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Get the TV You Need

Jul 17, 2008 1:17 PM, By Jason Bovberg

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A friend of mine is mulling an HDTV purchase, and he’s got that common tech-guy gut instinct of wanting to buy the most impressive equipment on the market—within financial reason. For this purchase (which he appropriately deems the centerpiece of a new home-entertainment system), he wants to devote a good chunk of his budget and get the “very best.” So, naturally, he’s got his sights fixed on 1080p. When he told me of these high-resolution intentions, I thought of his viewing habits and his viewing area, and I said, “Hold on, buddy.”

It goes without saying that 1080p is wonderful—in theory. If you’ve seen a demo of a 1080p HDTV displaying a true HD source, you know what I’m talking about. Detail is more precise than anything you’ve ever seen (even in nature), color and black levels are vivid and rock-steady, and you just stand there willing to murder your mother in order to implement that technology in your home. However, 1080p in practice is a very different beast. In truth, considering the majority of HD sources available today and into the foreseeable future—the resolution of which falls overwhelmingly in the 720p/1080i arena—most people fail to distinguish a quality difference between 1080p TVs and their lower-resolution (but still HD) brethren.

My buddy intends to use the set mostly for sports and DVDs. Mostly sports. At his local consumer-electronics store, he sees 1080p feeds pushed onto high-end 1080p sets, and he understandably goes into full-on Homer Simpson-drool mode. I have to explain to him that the source feed is very different from what he’ll get in real life. “Cable TV and satellite TV aren’t 1080p,” I say. “In fact, broadcast TV won’t be available in 1080p for years to come. The required bandwidth is insane! You’re getting all excited about something that doesn’t even really exist yet.”

We’ve also had the conversation about DVDs not even being high-definition. I think, deep down, he gets that. Or maybe he’s just humoring me. I tell him, “Your giant collection of DVDs might look the slightest bit better on an HDTV, thanks to upscaling, but they won’t look any better on a 1080p set than a 720p set.”

He just looks at me funny. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“Actually, on such a high-resolution display, the DVD format’s inherent limitations will probably become even more noticeable.” (And I’m not even sold on the benefits of upscaling technology.)

Then he gives me the typical comeback, complete with shrug. “I think you just pay attention to details too much. I don’t watch my movies that closely.”

Which begs the response: “Then why on Earth are you considering a 1080p set?”

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