Your TV: Digital or death
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November 10, 2006

Your TV: Digital or death

NTSC includes over the air (OTA) analog broadcasts which can be displayed on conventional televisions. A TV picture is made up of lots of tiny horizontal rows (called scan lines) of individual pixels, or picture elements. The more rows – and the more picture elements – a screen can reproduce, the clearer and sharper the picture.

Your old analog TV’s picture is made up of 480 visible horizontal lines, each comprising a maximum of 720 pixels. By contrast, HDTVs can reproduce up to 1080 horizontal lines of 1920 pixels – resulting in a picture that’s a jaw-dropping 6 times as dense (Imagine actually being able to see your house on the weather report). HDTV also has the advantage of enabling progressive-scan display (useful with the latest DVD players as well as TV broadcasts). {{more}}You’ve probably also noticed that many HDTV screens are wider, relative to their height, than the TVs you’re accustomed to. To be specific, most newer HDTV models feature what’s known as a 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio (the ratio refers to the relationship between horizontal and vertical dimensions), as compared to the 4:3 aspect ratio of older TVs. HDTV programming, by definition, is delivered in this wider aspect, which is better suited to the reproduction of most movies, not to mention providing a broader, more revealing perspective on sporting events and other programs.

Regardless of their screen dimensions, all HDTVs and HDTV monitors can reproduce high-definition programming in its intended 16:9 aspect. 4:3 sets typically handle the conversion by compressing the horizontal scan lines to fit within the vertical picture area, leaving black or gray bars above and below the image (letterboxing).

When will all broadcasts be in HDTV?

The US Congress has recently approved a “hard date” deadline of February 17, 2009 to turn off analog NTSC broadcasts, which means after that date, all broadcasts will use the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) digital broadcast programming standard. Congress is also proposing a $3 billion dollar program to help consumers buy adapters that will allow existing conventional analog televisions to receive digital broadcasts. It is yet to be determined exactly how it will affect prices here in the Caribbean and in the rest of the world.

Although all broadcasts will be digital after the deadline, not all broadcasts are required to be HDTV, as part of the ATSC standard is 480p/i, which includes current satellite/digital cable transmissions. So even though there is a hard date for digital television, it will likely be much longer before all broadcasts will be in HDTV as there will be no hard date and will likely depend on consumer demand. You can expect to see many satellite networks to still offer the classic NTSC broadcasts

What HDTV programming is currently available?

Over the Air (OTA). The major networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, etc) have been broadcasting HDTV over the air since 1998, primarily consisting of ‘primetime’ programs between 8-11pm EST, with some weekly late night talk shows and weekend sporting events. Other broadcast networks (UPN, WB, etc) also have limited primetime offerings. The programming is free provided you have HDTV OTA antenna and an HDTV receiver either external or built into your HDTV.

Cable/Satellite. Cable and Satellite companies currently offer various HDTV packages to most of the United States (Cable is offered to various US markets; Satellite is offered almost everywhere, provided you have a clear angle to mount the satellite dish).

Most HDTV packages offered by Cable and Satellite companies are modest, consisting of 10-20 channels, and include the major networks and other various types of channels.