Wednesday, November 01, 2006

HDTV is cheaper than your old TV

Okay, not for everyone, but if you want to really enjoy seeing movies at your home, you should be happy that HDTV is getting closer and closer, because it's going to be much cheaper to enjoy a cinema-like experience at your home.

How come? Everyone is talking about how expensive high-def TVs cost and the premium you have to pay for high-def players that support BluRay or HD DVD. While this is true, providing content in HD is essential for lowering the cost of cinema-like experience at your home.

To recreate the cinema experience at your home you'll have to use a projector (maybe a 65" Plasma/LCD display can do the job as well, it's unlikely I'll be ever rich enough to know). Show the average guy a wide 100" diagonal screen, project any decent DVD content on that screen, and he'll tell you it's like going to the cinema, but it's not.

The fact of the matter is that a DVD simply doesn't hold enough data so that a 100" diagonal display would look good enough on it. The image is not sharp enough and you begin to see the compression artifacts. You now have two options:

1. You can watch DVDs on a smaller screen. 32" to 42" is fine. The DVDs would look great, but you'll definitely loose the cinema-like feeling.
2. You can start investing in equipment that will try to digitally enhance the DVD image so that it will look better on a large screen. I did a quick search on such a device - the Faroudja DVP-1510. It costs $7,299.99 (that's web price as of October 2006, not MSRP). You can try the cheaper DVP-1010, which will "only" cost $3,299.99.

I know there are such video processors for around $1000 (for example DVDO Iscan HD), but one has to wonder why these devices are so expensive. The simple answer is that these devices are supposed to perform the impossible, and that's quite hard - they try to create an image that's better than the source. They try to add details to an image (well, to a video - a sequence of images) so that it would be good enough to show on a large screen. Since the original image doesn't have enough detail, they have to perform really complex tricks, and billions of calculations per second to give us the impression of images with more information.

The funny thing is that these devices can perform this magic, but the price is very high.

Enters HDTV. At 1280x720 pixels, a HD image has 2.6 more data than an NTSC DVD frame (with 720x480 pixels) and 2.2 more data than a PAL DVD frame (with 720x576 pixels). No magic from Faroudja (and at no cost) can add so much information to an image. Now that's only the "low-resolution" HD. At the higher HD resolution, a 1920x1280 image fits exacly 6 DVD images. That's really a lot of pixels for our eyes.

So what's the bottom line? If the source is high-def enough, you won't have to invest in technology to enhance the image so that it's decent on a large enough screen. Trying to recreate the added data is a very complex and expensive task (and the results are never as good as HD). If you buy an HD player instead of a good scaler, you'll have enough spare money for a good projector.

Only with HDTV you could really have a home theater (that gives you a cinema-like experience) on a budget.

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