Hi-Def FAQs

What is the difference between standard definition and Hi-Def?

HD (Hi-Def) is the highest resolution offered within the digital television category. As television programming and TV sets themselves are moving from analog to digital, it's easier to deliver movies and programming in higher resolutions. Hi-Def content is also more often displayed in widescreen, which is similar to how it looks in the cinema. Between SD (standard definition) and HD there's a range of resolutions, but the easiest way to explain the difference is that a HD images hold more information than a standard definition images. This means that HD can be up to six times clearer than what you get on DVD, which lends itself to being shown on larger screens.

Just how much better is Hi-Def?

If you've ever seen real HD images running on an HD TV, then you'll know just how impressive it can look. HD content offers up to four times better picture quality than standard definition, along with increased colour vibrancy, contrast and picture detail. HD TVs can handle this incredibly detailed content because they display lots more pixels than standard definition TVs.

By the same token, standard definition broadcasts only contain enough pixels to make them look good on standard definition televisions, so they won't look any better on even the most expensive HD TV sets. If you want to make the most of your Hi-Def screen, then you will need to partner up with one of the HD providers out there and start streaming some high-quality, Hi-Def content in to your home.

What is it about Hi-Def that makes the picture so much better?

The main difference is resolution. A Hi-Def image holds more information than a standard definition one, providing up to six times more detail. The higher the resolution, the better an image looks, particularly on a larger screen. While you may not notice a significant difference on TVs smaller than 42", on larger screens HD images retain startlingly crisp clarity in a way that standard definition simply cannot.

There are other reasons why high def makes for better viewing. For one thing, Hi-Def content is more often displayed in widescreen format, which is closer to the way movies appear in the cinema than the traditional television format. HD DVDs and Blu-ray DVDs also support progressive scanning, which offers even higher picture quality. They also offer multi-channel high resolution audio which is significantly better than audio on DVD.

Is my HD TV showing HD images?

If you've just bought a brand-new HD TV or you're seriously thinking about picking one up, then the world of Hi-Def television must seem like it's only moments away. However, many HD TV owners out there are still only watching in standard definition because they haven't connected their new television to the right equipment.

Right now there are lots of simple, straight-forward ways to watch stunning HD programmes on your HD TV--all you have to do is pick a service provider, plug into their HD box and start watching HD images the way they were meant to be seen. In other words:

Get an HD TV
Get an HD box (provider)
Receive HD quality programming


Who are the HD TV Providers?

There are a number of service providers you can choose to provide you with HD quality programmes on your television, either for a one-off payment or an ongoing monthly fee. When considering which one to choose, there are a number of different factors to consider including price, choice of available services and, of course, what you want to watch. The main providers are Sky+HD, Freesat+, Virgin Media (V+ HD) and BT Vision HD (V-Box).

How Many Channels are Currently Available?

The number of HD channels available is growing all the time. As well as broadcasting Hi-Def versions of your favourite terrestrial channels such as BBC HD and Channel 4 HD, some HD providers also broadcast a variety of dedicated movie, sport and educational channels. Currently (as of Sept 2009), Sky+HD offers the most comprehensive range of HD broadcasts including 11 HD movie channels, six dedicated sports channels and a further 17 entertainment and specialist interest channels. Different combinations of these channels are available on different Sky+HD packages and other service providers offer different selections which may better suit your budget and viewing habits. Shop around and see which selection is right for you.

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What is the difference between a standard DVD player and a Hi-Def DVD player?

DVD players show movies and other content at standard definition resolutions, while Hi-Def DVD players show content at much higher resolutions. At a mechanical level, all DVD players use red lasers to read the information on the disc, while all Hi-Def players use blue lasers. The blue lasers can read more information on each disc, and this extra information means the movie can be shown in higher definition. Hi-Def DVD players use special Hi-Def DVDs that won't play on regular DVD players (since the red lasers aren't sharp enough to read them), but all of your old DVDs will play back on the new Hi-Def players.

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Why is the sound better?

More information fed into your home theater speakers means deeper, richer sound. The benefits of Hi-Def sound cannot truly be appreciated without a surround sound speaker system. We've all heard of "surround sound", but the new Hi-Def content can offer true surround sound--enough to make you jump off the sofa!

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How do I get my TV shows in Hi-Def?

Anyone who has experienced an HDTV playing Hi-Def content knows how amazing it looks. But standard definition content (such as cable, satellite or broadcast TV) doesn't take advantage of HDTV's full potential--it's displayed at a lower resolution of 480 lines of resolution and uses a 4:3 (non-widescreen) aspect ratio.

Before taking your HDTV back and demanding a refund, you need to understand that an HD source is necessary to match the crystal clear video and theatre-quality audio you saw in the showroom. For an additional fee, your cable or satellite provider offers HD programming from select networks including Sky and the BBC, with more being added. A new set-top box also may be required to deliver Hi-Def content to your HDTV.

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What are the different types of HDTVs?

There are several to choose from. The main two are LCD and plasma. LCD and plasma both offer "true" flat panel displays--thin enough to hang on your wall. Plasma and LCDs are rapidly coming down in price, making them more accessible all the time.

The traditional CRT television also comes in Hi-Def, although many find the large picture tubes required for a bigger screen to be too heavy and unwieldy for many living rooms, especially as the industry is moving toward flat panel displays.

In terms of quality, LCD and plasma come in a variety of Hi-Def resolutions and each side will argue that they offer the best experience. That's a much longer discussion, but we'll just say that each one has their strengths and a few weaknesses depending on the type of environment and content you like to watch. Read the five things you need to know before buying an HDTV in our related topic, HDTV.

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What do all those numbers and letters mean on my Hi-Def DVDs and HD TV?

Ah, the numbers and letters. We're trained to think that larger numbers are always better, and they are--sometimes. We'll come back to that in a second. First, let's start with the basics. When you watch television, the picture you see is made up of many scanned lines that compose the image on the screen. Lines of resolution vary for different digital televisions--480, 720, and 1080. The more lines you have, the clearer the image. Interlaced and progressive are the two scanning techniques that are used--that's where the "i" and "p" comes in after each number. As a rule, progressive images tend to look better than interlaced, since interlacing is a survival from the old picture tube TVs, so a 1080p image will look better than a 1080i image. Most HD programming today is 1080i, which still looks great, but it’s not the highest possible resolution. DVDs are 480p and Hi-Def DVDs are 1080p.

Now here's where it gets confusing. The image you see is determined by a combination of the resolution of the content and the resolution that your HDTV will support. So if you play a standard DVD at 480p on a 1080p HDTV, you'll see the image at 480p--it's limited by the resolution of the DVD. By the same token, if you play a 1080p Hi-Def movie on a 1080i HDTV, you'll see that movie in 1080i--since it's limited by the resolution of the TV. So when you're looking for a new TV, you should consider the resolution of the content you plan to feed into it. 1080p HDTVs are still the most expensive, but as prices come down and as more content is produced in this high resolution, you'll want to combine 1080p content with a 1080p HDTV.

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How do I watch my movies in Hi-Def?

You'll need three things: an HDTV, a source of Hi-Def content, and the right home theatre set up. We've talked about the differences in HDTVs and in Hi-Def content, so the final piece is a home theatre audio receiver capable of delivering multiple channels to your surround sound speakers. That will ensure you're getting mind-blowing explosions, music, and screams.

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What is an upscaling DVD player?

Upscaling DVD players take a standard definition DVD and "upscale" it to appear to be at a higher resolution. Despite the labels that they are "1080i" or "1080p" DVD upscalers, they are not the same as watching your DVDs in true Hi-Def, since the source content is still limited by the content on the DVD disc itself. What you will see is some increased detail and clearer colors, however. Upscaling works best on displays with fixed pixels--namely plasma or LCD TVs. If you use them with standard CRT televisions or with some projectors, the upscaling feature may not result in a better image. It's also important to note that all HD DVD and Blu-ray players are excellent DVD upscalers.

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What is "contrast ratio" and why is it important?

Contrast is the ratio between the white and black parts within an image. The larger the contrast ratio of an HDTV (or any TV), the greater the difference between the brightest whites and the deepest blacks that TV can display. Therefore, a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 suggests that the black levels are 100,000 times darker than the white levels. But that's where it should end for most of us--unless you watch everything in the dark, don't get too caught up in big contrast numbers. They are largely there for show. The way your eye responds to contrast is really the important factor. The presence of even tiny amounts of ambient light in a room can make an HDTV display with a very high contrast ratio look similar to one with a much lower rating.

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How do I piece together my Hi-Def home theatre?

The back of your home entertainment system can be one of the more intimidating places in your home--to many, it's just a confusing maze of wires. To watch Hi-Def content, you'll need the right connections for your HD cable or satellite box, or for your Hi-Def DVD player. There are several ways to connect these devices, but the best way is with an HDMI cable. HDMI is a "secure" digital cable that protects against people trying to steal Hi-Def movies or programming. Component cables also work for delivering video to your HDTV, but they are analog and impossible to protect against piracy, so the industry is trying to phase these out over time. But for now, they'll work for most content. On the audio side, we recommend a single optical cable that delivers up to eight channels of sound to your receiver through a fiber optic cable.

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How big a TV do I need?

To truly appreciate the difference between standard definition and Hi-Def, the experts say you need an HDTV that's at least 42" or larger. As you move to larger TV sizes, Hi-Def images hold their quality. It's similar to enlarging a photograph—-as long as the photo was taken at a high resolution, even as you blow it up, it still looks great. It also depends on how close or far away you plan to sit from the TV. Check out our HDTV sizing guide, below.

HDTV Sizing

Be sure choose a TV that fits your room. No one wants a TV so large that it feels like you’re sitting in the front row of the cinema! Read five things you need to know before buying an HD TV in our related topic, HDTV.

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What about HD-DVD players?

Toshiba has announced that it will stop manufacturing HD-DVD players at the end of March 2008. This effectively means that the only hardware that will support the HD-DVD format in future will be the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player (sold separately from the console). The future availability of HD-DVD discs is unknown; Amazon.co.uk will continue to stock HD-DVD players and discs for as long as they are available. If you already own an HD-DVD player, you will be able to build your collection with the hundreds of titles already available on this format. You can also use your machine to watch standard DVDs in better quality via a feature known as upscaling--a process that matches the pixel count of the output of the DVD signal to the physical pixel count on an HDTV, resulting in better picture definition.