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Time to go HD

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: September 18, 2011

You may have noticed a flurry of advertisements of late on television for high-definition, or HD, services. Many direct-to-home, or DTH, satellite television providers have introduced them. This has led to debates on what really constitutes HD, what is upscaling and whether the additional investment in buying an HD-capable DTH box is worth it.

Kushan Mitra
Kushan Mitra
Let me answer the last question first. If you have already spent Rs 50,000-plus on an HD-capable flat panel display, do not wait to think, just get yourself a HD box. Why? The advertisments for HD you see on standarddefinition TV sets do not remotely bring out how much better the quality of HD imagery is. And, no, the super slow-motion video displayed in the advertisements are not 'HD' either.

But if you do not have an HD-capable TV, is it worth switching to one now? Actually, given the wide choice of channels being broadcast in HD, there is a good case for buying a new HDTV, rather than up-scaling a standarddefinition TV. Not only are sports and movie channels broadcasting in HD, general entertainment channels from a host of broadcasters are also doing so.

Besides, the prices of HDTVs, both liquid crystal display, or LCD, and plasma sets have come down significantly over the past few years. At the same time, their quality has improved immensely. In fact, while three dimensional, or 3D, content is far from perfect, several HD displays today are capable of receiving 3D broadcasts. A standard 40-inch entry-level full-HD display from a reputed manufacturer will cost no more than Rs 50,000. If you choose to buy an ultra-thin LED TV which can show you 3D images, prices start at Rs 75,000 - steep, but barely a fraction of what HD displays cost less than a decade ago.

Finally, the first question. There are still a few thorny areas around HD. The first is what some people call cheating, that is, mere 'upscaling' of the image quality. While 'cheating' is a strong word, upscaling is not a new phenomenon. It involves taking a standard-definition image and 'improving' it by running it through a software programme. Most computer video-players do this.

Is it duping the consumer? Well, an 'upscaled' video, while far superior to standard-definition, is still not true-HD, and marketing it as HD is wrong. Proper HD is captured on HD cameras and broadcast in HD.

So what is high definition? An HD broadcast is one that is transmitted with 1,080 vertical lines (from top to bottom) of resolution. The transmission comes in two varieties - interlaced and progressive, denoted by 'i' and 'p' respectively. Without getting into too many details, a full-HD broadcast is usually in 1080i.

Standard-definition broadcasts in India have 576 lines of vertical resolution. There is an in-between standard called HDready, where the broadcasting is managed with 720 lines of vertical resolution. This used to be popular when full HDTV sets were very expensive, and a lot of content, especially online, was still in 720p.

Unfortunately, the Internet protocol TV, or IPTV, service that I subscribe to, does not have HD. So for big sporting events on TV that are broadcast in HD, I end up at friends' homes. Which is puzzling because, from a technological standpoint, HD services should be easier to serve over IPTV; but my service provider has so far decided against it. I am told that is about to change. However, if you are yet to join the HD brigade, you are at serious risk of falling behind the curve and becoming a technological outcast.

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