Advice on Buying an HDTV

Feb. 3, 2006 — -- It's not surprising that only half of high-definition TV owners receive the true HDTV signal. Besides the television, you need an HD source and the proper connections from the TV to the receiver. There is a lot of room for error.

Ross Rubin of NPD Group, a market research firm, said picture quality isn't the highest concern for consumers. "Most people care about screen size, slim profile, price, and then we see concern for HDTV quality."

Not all digital TVs are created equally:

HDTV vs. EDTV: Almost all TV sets for sale now are digital, and many come in the cinema-style, wide-screen 16:9 shape, but they are not all capable of displaying true HDTV programming. There is certainly a market for less expensive enhanced digital television, but if you want the best resolution you can afford, you want a true HDTV set.

SIGNAL: Before you put away your to-do list and head down to the store, there is one more major component you may be forgetting. Just purchasing an HDTV will not get you better-quality images or sound. You will still need to add a high-definition signal. Just because that HDTV logo pops up on your screen doesn't mean that is what you are watching. You will need to contact your cable company or your satellite provider for a replacement tuner capable of receiving and decoding HDTV signals. A third option is to purchase an HDTV-capable antenna and receive the HDTV signal for free (free as long as your HDTV comes with a built-in tuner). The HDTV spectrum is used by the broadcasters to deliver the digital signal, so by setting up an outside antenna or sometimes even rabbit ears you will receive the HDTV signal depending on your location and obstruction from the broadcast tower. Make sure not to leave testing your reception until Sunday evening, or your new HDTV may be broadcasting this Super Bowl in standard def.

CRT/LCD/PLASMA/REAR PROJECTION: Prices have come down as sizes have gone up, but the two are not necessarily tied to each other. There are many variables that go into the cost of an HDTV. The most economical choice may be HDTV delivered through traditional bulky picture tubes, but Rubin explained why they are being sold less and less, "you can get a great-looking picture out of a 30" CRT for $600, but consumers are drawn to the thinner technologies like plasma, LCD and rear projection." Samsung is the only manufacturer that sells all four major technologies.

CABLES: The best solution for a digital signal from your receiver to your TV is called HDMI. You may be shocked to find a cable that can cost more than $100, but the encrypted digital signal transports audio and video in one simple cable without losing any quality. A more economical solution is to use component cables that split the video signal into red, blue and green and carries the audio on two other cables.