Sunday, January 07, 2007

High Definition Mania

The last few months I have been really busy downloading and watching high definition content on my TV. Here's some information on where you can get the high definition content, the software you need to view it and how to use various devices to output high definition video to your LCD/Plasma TV.

What is High Definition?
Technically any video encoded at 720p (720 progressive) and above is considered high definition. The standard high definition resolutions are:
  • 1280 x 720 progressive (720p)

  • 1920 x 1080 interlaced (1080i)

  • 1920 x 1080 progressive (1080p)

The final resolution in the list above, 1920 x 1080 progressive is also called Full HD. You can see a lot of LCD TV's today with this sticker on the front. The Sharp Aquos has the AQUOS LC-46D62U in the 46" range and the Sony Bravia has KLV-40X200A in the 40", the KLV-46X200A and KLV-46X250A in the 46" and the KLV-52X200A in the 56" and the Samsung Mosel range of Full HD TVs - all of which support Full HD and are easily available in the Indian market.

Identifying the HD capability of your TV
Getting back to the point, the first step on the road to high definition is to determine what resolutions your TV supports. If your TV is HD ready, then chances are that it will only support 720p and 1080i. If your TV has a sticker on the front which says Full HD 1080p, then in addition to the two resolutions just mentioned, it will also support the full HD resolution of 1080p. If in doubt, check your TV Manual.

Enabling the appropriate HD resolution
The next step is enabling your TV to display in the HD resolution of your choice (assuming your TV supports that resolution). There are three main aspects here:
1.) The high definition video cables
2.) The high definition video source
3.) The high definition video content

Let us look at each of these in turn.

1.) High Definition Video Cables: First off you need to figure out what is the right kind of cable for your TV. This depends on the output connectors on your TV. Let us look at some of the common connectors in the order of highest resolution to the lowest:

(a) HDMI: This connector looks like this [picture]. HDMI stands for high definition multi-media interface. This is the highest quality digital connector to date providing uncompressed, all-digital audio/video interface. The HDMI 1.3 specification is the latest revision and supports output of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio streams which can then be decoded by external AV receivers. HDMI can also support all the HD video resolutions mentioned above provided your TV supports it. A good quality HDMI cable will cost anywhere between Rs. 1,500 and 3,000.

(b) PC Input/VGA Connector/HD15 PC Input: This connector looks like this [picture]. The VGA connector is very similar in function to the HDMI connector with one important difference, the VGA connector has support only for digital video not digital audio. The audio part of the signal has to be handled separately. VGA supports all the HD resolutions mentioned above. If you had to choose between HDMI and VGA which one would you choose? That depends. The research I have done so far indicates that VGA can sometimes yield an poor image with washed out colors. I have not seen any such problems reported about the HDMI connector. Your results may vary, so the best bet would be to try this out for yourself and pick the connector that works for you. The PC Input connector is typically used to connect your computer to the TV - and yields amazing results compared to an conventional CRT TV. The picture is crisp, stable and flicker free - just like it is on the LCD panel of your laptop.

(c) Component: This connector looks like this [picture]. The component cable is also capable of transferring an analog video signal between your video source and your TV. The component cable has red, green and blue terminals and is a pure video connector - it does not transfer any audio signal. Component cables can do both progressive and interlaced video - and the maximum resolutions supported depends on the TV.

(d) S-Video: This connector looks like this [picture]. This is a very old technology that is on its way out. I would not recommend investing in S-Video cables or worrying about this connector. This is not a high definition video connector. Leave it alone.

(e) Composite: This connector looks like this [picture]. This was probably the most commonly used analog video connector used up to this point. Chances are your old TV was connected to your video source using the component cable. This connector supports analog audio and video. The cable has three terminals: a red and white terminal for stereo audio and a yellow terminal for the analog video signal. This is not a high definition video connector. This is possibly the worst quality audio and video - once again leave it alone.


High Definition Video Source
The video source is the driver that sends the video signal to your TV and determines the resolution that it will display it at. The video source you have must be capable of high definition resolution support. You can find out the resolutions that it supports in the user manual. I will list out some common video sources that are capable of high resolution video output.

(a) DVD Player: It is fairly common to find bugget DVD players in the market today that have an HDMI output and can display video at resolutions of 720p and 1080i. You can pick these up for between Rs. 8,000 and Rs. 12,000. There are also players that can do full HD at 1080p, but there are fairly expensive. Some examples of DVD players worth considering are the Samsung DVD-HD860 for Rs. 8,000 or the Pioneer DV-490V for around Rs. 12,000.

(b) Gaming Console: The Xbox 360 and the Sony Playstation 3 are gaming consoles that are capable of playing video at all the HD resolutions from 720p, 1080i and 1080p. The original XBox is also capable of doing video at high definition resolutions of upto 720p. It can theoritically also do 1080p, but the processor in the original Xbox is not capable of outputting frames at the rate that is required for smooth viewing. So resolutions above 720p can get very jittery and choppy.

(c) Digital Media Server: You can find a lot of media servers in the market today that are capable of playing high definition video. These are currently not easily available in India - so you will need to scrounge around for these abroad and check with friends.

(d) Home Theatre/Media PC: Today's home theatre and media PC's have the horsepower to output digital audio and video. Depending on the processor and video card and the onboard memory of your video card (and to some extent the RAM of your computer), you will be able to do video outputs at all the high definition resolutions using your home theare/media PC.

(e) Apple TV - The recently released Apple TV is really nothing but a high definition media server - but Apple being Apple - I just have to mention it separately. This neat little device is capable of either streaming digital content over the network or synching the digital content to its onboard 40 GB hard disk for playback. At the moment of writing, Apple TV only support resolutions of 720p. Using Apple TV, you can download video content, sync it wirelessly from you PC or Mac to the Apple TV box and then play it on your wide-screen TV.

(f) Digital Audio Video Receivers: The AV receiver is not a video source per se - but provides HDMI switching which is a very useful capability if you have multiple high definition video sources. The HDMI switching capability allows you to leverage the digital audio and video output capability of multiple HDMI connections and switch between them as needed. What happens here is that the receiver processes the digital audio output from the HDMI connection and amplifies it and drives your home theatre speakers and sends the digital video signal untouched to the HDMI out terminals on the back of the AV receiver - from where you connect it back to your TV. This way, you can take advantage of both the digital video and audio capabilities of your HDMI connection. Some receivers also have multiple HDMI connectors in the back panel and this allows you to connect multiple HDMI sources - this is a real blessing specially if your TV only has a single HDMI connection. If you haven't purchased an HD Ready or Full HD TV yet, I would recommend buying one with multiple HDMI inputs - if you are a audio/videophile like me where the chances of owning multiple high definition sources are quite high.

(g) Blu Ray and HD-DVD Players: You can view HD content using either a HD-DVD player or a Blu Ray player - however at the time of writing, only the PS3 with its built in Blu Ray drive is available in India. There are rumors of XBox shipping its HD-DVD drive, but when it will actually debut is anyones guess. Both these devices are designed to play high definition content in the highest possible resolutions.

(h) HDTV Tuners: HDTV tuners can pull high definition broadcast signals off the air and pipe it into your TV. This option is not yet available in India and it will be a while before channels here broadcast in high definition.

High Definition Video Content
The entire discussion above is moot if you dont have access to high definition video content. This section focuses on the high definition content available in India and how you can get hold of good HD content. The main sources of HD today are:

1.) Torrents: BitTorrent is a peer to peer technology for file sharing and you can get started quickly by installing a BitTorrent client like ĀµTorrent, Azureus, BitTorrent, BitComet or KTorrent. You can find a bunch of really good HD stuff on the torrent sites. Seach for 720p, HD, 1080i and 1080p as search key words to find the right content. You can really find some amazing content on the torrent portals such as TorrentSpy. The BBC Planet Earth in high definition is highly recommended as is the Microcosm. These video clips will render in high definition glory on your TV and is a great way to showcase the high definition capability of your TV.

2.) HD DVD Discs: These are not yet officially available in India - but if you have access to friends abroad and also have a HD DVD player, then this is an excellent source of high definition content.

3.) Blu Ray Discs: Bly Ray is the competing format to HD-DVD - and the main difference between the two is the total maximum storage available on these formats - with Blu Ray leading the race at the moment with upto 50GB disks and HD-DVD coming in at around 30 GB. Once again, Blu Ray is not available in India - but with the release of the PS3, I am sure its just a matter of time before some Blu Ray titles will be available in India.

4.) Video games: You can also get high definition content on your video games - both Xbox 360 and the PS3 are capable of rendering games at high definition resolutions. You can control the actual resolution from the settings/options panel of your gaming console.

Putting it all together
Once you have a clear understanding of the video connectors provided on your TV and the capability of your video source to output digital video and where you can get high definition content - you can now put it all together and enjoy high definition video on your TV. You basically need to connect your video source to your TV using the appropriate high definition connector of your choice. The next step is to either stream high definition content over your network to your video player or burn a DVD disk play it in your video player. You can control the high definition resolution of the final video image from your video player - you will find this in the options or settings menu of your player.

This article is getting pretty long - so I will cut it short here. I will cover how to set up a home network for digital streaming in my next post. Let me know if you have any questions - I will be happy to answer them. Happy viewing!

Resources

5 comments:

Harish Mallipeddi said...

Hi,

How should I hook up an ordinary cable TV input to a HDTV? I'm told that in India we use RF input for cable TV. I'm looking to buy a LCD HDTV but I'm worried how good the normal cable TV input would appear on it. Would getting a DishTV or the TataSky subscription help (this was suggested in some other website)?

Maverick24 said...

The Tata Sky digicomp (and probably Dish TV as well) have to kinds of video outputs - a regular composite Yellow/Red/White connector and a RF connector - with the composite connector being the superior of the two. Both of these are relatively low quality video - nothing near the HDTV levels capabalities of the LCD TV's that you are going to purchase. For instance none of the service providers in India provide either component, S-Video or HDMI outputs on their set top boxes - those are at least 5 years away IMHO. So for now you will have do to with the composite connections. You should ask the TV showroom to give you a demo of standard cable on the TV before you buy so that you get an idea.

Maverick24 said...

You can find the Tata Sky manual here: http://www.tatasky.com/UG%20-%20Humax%20WEB%20ENG.pdf All details about their setop box - front and rear panels are clearly shown here.

santoshamb said...

Hi,

Thank you for the very informitive blog. I'm a U.S. I.T. worker and I'm currently on assignment in Chennai. I'm trying to make my laptop play DVD's on my TV in my hotel, but I'm not having much luck. You seem very knowledgeable regarding how to make India-U.S. gear play well together so I'm hoping you can help out.

I have an IBM thinkpad with an ATI graphics card and a Samsung DNIeJr TV (Model CS-21Z30MA (H)). I've set the output to PAL but I'm still having no luck seeing a picture. Any suggestions?

Thank you,

Ben

Rohit said...

Hello Maverick,
Requesting some advice ...
I am in the process of moving from the US to Pune, and am trying to figure out what I need to do regarding A/V. Will I will need to dump all my US equipment and buy all new stuff in Pune? Is there a reputable middle-to-high end A/V dealer in Pune that could help me out? Assuming I can reuse my existing speakers, I will still need the rest of the system - A/V receiver, TV, DVD player. Depending on the housing options, may even need a projector if a suitable home theater room is available.
On a related issue, should I even consider bringing my current pre-amp / A/V system with me? (It's a few years old, but still sounds great - Sunfire Cinema Grand and Sunfire Theater Grand.) Not sure if it's safe to run it on a local 110V UPS.
Thanks for your help.