By: Phil Conner

With all the new hype about HD DVD and higher resolution 1080p displays of every variety, it’s a good time to get a clear understanding about what HDTV resolutions are available and what they mean to you as a consumer.

Going back in recent history, the first high definition signal we received was DVD 480i - that is, 480 lines of resolution interlaced. The next widely adopted advancement in DVD that made a big impact on viewing quality was the introduction of 480p or 480 lines of progressive resolution. This resolution matched up with digital video displays (i.e. plasma, LCD flat panels and new rear projection formats such as DLP, and LCD), which all process video signals progressively showing every line of information. The difference is that with 480i, the display is showing every other line of information, with 480p every line of information is shown thus effectively doubling resolution and enhancing viewing quality times 2.

A plasma TV, LCD or other display is now named an EDTV (enhanced definition TV) if it displays a native 480 progressive lines of resolution or usually a total resolution of 853 X480. While not a high enough resolution to display HDTV programming in its intended 1080i or 720p resolution, EDTVs will down convert an HD signal and show it in the displays native pixel resolution. The term “EDTV” was invented to distinguish 480p resolution TVs from their higher resolution and higher priced “HDTV” counterparts. Thus, TVs are not really HDTV or EDTV. Those terms are used for convenience sake to distinguish between TVs that have a static, non-changeable native resolution of lower or higher resolution.

The next big advancement in recent history was high definition programming and displays. HDTV has been a media darling, consumer demand, and FCC mandate (by way of digital broadcast requirements replacing analog). Some HDTV broadcasts are 1080 interlaced lines of resolution or 1080i, and some are 720 progressive lines of resolution or 720p. Which is better is a long debated, matter of opinion and depends somewhat on what type of TV you have and your HD reception.

Display resolutions vary greatly depending upon the size of the display. In order to truly show all of the 1080i or 720p information an HDTV must have at least 1280 X 720 lines of resolution. A much more common true high definition resolution is 1366 X768. Most 50” plasma TVs and most all sizes of LCD flat panel TVs have this resolution. Most HDTV 42 plasma TVs only contain 1024 X768 lines of resolution. They will have to down convert 1080i HD signals slightly to display the signal but this does not affect quality dramatically.

While there have been video displays especially LCDs that would display a higher resolution than 1080i or 720p, there was little content available (only gaming) to take advantage of the resolution.

The next and most current development in HDTV resolutions is the introduction of HD DVD players both Blu Ray by Sony and High Definition DVD by Toshiba. These DVD players will display a new stratospheric HDTV resolution of 1920 X 1080 lines or 1080p. These machines will accomplish this through the use of a blue-violet laser, which will read DVDs with much larger storage capacity. Video gaming will also enjoy the benefits of the super high-resolution displays that take advantage of the increased resolution. There are many DLP, and LCD TVs already available with 1920 X 1080 resolution from manufacturers, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba among others. Pioneer will introduce the first plasma television with 1080p resolution this summer.

It costs manufacturers more money to produce plasma or LCD panels with higher resolution. The actual plasma display element or LCD display element (ie glass) are by far the most costly component in the display. Adding pixels (or resolution) lengthens the time it takes to produce a panel – thus increasing costs. Due to the difference in the two technologies plasma televisions are costlier to produce at the higher pixel counts than are LCDs or DLPs.

How much of an advantage will a person get from a 1080p display? It depends partially on the persons viewing habits. If HDTV programming from cable, broadcast, or satellite is most important to the individual then a 1080p display may not be worth the extra cost. If HD DVDs and/or HD video gaming are the most important piece of an individuals viewing pleasure, it may be time to pay up.

Will an HDTV plasma TV show HD DVDs or HD video gaming? Yes, but they will down-convert the 1080p signal to 720p to show it.

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