.
To make one other item clear. When it works, HDMI/HSDCP is the best connection between a source and display, though the connector is not exactly robust and cannot be locked into place.
2-120 Hz HDMI Cables
The HD GuruÃ¢â€žÂ¢ has written about overpriced HDMI cables. The situation is getting more extreme. Amazon sells a 6 ft. HDMI cable for $1.98 while Best Buy sells HDMI 6-8 ft cables from $59.99-$219.99 making its most (8ft) expensive cable 100 times the price of the cheapest Amazon 6 ft HDMI cable, and there are even costlier HDMI cables available from other sources.
The super priced HDMI cables are claimed to handle Ã¢â‚¬Å“faster speedÃ¢â‚¬Â signals and to be able to handle the requirements of 120 Hz signals, and therefore are present and Ã¢â‚¬Å“futureÃ¢â‚¬Â ready.
The rip-off? There are no 120 Hz signals today or planned in the future. All 120 Hz HDTVs today or tomorrow accept signals no higher rate than 60 Hz. The need for a cable that handles 120 Hz HDTV signals is like putting 200 mile per hour rated tires on a Hyundai: you will never need it.
Keep in mind there are only three possible states of signal through an HDMI cable. They are a) perfect b) intermittent/ sparkles 3) no picture at all. If you get a continuous image over HDMI, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s as sharp and clear as it gets, no matter how much you spent on a cable or its rating.
So it does not matter what you spend on cable, as long as the cable you buy gives you a Ã¢â‚¬Å“perfectÃ¢â‚¬Â picture. However, if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re running your HDMI cable through a wall, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good idea to make sure the quality of both the connector and the termination is high. While all properly made HDMI cable will pass the picture, long term reliability will, in part, be determined by the robustness of the cableÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s construction.
3-Off Brand (So-called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Third TierÃ¢â‚¬Â) Model HDTVs
Buying no name brands will save you money, but they may be nearly as expense to repair as to replace after the factory warranty expires. With some brands there is no after warranty service (i.e. Polaroid). The HD GuruÃ¢â€žÂ¢ highly recommends checking with the with the manufacturerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s US office to learn what the costs are for in-warranty service (such as: who pays shipping to and from the factory during the warranty period, what is the cost if you need a replacement box and what are the charges for post-warranty service) before you make the purchase. Read http://hdguru.com/your-new-disposable-flat-panel-hdtv/107 for more information.
4-Flat LCD HDTVs 26Ã¢â‚¬Â and Smaller
With the price of LCD flat panels continuing to drop, the image quality of LCD HDTVs in the 26Ã¢â‚¬Â or below size has actually diminished! In earlier years, top of the line panels were available in this size range. But todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pricing pressures force set makers to step down performance to keep the price low. If you want the best LCD glass within an LCD HDTVÃ¢â‚¬â€one that features superior contrast ratios, off-axis viewing, signal processing and 10 bit color (1024 shades of gray versus 256) you need to consider a 32Ã¢â‚¬Â or larger set. If you must get a set 26Ã¢â‚¬Â and below, compare off center viewing, color, upconversion of standard definition sources and motion smear. You will find the range in performance from fair to really poor.
An added caution: a number of 26Ã¢â‚¬Â and below size sets are not in the industry standard 16:9 aspect ration (1.78:1) but are instead 1.6:1. Check the native resolution. For example, if its 1440 x 900 stay away. If you were to purchase a non-standard aspect ratio set, when you view 16:9 content, you will have to contend with a portion of the image always cut-off or (on some models) always seeing black bars at the top and bottom of the HD image.
5-1080p HDTV below 42Ã¢â‚¬Â (diagonal)
Most buyers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t realize how close you must be to a 1080p set to notice the full benefit over a 720p display. To see all the resolution of smaller HDTV you need to be really close. For example a 32Ã¢â‚¬Â set requires a maximum viewing distance of 4 feet 2 inches. I do not know anyone who sits that close to a TV. DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t waste your money on resolution you will not see. Check my HDTV distance chart for the maximum distances for 1080p and 720p displays. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at http://hdguru.com/hdtv-seating-distance-chart/6/
Just click on the highlighted HDTV Viewing Distance Chart.
6- X.V. Color
Also known as xvYCC color, X.V. comes from a source device, as meta-data sent along with an HDTV signal over an HDMI cable to a display to provide a wider color gamut. In other words, more colors than are possible with HDTVs that display (or attempt to) the colors available within the HDTV standard. X.V. color is an optional part of the HDMI 1.3 specifications.
The reality is that LCD displays with normal CCFL backlights (as opposed to LEDs) canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t reproduce a true red (itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s orange) let alone a color gamut way beyond the HDTV standard. Furthermore, there is no broadcast, cable or satellite x.v. color source. Neither are there Blu-ray discs that have been mastered with x.v. color. I doubt you will ever see it on broadcast or cable.
It may come someday to Blu-ray discs, but unless your source material was mastered with a wider gamut, and your Blu-ray player and display will reproduce a very wide color gamut (the only technology that comes close is Laser and its coming later this year) the difference with it or without it is quite insignificant. The only source today that can provide an x. v. color source are specific HD Camcorders. Bottom line, until laser TVs and xv color HD discs appear, it is a pretty worthless extra cost feature.
Far more important are displays that closely match the HDTV standard for primary (red, green and blue) and secondary (magenta, yellow and cyan) color points. Measurement data can be found in some home theater magazine reviews.
This feature should be named Deep Baloney. It is also part HDMI 1.3 optional features and it allows content to be encoded with video from 10-bit up to 16-bit color. The higher the bits the more shades of color are available. Now for the reality.
First, every video source (cable, satellite, broadcast and disc) are 8-bit color. Second, all digital displays interpolate the 8 bits to the display native bits, meaning the best LCDs internally change 8-bits of data to 10-bit color depth, some plasmas go even higher (12-bit or higher). Many new sets can accept the higher color depths (if they were available) but will still interpolate the information to accommodate the displays native bit depth.
So if you did have a 12-bit source, and an LCD HDTV with an 8-bit panel would accept the higher bit depth data (if it features Deep Color) but will still display it as and 8-bit image. So there are two basic problems with Deep Color: first nobody is using it (and I am doubtful it will be available from any source anytime soon). Second, the digital display (LCD, Plasma or DLP) will only display the amount of color depth it is capable of displaying. In other words, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Deep ColorÃ¢â‚¬Â is another worthless feature.
They are supposed to clean up dirty AC power from your outlet and claim to make the image sharper and provide better color. Horse Hockey! Stores sell these devices to connect to your new HDTV for hundreds of dollars (or more) to make up for the low profit margin on HDTVs. I have not seen any difference in image quality when I have connected a AC line conditioner to HDTVs, however, to give the manufacturers of these products the benefit of the doubt I do not have dirty AC (perhaps someone next to a factory or in a third world country does, or only watches TV with the vacuum cleaner running). TodayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s digital HDTVs are quite immune to noisy AC power.
In place of a line conditioner, simply purchase a surge protector or if you have a DVR, a combination surge protector and uninterruptible power supply. The former will protect your HDTV and other equipment from potentially damaging power surges and the latter will keep recording your program should you lose power for a few seconds or several minutes.
9-Fake HD Cable and Satellite Channels
So you have a new HDTV and you want to receive as many HD channels as your cable or satellite provider offers. Well be careful. A number of HD channels are mostly fake. They contain standard definition fare that is upconverted and stretched. These channels include: History Channel HD, TNT HD, USA HD, A&E HD and Lifetime HD.
The broadcast, cable and satellite industries are unregulated when it comes to Ã¢â‚¬Å“quality of service.Ã¢â‚¬Â They can take and standard def programming, then upconvert it and call it HD.
A number of HD channels are fake for most of the day. Instead of widescreen high definition content they contain standard definition fare that is upconverted and stretched, making the programming appear soft and distorted.
10-Dynamic Contrast Ratio Measurement
Almost every HDTV manufacturer publishes a contrast ratio number. TV Salesman explains the bigger the ratio, the better. If all other image criteria are equal, the display with the better contrast (brighter whites and darker blacks) would have the best picture and with it the best Ã¢â‚¬Å“perceivedÃ¢â‚¬Â sharpness. However, this specification has morphed beyond a useful measurement into a new, meaningless number that manufacturers call Ã¢â‚¬Å“dynamic contrast ratioÃ¢â‚¬Â. With the recent arrival of 2008 models, it has ushered in the era of Ã¢â‚¬Å“dynamic contrast ratioÃ¢â‚¬Â boasting up to Ã¢â‚¬Å“one million to one (1,000,000:1). The reality? Not only is the dynamic number meaningless, it reminds me of something Dr. Evil of Austin Powers fame would be promoting.
The way Ã¢â‚¬Å“dynamic contrast is measured is a two step process. First the HDTV is fed a completely black signal (0 IRE). The level of black is measured. Next a test signal with a small patch of full white (100 IRE) is generated and the white area is measured. The ratio between the darkest and lightest signal is what is claimed to be Ã¢â‚¬Å“dynamic contrastÃ¢â‚¬Â. How does this relate to what you see when watching a TV program or movie? It doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t! We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t watch content consisting of an all black screen, we see an image that has portions that will be dark (at times) light or something in the middle. An accepted contrast ratio standard measurement is called ANSI contrast, but HDTV manufacturers donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t specify ANSI contrast, they just specify contrast so we really donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how they measure it.
The same display that may provides a dynamic number may spec its normal Ã¢â‚¬Å“contrast ratio as 1/30th-1/100th of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“dynamic contrastÃ¢â‚¬Â ratio number. Bottom line, disregard the dynamic contrast ratio, it is meaningless.
One last note. Black level is part of the equation, but you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t perceive black level in stores like Best Buy and Costco where the ambient light level is many times higher than a the room in your own home where you view your new HDTV. Unless the dealer has realistic ambient light levels (that match the level of your homeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s viewing environment), you may not notice that the blacks on the storeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s demo set are really gray, until you take the HDTV home.
Copyright Ã‚Â©2008 Gary Merson/HD GuruÃ¢â€žÂ¢. All rights reserved. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.