HDTV Buyers' Guide
If you truly want to enjoy your PlayStation 3 this November, you’ll want a high definition TV. The games will still look impressive on standard TVs, but to appreciate the jump in visuals from the PS2 and Xbox era, you should look to invest a fair amount in a brand new flat panel.
In this guide, I won’t be talking about rear projection or DLP. My main focus will be on affordable LCD and Plasma TVs. After all, you’ll be spending a lot on the PS3 alone, and for many, that 40” is just out of the question.
I’d just like to make you aware that this guide may be skewed to the European audience. As you’ll see later on, there are some specifications or requirements that may not be the same in North America, for example. However, in general you should be able to get a good idea of what to look for in an HDTV.
So the very first thing you should look for, whether you’re in a store or browsing online, is the ‘HD ready’ logo.
This applies specifically to Europe. EICTA introduced this label to help consumers clearly identify which TVs meet the minimum requirements of the HD Ready specification. The spec itself was designed to protect the consumers in the future.
TVs that carry the HD ready logo must have either an HDMI connection, or a DVI connect that is HDCP compliant. HDCP stands for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection. So in other words, it’s a form of digital rights management. It could be used, for example, to prevent you from recording certain programmes. All HDMI connections are HDCP compliant.
HD ready TVs must also have some form of analogue input, such a component. This means that the TV is suited to the connections commonly used today, and is ready for the connections that will be used in the years to come.
If you see this label, then the TV you’re looking at also supports at least 720p. This is a type of high definition output, and I’ll elaborate on the resolutions and terminology later in this article.
As far as I know, in North America the ‘HD ready’ tag does not have such minimum requirements. If you’re in the USA or Canada, it may be better to look for an ‘HD-compliant’ TV. I believe these have HD tuners built in, allowing you to view high definition programming without a decoder. In Europe, and in the UK in particular, you need to have a set top box (STB) to view HD content. This means ‘HD-compliance’ is no longer an issue, as the STB decodes the HD signal and sends it to the TV via the appropriate connection.
HDMI or DVI?
If you’re searching the internet and you find an HD ready TV that’s surprisingly cheap in comparison to others, then look a little closer. It’s probably missing HDMI. It is essential that if you want a future-proof TV, you purchase a TV with an HDMI connection. Whilst DVI can support HDCP, HDMI is by far the most preferred format. In particular, HDMI makes you immune to any downsampling of HD content in the future.
There is a lot of controversy over this. The issue is that Blu-ray and HD-DVD, competing next-generation DVD formats, include a form of protection called AACS. This protection can force what’s known as the ‘Image Constraint Token’ (ICT). What this enables movie studios to do is downgrade the resolution of the movie from high definition (720p, 1080i or 1080p) to only 540p, which barely exceeds DVD standard. Whilst it’s unknown when movie studios plan to implement this (rumours suggest no sooner than 2010), having an HDMI connection will mean you have nothing to worry about.
You may be wondering, given this situation with ICT, why Sony has decided to release a version of the PlayStation 3 that does not support HDMI. Well, we were a bit confused as well. But it’s a cost cutting move on Sony’s part to try to remain competitive with the Xbox 360. For the near future, you will still be able to play games and movie on your PS3 in full high definition with component (analogue) cables. I would still suggest ... (continued on next page)