$10 off for your next visit with any purchase - see details
Home   Research Library

HDTV: What’s the Buzz?

There’s been a lot of buzz about high-definition TV lately, and if you’re in the market for a new television, it’s definitely worth your time to investigate this exciting and relatively new technology.

HDTV is the best quality digital picture available, and it delivers substantially improved picture quality in a widescreen format with superior audio capabilities.

Essentially superior to traditional analog televisions in every way, high-definition and digital television will soon bring about the revolution of the TV technology that we have relied on since the inception of commercial broadcasting.

Congress originally passed legislation requiring all analog TV broadcasting to cease on February 17, 2009, but has extended the deadline to June 12, 2009. After that, all broadcasts will be "DTV" only. Click here to learn how this might affect you.

Or, for an abbreviated video overview of HDTV benefits, click here.

Benefits of HDTV



The Move to Digital TV


Surround Sound

Screen Choices



The most notable benefit of HDTV is the dramatically improved picture quality.

Because digital signals are transmitted in digital form, they are less prone to interference and provide a higher quality picture.

Besides simply being transmitted differently, there are several other reasons why HDTV provides a more true-to-life picture:




HDTV resolution provides up to 6 times as much density as traditional television.

Resolution is the number of pixels that a television can display on the screen. It is typically measured by the number of horizontal lines the pixels fall into. More lines equal higher resolution…and higher resolution means a better picture. Current analog TVs are comprised of 480 horizontal lines (480i resolution). This may sound impressive, but when compared to the possible 1080 lines an HDTV can deliver, the inferior performance of an analog television becomes apparent. Of course, you need only look at the picture itself to realize this…

Aspect Ratio

HDTV allows you to view programming in widescreen format.

Aspect ratio is the relationship of width to height on a TV screen. For example, a traditional TV screen’s square appearance can be more technically described as having an aspect ratio of 4:3.

The aspect ratio of an HDTV is referred to as widescreen (16:9) and can be likened to the screen you see in a movie theater (not quite so big, of course). Due to this widescreen format, more information can be displayed on the screen. What this means for you, is that when you watch a football game, the wider view allows you to see more of the action. And when you watch a movie, the picture won’t be truncated on both ends or reduced in size due to letterboxing.

Progressive Scan

Progressive scanning provides a brighter, more vibrant picture.

Progressive scan refers to the manner in which the horizontal lines of pixels are transposed onto the screen. Compared to the current standard of interlaced scanning, progressive scanning works independently from resolution to further improve the image quality.

Currently, interlaced scanning scans all of the odd horizontal lines of a TV picture onto the screen first, and then goes back and fills in the even lines. This happens almost instantaneously (1/60th of a second), and therefore goes unnoticed by the viewer. However, because these lines are alternating on your screen, only half the pixels are at full illumination at any given time. This both reduces the overall brightness of the image and makes the picture prone to a flickering effect.

These issues are solved with progressive scanning. Because progressive scanning scans all of the lines consecutively, all lines are illuminated at the same time. This results in a brighter image, as well as eliminates the possibility of any flickering. What you see is a cleaner, more vibrant picture.

Back to top


Sound is often overlooked as an important factor in a home theater system. With most of the focus being placed on picture quality, people often overlook the fact that sound quality can make or break the enjoyment of their regularly scheduled programming. Let’s take a look at the audio advantages that are made capable by HDTV:


Digital vs. Analog

Digital sound significantly increases the audio quality.

The digital signal that reduces interference and improves the quality of a TV’s picture also improves the quality of the sound. Analog TVs currently broadcast sound in stereo FM. That’s right, the same as the radio. The difference in clarity that you can notice in an FM radio and a CD is the same difference in clarity between an analog and a digital TV.

Surround Sound

Surround sound brings the movie theater experience into your living room.

How do you improve on the clarity of digital sound? Surround yourself in it, of course. Many digital TVs and digital programs are equipped to provide surround sound. With the inclusion of surround sound speakers in your home theater, you’ll be able to experience movie quality sound from the comfort of your couch.

Shop for home theater systems

Back to top


Things to consider

Now that you know the benefits of HDTV, you may be ready to trade up to the superior technology. If this is the case, or if you’re in the market for a new TV in general, there are several things you should be aware of before diving into the endless sea of products. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when purchasing a new TV, especially with all the acronyms. How is EDTV different from HDTV? What the heck is ATSC? What are the benefits of LCD over CRT?

It may appear daunting, but a little knowledge goes a long way. A few paragraphs of information should be all you need to wow your friends with your newly acquired technical jargon—not to mention your newly acquired television.

Digital TV (DTV) Transition

The United States is currently undergoing the transition to broadcast television programming exclusively through the digital format. This transition raises a few issues that need to be considered when deciding not only which TV to buy, but also when to buy it.

The facts

Congress passed a law requiring over-the-air “analog” TV broadcasting to end as of February 17, 2009, but has extended the deadline to June 12, 2009. After that date, all local “TV” broadcasts will be “digital.”

If you are shopping for a new TV and intend to rely on a TV antenna to receive regular, over-the-air television broadcasts, you should check whether that TV has a digital TV tuner in it. If you intend to connect your new TV to cable or satellite service, a TV that has a digital tuner is likely not necessary. This change will not affect whether any TVs will continue to work with DVDs, cable boxes, satellite boxes, game boxes, etc.

Some TVs with digital tuners will receive and display programming in high-definition; others will not. If this is important to you, you should check whether the set you plan to purchase will tune and/or display broadcasts in high-definition.”

Due to these sweeping changes in broadcasting, it may be beneficial for your next TV to include an internal digital tuner.

However, it is important to note that if you are not quite ready to bury the TV that has provided you with so many years of noble service, you do have options.

Get a subscription service

You’ll still be able to use your current television if you subscribe to a service such as satellite or cable. The set-top box that generally comes with these services should effectively transfer the signal to your television.

Get a converter box

Digital-to-analog converter boxes will soon become available for those that rely on antennas to receive television broadcasts. These converters will allow you to watch digital broadcasts on current analog TVs. While the image will not be as good as HD, it will be much better than analog. In 2008, the government will begin distributing $40 coupons towards the purchase of converter boxes (some restrictions may apply).

For more information on converter boxes and the DTV transition in general, please visit our HDTV FAQs and CERC’s tip sheet to buying a digital TV.

Back to top


Just because you have digital cable or satellite service pumping through your household or your local broadcaster has added a high definition broadcast channel doesn't mean you're viewing in high-definition. Digital TV comes in three levels and, depending on your TV and the terms of your cable or satellite service, you may not be able to view HDTV. These levels are:

Standard Definition TV (SDTV): image quality is good (better than analog due to digital transmission); 480 interlaced lines of resolution

Enhanced Definition TV (EDTV): image quality is better; 480 progressive lines of resolution

High Definition TV (HDTV): image quality is best; minimum of 720 lines of resolution

Be sure to note which level of digital resolution your new TV can deliver. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with a poorer image than you had anticipated, after all.

What’s the difference between HD Built-In and HD-Ready?

HD Built-Inand HD-Ready are essentially the two forms of televisions that are capable of displaying high-definition images. This seems easy enough, but for some reason the manufacturers have felt it necessary to choose a variety of different terms to describe these two classifications. This can get confusing, so to put it simply, the terms “Integrated”, “Built-in” and “ATSC” all essentially mean the same thing: the TV has a digital (ATSC) tuner integrated into it.

Consequently, “HD-Ready”, “HD-Compatible”, “NTSC” or even “HDTV Monitor” all essentially mean the same thing: the TV does not have a digital tuner (it may have an analog NTSC tuner).

On RadioShack.com we’ve attempted to remove any further confusion by consistently referring to these technologies as either “HD Built-In” or “HD-Ready”.

HD-Ready televisions are labeled as such because they are “ready” for HD transmissions via a digital cable/satellite set-top box or external digital tuner. It is important to note that an HD-Ready categorization simply means the television is capable of receiving high-definition broadcasts. This does not necessarily mean the TV’s picture will display the full resolution capabilities of high-definition.

A third option available to you is a “digital cable ready” (or “plug-and-play”) television. This type of television allows you to receive digital cable transmissions (and sometimes HD transmissions) without the need for a separate set-top box. These TVs require a CableCARD to watch certain cable programming, and a set-top box will still be required if:

• You use 2-way cable services such as video-on-demand and pay-per-view
• You currently have, or plan on having satellite service

Back to top

Surround Sound

If digital surround sound is important to you, make sure your new television includes a Dolby® Digital decoder. Without such a decoder, your surround sound speakers will only spit out stereo FM quality sound.

Another handy feature you may be interested in is Dolby® Pro Logic II (DPL 2) processing. Even with a digital decoder, not all broadcasts will be available in digital surround sound. This is because some programs do not integrate surround sound capabilities into the production process. Currently, most newly created, nationally distributed programs do incorporate surround sound capabilities. However, many older programs may not.

Dolby Pro Logic II compensates for this by incorporating technology that transforms the stereo sound into simulated surround sound. While not always as awe-inspiring as true digital surround sound, the results are often comparable (and definitely better than the standard stereo sound).

Learn more about Surround Sound


A final important factor of high-quality audio is the type of digital audio outputs you choose to take advantage of. Currently there are three different types of digital audio hookups: coax, optical and HDMI.
While all three digital connection types will provide comparable audio quality, HDMI provides the added benefit of an all-in-one solution. Because an HDMI cable transmits both the audio and video portion of a television broadcast, only one cable is needed to connect your home theater components. This can significantly reduce the confusion and clutter that a maze of cable connections often creates.


Learn more about HDMI Cables

Back to top

Screen choices

OK, so now you should have a good idea of what you need to have inside your TV. But what about the outside? You will be spending countless hours staring at it, after all. It would probably be a good idea to make sure it suits your viewing style.

There are several types of screen choices out there to choose from, each with their own benefits. Read on to find the one that’s right for you…


Pros: LCDs are capable of achieving a brighter, more vibrant picture when compared to plasma TVs. The dangers of burn-in are also not an issue. LCDs are generally less expensive than plasmas when the screen size is smaller than 40”.

Cons: Larger-sized LCDs can get quite expensive and a limited viewing angle restricts viewing from a distance. The black levels are also worse than plasmas, which decreases the contrast ratio.

Learn more about LCD TVs

Browse flat panel televisions




Pros: Depending on the model, plasmas can provide excellent high-definition quality. Due to the unique, gas-injected construction, the color accuracy is remarkable. Also, the wide viewing angle provides an undistorted picture from most angles.

Cons: Plasmas are fairly expensive as far as televisions go. They also have a possibility for burn-in, which occurs when static images such as stock tickers or network logos get permanently etched onto the screen. Recent technological advances have greatly reduced the chances of burn-in, however.



Cathode Ray Tube (CRT)

With their typical box shape, these TVs have been around for decades. They may carry older technology, but depending on the model, CRT TVs can still deliver images with deep, well-saturated color.

Pros: CRTs are fairly inexpensive, provide sufficiently bright detail and project a reliable image

Cons: CRTs are limited in size due to their technology and their overall bulkiness. Not ideal for bright rooms, these televisions also carry a narrow viewing area.

Browse CRT televisions




Front projectors work much like a movie in a movie theater in that the image is projected onto a wall or stand-alone screen. Currently, there are two different types of front projection technology: DLP and LCD.

Pros: Because they are light-projected, front projectors can offer larger screen sizes than any other TV type. Depending on the amount of room you have, the projection image can easily fill an entire wall. DLP and LCD front projectors are also generally cheaper than their rear projector counterparts.

Cons: Just like at the movies, the room will need to be low-lit to adequately see the projection. An empty wall or display screen and plenty of room are also required.

Browse projectors



Rear Projection

These would be your entry-level widescreen televisions. Rear projection TVs create an image on a small display inside the casing, and then project it onto the larger screen. Generally less bulky, brighter and capable of larger sizes than those with CRT technology, rear projection TVs are currently produced with three different types of technology: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), DLP (Digital Light Processing) and LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon).

Pros: Overall, these televisions provide deep black levels for a rich, vibrant picture. The brightness of these TVs make them great for brightly lit rooms and high-definition. They are also likely to be the least expensive widescreen TVs available.

Cons: The cabinet size is deeper than flat-screen televisions. This requires them to generally be placed on a stand and limits your choice in mounting them on a wall. DLPs can be prone to a rainbow effect (visible streaks of color), although new technologies have minimized this. LCD and LCoS TVs may create a screen-door effect (faint visible grid of pixels) if you sit extremely close to the screen.

Back to top

Need to Know More?
Get helpful answers about HDTV using the drop down menu below.

Your Answer

Source: Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition: www.ceretailers.org
Back to top


The most important thing to consider when hooking up your home theater is the type of connection you choose to make. Coax, component, composite, HDMI—there are a lot of different connection types out there, and some provide far superior quality than others. In fact, it should be noted that only HDMI and DVI are equipped to deliver high-definition video. So if you’re after the best picture possible, a DVI or HDMI connection is required.

Here’s a brief overview of connector quality:

Beyond connection type, there are essentially three factors that affect a cable’s performance:



The conductor is the wire itself. Everything from the type of metal used to the length of the cable can affect the performance of your equipment.

Ideally, cable length should be kept to a minimum.


Shielding guards the cable against electromagnetic interference. Interference can come from just about anywhere, including your home appliances, dimmer switches and even the sun.

Cables run the gamut from unshielded all the way to quad-shielded. A well-shielded cable is often paramount to receiving excellent reception.


Connectors are what you plug into each end of the cable. Often times, the shoddy construction of the connectors lead to a loose connection.

A tight connection and gold-plated construction are suggested for the best performance.

Often times, the cables that come bundled with new televisions lack the necessary construction to properly transmit optimal picture or sound. Depending on the electromagnetic interference present in your house and the construction of the cable, it may be necessary to upgrade to a higher quality cable. If this is the case, RadioShack is the one-stop-spot for all of your connection needs.

If you feel like you may need to upgrade, Monster® cables are a great place to start.

Class dismissed

So there you have it. Hopefully this guide has given you the necessary information to adequately grant you “know-it-all” status on the subject of high-definition TV. Armed with your new knowledge, you should now feel confident enough to jump into that sea of products and pluck out the perfect television to suit your needs. And if you just so happen to have a few additional questions about the subject, an associate at your local RadioShack would be happy to clear up any further confusion.

If you think you’re ready, why not start shopping?

Back to top

Dolby and Pro Logic are registered trademarks of Dolby Laboratories Licensing Corp.