A viewer asks: My husband and I are considering purchasing a new television set. We know there are some changes in the way the programs will be broadcast and viewed in the near future. We think we are right to wait another year or two to replace our existing TV, but we are getting some confusing information about what this new technology will bring. There are some great bargains now, but it seems like purchases today will be seriously outdated soon. Could you explain what consumers have in store for them with the new high definition TV and what they need to know prior to making a new TV purchase. --- Susan
In the beginning was analog TV. We watched it happily for 50 years, but new digital TV technology will make analog obsolete.
There are two main advantages of digital TV. It provides a clearer, sharper picture and it has a wider display much like a theatre. High definition television (HDTV) monitors can produce up to 6 times more picture detail because they receive and display much more data.
Susan's right. Analog TV will be phased out. Originally planned for 2006, but will probably roll out some time later. Even when analog programming is no longer being broadcast, you'll be able to buy a set-top box that will make your old set usable.
HD Digital Signal Source
There are three things involved in getting true HDTV. First, you need a HD digital signal source, which could come from a DVD, your cable company, or even an antennae.
Next, you'll need a digital tuner. It can be a separate set-top box or built into the receiver. Finally, you'll need a HD digital monitor. What you see will only be as good as the weakest component.
If Susan buys a set now, she'll need to choose between an analog and digital model. Her decision will depend on how she plans on using the TV. If it is the home's main set and will be used for movies, she'll want to consider the more expensive digital sets. But if it's a second set that's only used to watch the news before drifting off to sleep, then an analog set should do the job.
Susan might save some money by considering an EDTV (extended definition TV). It's less expensive than the HDTV and provides a picture that's similar to HDTV.
She'll have a number of other choices to make. She can purchase an HD monitor and a separate receiver box or an integrated unit that includes both. An “HD ready” monitor will not include a digital tuner.
What is the TV Set’s Format?
Next is the set's format. Some are made to the 720p standard and will only produce 720 lines of resolution. Others are designed on the 1080i standard and display 1080 lines. More lines means a better picture…especially on the larger monitors. There are a number of technologies being used in displays. And, more are on the drawing boards. Unless you're a real videophile probably the best way to compare sets is with your own eyes in the store. There's no sense paying for a difference that you can't see.
Even if you buy an HDTV monitor you will still have compatibility issues. For some time to come, the monitor will need to be able to produce a picture from an analog signal, for instance your VCR or video game. That means you'll need composite, S-video and component video jack inputs.
Susan also needs to consider what type of sound she wants. If she's using a separate sound system, all she needs to buy is a monitor or monitor/tuner combination. Otherwise an HDTV receiver will include a stereo amp and speakers.
How Long Will You Use This TV?
Something non-technical to consider is how much and how long you'll use your TV. Many families have their main set on most of the day and they'll keep a TV for many years. So, unlike an item that you use infrequently, this might be the time to go for a little better quality.
What about extended warranties? Ask about the warranty that comes with the set. Most are for one year. The newest technologies usually mean more problems until the design and manufacturing problems are worked out. That means extended warranties are more valuable.
What about waiting? There are a couple of advantages. The trend is towards thinner displays. So, if space is an issue for you, waiting could produce better choices. Also, reliability is likely to improve, especially on the newest technologies. Not to mention that prices are dropping, but those are hard to predict.
Whatever Susan decides, we hope that she gets the maximum viewing pleasure per dollar spent!
Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher Web site -http://www.stretcher.com.
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