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What is the difference between standard definition and high definition?

High definition (high-def) is the highest resolution offered within the digital television category. As television programming and TV sets themselves are moving from analog to digital, it's easier to deliver movies and programming in higher resolutions. High-def content is also more often displayed in widescreen, which is similar to how it looks in the movie theater. Between standard definition and high definition, there's a range of resolutions, but the easiest way to explain the difference is that a high-def image holds more information than a standard-definition image. This means that high-def can be up to six times clearer than what you get on DVD, which lends itself to being shown on larger screens.

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What is it about high-def that makes the picture so much better?

As anyone who has seen high-def content on an HDTV knows, the images are often so realistic you feel you can almost reach out and touch them. That intense realism makes the high-def viewing experience, whether you're watching an action movie, a drama, or a sporting event, far more compelling and exciting than standard-definition TV.


But what is it about high-def that makes the picture so much better? The main difference is resolution. A high-def image holds more information than a standard-definition one, providing up to six times more detail. The higher the resolution, the better an image looks, particularly on a larger screen. While you may not notice a significant difference on TVs smaller than 42", on larger screens high-def images retain startlingly crisp clarity in a way that standard definition simply cannot.


There are other reasons why high-def makes for better viewing. Blu-ray discs also support progressive scanning providing multi-channel high-resolution audio, which is significantly better than audio on DVD.

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What is the difference between a standard DVD player and a Blu-ray player?

DVD players show movies and other content at standard definition resolutions, while Blu-ray players show content at much higher resolutions. At a mechanical level, all DVD players use red lasers to read the information on the disc, while all high-def players use blue lasers. The blue lasers can read more information on each disc, and this extra information means the movie can be shown in higher definition. Blu-ray players use special high-def discs that won't play on regular DVD players (since the red lasers aren't sharp enough to read them), but all of your old DVDs will play back on the new Blu-ray players.

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Why is the sound better?

More information fed into your home-theater speakers means deeper, richer sound. The benefits of high-def sound cannot truly be appreciated without a surround-sound speaker system. We've all heard of "surround sound," but the new high-def content can offer true surround sound--enough to make you jump off the couch! Read our related topic, Speakers and Home Theater Systems.

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How do I get my TV shows in high-def?

Anyone who has experienced an HDTV playing high-def content knows how amazing it looks. But standard-definition content (such as cable, satellite, or broadcast TV--NTSC) doesn't take advantage of HDTV's full potential--it's displayed at a lower resolution of 480 lines of resolution and uses a 4:3 (non-widescreen) aspect ratio.

Before taking your HDTV back and demanding a refund, you need to understand that a high-def source is necessary to match the crystal-clear video and theater-quality audio you saw in the showroom. For an additional fee, your cable or satellite provider offers high-def programming from select networks including Discovery, ESPN, and HBO, with more being added. A new set-top box also may be required to deliver high-def content to your HDTV. Your local television stations may also send out high-def (ATSC) signals over the air. To receive them, you'll need an HDTV with a built-in tuner and an high-def antenna. Read our related topic, High-Def Programming.

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What are the different types of HDTVs?

There are several to choose from. The main three are LCD, plasma, and DLP. LCD and plasma offer "true" flat panel displays--thin enough to hang on your wall. DLP refers to the "digital light processing" technology that’s inside rear-projection TVs. Unlike the rear projection TVs of a few years ago, the new DLP TVs are thinner as well, but not yet to the point where you can hang them on your wall. But DLP has a price advantage, which means you can get a bigger screen for less money. Plasma and LCDs are rapidly coming down in price, though, especially LCDs, putting more pressure on DLP manufacturers. With DLP, you can also get a front-projection system, which requires a dedicated screen. This is the preferred method of many home-theater buffs, since it allows for a flawless picture and a much larger screen, but it’s not the optimal set-up for most living rooms.

The traditional CRT television also comes in high definition, although many find the large picture tubes required for a bigger screen to be too heavy and unwieldy for many living rooms, especially as the industry is moving toward flat-panel displays.

In terms of quality, LCD, plasma, and DLP all come in a variety of high-def resolutions, and each side will argue that they offer the best experience. That's a much longer discussion, but we'll just say that each one has their strengths and a few weaknesses depending on the type of environment and content you like to watch. Read the five things you need to know before buying an HDTV in our related topic, HDTV.

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What do all those numbers and letters mean on my Blu-ray discs and HDTV?

Ah, the numbers and letters. We're trained to think that larger numbers are always better, and they are--sometimes. We'll come back to that in a second. First, let's start with the basics. When you watch television, the picture you see is made up of many scanned lines that compose the image on the screen. Lines of resolution vary for different digital televisions--480, 720, and 1080. The more lines you have, the clearer the image. Interlaced and progressive are the two scanning techniques that are used--that's where the "i" and "p" come in after each number. As a rule, progressive images tend to look better than interlaced, since interlacing is a holdover from the old picture-tube TVs, so a 1080p image will look better than a 1080i image. Most high-def programming today is 1080i, which still looks great, but it’s not the highest possible resolution. DVDs are 480p and Blu-ray discs are 1080p.

Now here's where it gets confusing. The image you see is determined by a combination of the resolution of the content and the resolution that your HDTV will support. So if you play a standard DVD at 480p on a 1080p HDTV, you'll see the image at 480p--it's limited by the resolution of the DVD. By the same token, if you play a 1080p Blu-ray disc on a 1080i HDTV, you'll see that movie in 1080i--since it's limited by the resolution of the TV. So when you're looking for a new TV, you should consider the resolution of the content you plan to feed into it. 1080p HDTVs are still the most expensive, but as prices come down and as more content is produced in this high resolution, you'll want to combine 1080p Blu-ray content with a 1080p HDTV.

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How do I watch my movies in high-def?

You'll need three things: an HDTV, a source of high-def content, and the right home-theater set-up. We've talked about the differences in HDTVs and in high-def content, so the final piece is a home-theater audio receiver capable of delivering multiple channels to your surround-sound speakers. That will ensure you're getting mind-blowing explosions, music, and screams.

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What is an upconverter?

Upconverting a DVD consists of taking a standard-definition DVD and "upsampling" it to appear to be at a higher resolution. Despite the labels that they are "1080i" or "1080p" DVD upconverters, they are not the same as watching your DVDs in true high definition, since the source content is still limited by the content on the DVD disc itself. What you will see is some increased detail and clearer colors, however. Upconverting works best on displays with fixed pixels--namely plasma or LCD TVs. If you use them with standard CRT televisions or with some projectors, the upscaling feature may not result in a better image. It's also important to note that all Blu-ray players are excellent DVD upconverters.

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What is "contrast ratio" and why is it important?

Contrast is the ratio between the white and black parts within an image. The larger the contrast ratio of an HDTV (or any TV), the greater the difference between the brightest whites and the deepest blacks that TV can display. Therefore, a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 suggests that the black levels are 100,000 times darker than the white levels. But that's where it should end for most of us--unless you watch everything in the dark, don't get too caught up in big contrast numbers. They are largely there for show. The way your eye responds to contrast is really the important factor. The presence of even tiny amounts of ambient light in a room can make an HDTV display with a very high contrast ratio look similar to one with a much lower rating.

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How do I piece together my high-def home theater?

The back of your home entertainment system can be one of the more intimidating places in your home--to many, it's just a confusing maze of wires. To watch high-def content, you'll need the right connections for your high-def cable or satellite box, or for your Blu-ray player. There are several ways to connect these devices, but the best way is with an HDMI cable. HDMI is a "secure" digital cable that protects against people trying to steal high-def movies or programming. Component cables also work for delivering video to your HDTV, but they are analog and impossible to protect against piracy, so the industry is trying to phase these out over time. But for now, they'll work for most content. On the audio side, we recommend a single optical cable that delivers up to eight channels of sound to your receiver through a fiber optic cable. Read more about the different kinds of cables in our related topic, HDMI and High-Def Cables.

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How big of a TV do I need?

To truly appreciate the difference between standard definition and high definition, the experts say you need an HDTV that's at least 42" or larger. As you move to larger TV sizes, high-def images hold their quality. It's similar to enlarging a photograph--as long as the photo was taken at a high resolution, even as you blow it up, it still looks great. It also depends on how close or far away you plan to sit from the TV. Check out our HDTV sizing guide below.

HDTV Sizing



Be sure to choose a TV that fits your room. No one wants a TV so large that it feels like you’re sitting in the front row of the theater! Read five things you need to know before buying an HDTV in our related topic, HDTV.


What is BD-Live?

BD-Live is a new technology for Blu-ray that uses the internet to extend your movie viewing experience through downloaded content and advanced interactivity. BD-Live enabled Blu-ray discs have features such as online chat, trivia games that you can play with others watching the same movie, exclusive downloadable content, and other online bonus features. Blu-ray players must also be BD-Live enabled. Read more about BD-Live.

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How is the PlayStation 3 associated with Blu-ray?

The PlayStation 3 is widely considered the best Blu-ray player available. Aside from playing Blu-ray discs, it can also play DVDs and CDs. Furthermore, since the PlayStation 3 can connect to the internet, it can retrieve firmware updates that stay current with the industry. For instance, the PS3 now supports BD-Live on enabled Blu-ray releases. Read more about Blu-ray Players.

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What Blu-ray players are BD-Live ready?

Most Blu-ray players being released today have the Profile 2.0 specification which allows for BD-Live and PiP. Profile 2.0 players will have an Ethernet port for internet access. Blu-ray players like the Playstation 3 have the ability to stay current with the industry through firmware updates, meaning support for Profile 2.0 and beyond. Read more about BD-Live.

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How do I get BD-Live?

BD-Live enabled Blu-ray movies require a Profile 2.0 Blu-ray player in addition to internet access for downloadable content. Not all Blu-ray movies or Blu-ray players will be BD-Live ready. Read more about BD-Live.

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Do DVDs have BD-Live?

Only BD-Live enabled Blu-ray movies have BD-Live. Read more about BD-Live.

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What is Blu-ray?

Blu-ray discs were created to read and write large amounts of information. While a standard DVD can only hold 4.7 GB of data, a Blu-ray disc can hold up to 25 GB of high-def data on single layer discs and up to 50 GB with double layer discs. Blu-ray discs play only in Blu-ray players or Blu-ray ROM drives. Read more about Blu-ray.

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What does surround sound mean (5.1, 6.1, 7.1)?

Surround sound is an extended speaker configuration that goes beyond standard stereo (2 channel audio). There are a number is different configurations but the most common are 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1. The first number refers to the number of speakers in a home theater. The '1' signifies the presence of a sub-woofer. Most Blu-rays and many standard def DVDs have 5.1 support. Read more about High-Def Speakers/Home Theater.

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What is a receiver?

The receiver is the brain of the home theater system--it supplies power to the speakers and decodes audio and video signals. Aside from the surround sound speakers, the output from a high-def device, such as a Blu-ray player or receiver, is what will make your listening experience truly high-definition. Read more about High-Def Speakers/Home Theater.

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What is HDMI?

Cables are needed to transmit video and audio from your high-definition content source (set-top box, Blu-ray player, game console) to your HDTV. The "yellow-white-red" cables of old are not meant for HDTV, so you will want to use an HDMI cable to deliver both high-resolution video and multi-channel audio at the highest quality possible. Other cables exist distinctly for video, or audio. Read more about High-Def Speakers/Home Theater.

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What kind of speakers do I need?

If you are looking for a guide that suits your home theater space perfectly, there isn't one. But we can point you in the right direction. Generally, a cost effective way to go is to buy a speaker bundle or speakers from the same brand--these usually sound best. If you want to want to mix and match speakers it is still possible to get the right sound for your space. Read more about High-Def Speakers/Home Theater.

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What is an audio encoding?

Audio encodings are versions of audio that reside on a Blu-ray disc or other mediums. With Blu-ray there are a number of different encodings studios may choose to put on a particular disc. Some encodings are better than others as they offer better sound. Read more at Blu-ray Players and Gaming Systems.

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Why can’t I use the cables I have already?

When you upgrade to high-definition you must also upgrade the cable that carries the high-def signal. The best choice for HD is HDMI. This kind of cable carries both audio and video. Read more at High-Def Cables and Accessories.

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What is DVI?

DVI, or Digital Video Interface, is a high-definition video cable only used on consumer gear for a few years and has since been replaced by HDMI. Read more at High-Def Cables and Accessories.

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Why do I need a Universal Remote Control?

Universal remote controls consolidate many remotes into a single remote. Read more at High-Def Cables and Accessories.

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How do I mount my HDTV to my wall?

Mounting your flat-screen HDTV can be a demanding task, so be sure you get the right wall-mount for the right HDTV, and have someone there to help you. First of all, choosing the right location that will best suit you and your audience is best. Being aware of other factors like glare from windows, and the height and tilt of your HDTV can help you get the best placement for your space. Read more at High-Def Cables and Accessories.

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What is a DVR?

A DVR, or Digital Video Recorder, records digital programming for viewing at a later time. TiVo uses it's own DVR to record content. There are other DVR's that can record digital programming across different providers. Read more at High-Def Programming & DVR.

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What happens on February 17th 2009?

The 'Digital Switch' occurs on February 17th 2009. This means that all previously analog television signals will become digital and in order to receive the signal, you will need a digital television or a converter. Read more at High-Def Programming & DVR.

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Am I ready for the Digital Switch?

On February 17th 2009 television broadcasters will switch to a digital signal. This means that in order to receive the signal, you will need a digital television or a converter. If you already can see your digital cable, you don't have to worry. Read more at High-Def Programming & DVR.

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What is an ATSC tuner?

An ATSC tuner allows those with an HDTV to receive over-the-air high-def television. It can also be called an ATSC receiver, or simply an HDTV tuner. All HDTVs and interface devices that carry a tuner, such as a Blu-ray Disc player, come with a built-in ATSC tuner, as of March, 2007. Many HDTVs since 2005 have come with these built-in, but many others do not, and retailers are still able to sell TVs and interface devices, manufactured before March 2007, that do not have the tuner built-in. In this case, the owner must purchase an external ATSC tuner in order to receive over-the-air High-def programming. Read more at High-Def Programming & DVR.

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What makes a computer high-definition?

High-definition computers can play have the ability to play Blu-ray discs. Also, high monitor resolutions are required to play HD content. There is some processing power required to meet the demands of HD playback. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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Can I play Blu-ray movies on my high-def computer?

If your computer has a Blu-ray ROM drive and sufficient processing power, in addition to a high resolution HD monitor then you can play Blu-ray movies. If your computer does not have a Blu-ray ROM drive, there are external drives available that can connect to your computer either through USB or FireWire cables. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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What kind of monitor do I need?

Some monitors do not have a high enough resolution to playback Blu-ray movies and other HD media all on one screen. In order to do this, you will need a high-resolution monitor capable of playing back 1920 by 1080 pixels. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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Can I burn or record data on to Blu-ray discs?

Yes. There are Blu-ray ROM drives that record or burn BD-R discs. Re-writable Blu-ray discs are called BD-R/E discs. Blu-ray Discs have a massive amount of storage capacity and allow for great portability. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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Can I still have surround sound on a computer?

Yes. Depending on the output of your sound card, you may have up to 7.1 channels of HD audio. However, some computers do not have the ability playback high-definition audio. HD audio encodings include TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, among others. Check your sound card specs to see what it can do. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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Can I still play DVDs on my high-def computer?

Yes. All Blu-ray players can play DVDs. There are Blu-ray drives that can play even more formats such as BD-Rs, CDs, SACDs, etc.. Read more at High-Def Computers.

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What kinds of HD camcorders are there?

There are two main types of HD camcorders and those are HDV and AVCHD. An HDV (High-Definition Video) camcorder records to tape. AVCHD is a tapeless capture type that records to either an on-board hard disk drive, flash memory, or discs such as Blu-ray or DVD. Generally HDV is considered the better for editing. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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What kind of accessories are there for HD camcorders?

Some accessories for HD camcorders include lenses, camera bags, HDMI cables, Flash Memory Disks, BD-Rs (Recordable Blu-ray Discs). Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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What is digital versus optical zoom?

Digital zoom enlarges the existing picture so that the image in the frame appears closer. Optical zoom uses the lens to make your picture seem closer. The advantage of optical zoom is that there is no degradation of the image through pixelation. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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How do I play my recordings on my HDTV?

Some HD camcorders will have an HDMI output that allows you to connect the camcorder to your HDTV. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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What format does an HD camcorder record to?

HD camcorders can record to HDV tape, Flash Memory, HDD, Blu-ray, or DVD. It is important to note that Flash Memory is seen as the future of HD camcorders as it can withstand jolts and will continue to record without skips. There are combinations also that use multiple format types, for instance, Blu-ray disc and Flash Memory. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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How do I get my HD videos to my computer?

The easiest way to get recordings from your HD camcorder is to download them from your camcorder to your computer through either a USB or FireWire cable. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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What is the benefit of having a mini LCD screen?

The benefit of having a mini LCD screen is that you can get an accurate shot compared to using the viewfinder, which does not reproduce what you see on the recorded footage later. Read more at High-Def Camcorders.

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Can I take pictures with my HD camcorder?

Many HD camcorders allow you to take still pictures as a digital camera would. What mega-pixel count are you looking for? Find more information on HD camcorders at High-Def Camcorders.

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