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High-definition TVs: can you believe your eyes?

High-definition TVs: can you believe your eyes?
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First Published: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 00 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 00 AM IST
Bought a new LCD TV recently? You love its extra-wide look at a picture ratio of 16:9. It mesmerizes you with its promised landscape in HD. The entry-level models are usually marked “HD-Ready” while the higher-end models are “True HD”.
Well, if truth be told, there is no HD-quality TV signal broadcast in India. It’s plain old Standard Definition, or SD, here.
What you see
Yet, when you walk into any gadget shop, you are dazzled by the astounding picture quality of these LCD screens. You haven’t seen colours look so rich and saturated, and every detail in the picture delights the eye. Yes, but is it television reception or is it some pre-recorded video playing back from an attached device? You often brush that aside, get involved in the nitty-gritty comparisons between the HD-Ready and True-HD models, look at the price tags and make your purchase.
But, whether you bought HD-Ready or True-HD doesn’t really matter. Admittedly, television quality is dramatically better on LCD, but True-HD it is not.
What you get
What you’ve really paid for is the digital wizardry embedded inside each LCD TV. Sony calls its engine Bravia, while LG’s is called XD. Most vendors, including Philips, Samsung, Toshiba, Panasonic, among others, have their own solutions. This embedded engine takes ordinary TV signals and synthetically enhances their resolution by up to six times. This is quite impressive as an engineering feat, even though the image is clever make-believe and not true quality.
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The embedded engine then studies the colours of each frame and applies modern understanding of human vision to saturate and enrich each colour tone. Again, it works brilliantly for most images but is quite tricky for skin tones.
Finally, it studies the illusion of motion that is conjured in our minds. We perceive moving images when consecutive still shots are displayed rapidly on TV at 25-30 frames per second, or fps. This relatively slow speed is what causes TV screens to flicker, especially when viewed from the corner of our eyes, and causes eye fatigue. The embedded intelligence within LCD TVs studies those frames and synthetically generates more still frames to give us smooth and flicker-free motion video at twice or even thrice the frame rate.
More sophisticated engines work harder to combat a phenomenon known as HD-blur to give us more sharpness.
The challenges
The biggest challenge of the HD-engine is to convert squarish-looking images into wide, letter-box ratios. The first option is to stretch the square image edge-to-edge across the wide screen. This obviously leads to heavy distortion. The second is to “zoom and crop”, which may cause awkward scenes with two characters facing each other being chopped off at either end of the screen, while you stare at the empty background in the middle. The third is to add black bands around the regular ratio, wasting all those blocked-out pixels on the screen.
What are we waiting for?
Making HD-Ready software requires huge investment in professional-quality HD cameras and gear, which includes infrastructure, hardware and software. The biggest stumbling block is upgradation of the existing broadcast equipment from terrestrial to satellite, which is no trivial task given the size of our subcontinent.
However, should the government decide to go HD, it would free up much required spectrum because HD signals are digital and, therefore, use bandwidth more efficiently.
How to get your HD
Do you want to watch real, pixel-for-pixel HD-quality in India? Even a DVD movie won’t help; it’s lower too. Your first choice is to get a Blu-ray disc-player and start building an expensive collection of Blu-ray titles as they become available. Each title costs about Rs900 and a handful of Hindi titles are already available in the market.
Your second choice is to download or stream HD content from YouTube and the Web, then play it back from your laptop or desktop. You’ll find yourself mostly limited to short video segments which are free. Full-length HD films can be downloaded legally for rent or purchase, say, from the Apple iTunes store, but you can imagine the download speeds and time required for each title. Also check for prices online.
In contrast to the high costs of professional HD gear and infrastructure, you can buy yourself one of those highly affordable HD camcorders and watch your home movies in pristine quality.
What lies ahead
The availability of high-speed 3G services on mobile phones could have you stream HD content straight from the Web over mobiles to your TV screens. The emergence of Wi-Fi at home, serving music and videos from the Web, also addresses this issue. Indeed, newer LCD models come with Wi-Fi to stream directly from laptops and Wi-Fi routers at home.
So while we let market forces settle in, check out a few popular models, randomly selected from at least 70 models available, that you can buy to get started with the world of HD-compatible LCD TV.
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If you are a fan of the Bard, this one is for you. The Complete Shakespeare Reader, a free Windows programme available at Snipurl.com/g1e94, brings the text of the author’s 38 plays to the desktop. Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and poems are also free for iPhone and iPod Touch owners, with the Shakespeare program available in the Books section of the iTunes App Store. Palm, BlackBerry and other smartphone owners can get portable plays and poems for $6 at Snipurl.com/g1fy5.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Apr 29 2009. 02 00 AM IST