Misconceptions of “High Definition” (Part 2)

15 02 2008

So continuing the “High Definition” misconceptions and some answers from my previous post. We’ll start off with an easy question that might have raised ??? in many consumers.

Question: What do you mean by the “p” and “i” in 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, 480i?
The “p” stands for “progressive” scanning and “i” for “interlaced” scanning. Progressive scanning will scan the entire screen from top to bottom without skipping lines. Interlaced scanning will scan every other line from top to bottom thereby giving you only half the resolution but outputted at the same size. Hence, the blurriness you notice on 480i (aka Standard Definition) screens when comparing them with 480p (aka Enhanced Definition) screens.

What is “resolution” you say? The quality of the video in layman’s terms.

Question: Why are some HD channels clearer and sharper than others?
HD channels are required by default to have a minimum of 720 pixels vertically and in a wide-screen format. The average computer monitor is 1024 pixels wide by 768 pixels tall at a 4:3 format. HDTVs running at 720p resolutions are usually 1388 pixels wide and 720 pixels tall at 16:9 aspect ratio format.

Taking that into consideration, not all video are shot or processed into a widescreen format. So tv producers will take a standard definition broadcast video feed and stretch it to fit 720 pixels vertically but since it’s SD and not a HD broadcast, it will be in 4:3 ratio instead of 16:9. That will explain the borders on the sides of some of the tv shows you see on your HD TV used to fill up the broadcast.

When videos are stretched, the technical term used is “upscaling”. Upscaled high def broadcasts aren’t very clear because they were originally 480 pixels tall and are now stretch to nearly twice their size.

Question: Why can’t I change resolutions in HD channels?
HD channels are already programmed to fit your tv screen. Hence even if there are side borders on some shows, you are unable to stretch it cuz the side borders are included in the broadcast.

Question: Why are larger computer LCD monitors more expensive than equally sized HDTVs?
LCD computer monitors can output higher resolutions than HDTVs. They can easily pack in twice or more pixels than even the best High Def TV.

Question: Are high def TVs and wide-screen computer monitors aspect ratios different?
Yes. Wide-screen computer monitors are standardized at 16:10 ratio compared to HDTV’s 16:9. Not sure why but that’s just the industry agreement.

Finally we end with another question that bothers most people…

Question: Do we have to get satellite or cable to watch high definition channels?
NO. High definition channels are already available over the air with the more spendy tv antennas. Cable tv and satellite providers all have their own plans and rates for what shows you can see on HD but if you just want the basic stuff like ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX, you can get em for free through your rabbit-ears and standard coax cables despite what people or “experts” say.

Cable and satellite tv providers will continue to give out standard definition (or sub-par) channels for now until competition mandates them all to bring out full HD channels.


Misconceptions of “High Definition” (Part 1)

18 01 2008

This topic has been bothering me lately. I have a friend who works in the audio/video department of a company involved with Disney World in Orlando which was why I was surprised by a few comments he made in respects to the popular high-definition (HD) video format market. I tried explaining the difference to him but sometimes it gets real hard to explain when you’d downed 8-9 beers within the hour at a bar and your team’s losing on TV (HDTV ironically) and the screen’s right in front of you.

My sober answers are all based on a summer full of physically experimenting LCDs, CRTs, HD-Ready, HD, and SDTVs with a wide array of cables and a nearly a year of research on them. This is just an attempt to reach out to the masses to clear up some confusion because if a video technician can be so wrong, what about the rest of you out there confused and puzzled about these things. Home improvement through purchasing a screen that can output high definition is what you do these days.

The pictures below from my tv are proof to him that I can see shows on both SD and HD formats through a standard coax-cable. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s the regular kinda cable you plug coming from a tv antenna or the plug-in on the wall.

Friend: HDTVs and HD-Ready TVs are the same. Just different names.
Truth: No. HDTVs come built in with both a digital and analog tuner. The digital tuner is able to output video in the range of 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. HD-ready TVs only come with analog tuners and would require an external HD-tuner device. Both TVs however can output digital video, but only one has a tuner allows high definition broadcast video through coax-cables.

Friend: Ask any Best Buy employee and they will tell you both TVs are essentially the same because HD-Ready TVs can play 1080p video through BluRay players just like HDTVs.
Truth: Of course. They’re looking to sell their products. Both HD and HD-Ready TVs have digital output and are built like computer monitors and more. They can accept digital and analog signals from dvd players depending on the type of cables used.

Friend: Component cables aren’t high definition compared to HDMI.
Truth: Err sorta true. Component (aka YPbPr or RGB) and HDMI can both channel high definition data. The former is based on analog transmissions and there can be some minor (unnoticeable unless you’re a resolution nazi) loss in quality if the cable is beyond 6ft in length and has a max output of 720p. The latter is full digital so it either makes it to the output screen or it doesn’t and it’s output can be taken all the way to 1080p depending on the data.

Friend: 1080i is better than 720p or 720i.
Truth: Our high definition broadcast standards require “high definition” to be in a wide-screen format and starting at 720p. As far as I know, I haven’t seen or heard of 720i since an interlaced screen is basically halving the resolution leaving it at an unacceptable 360p which is even lower than EDTV (Enhanced Definition) resolution of 480p.

480i or standard definition format could be termed as 240p if you’d like because when standard definition video is being outputted to the screen, it skips every other line. So when you compare 1080i to 720p, remember that 1080i has the same amount of video you could see on a 540p resolution (540p screens do not exist) screen which is obviously lower than 720p.

Friend: You’re not watching REAL HDTV channels.
Truth: WRONG! A high-definition channel is any video feed that is being outputted at a resolution higher than 480 pixels tall or anything higher than the EDTV (enhanced definition) format, 480p. A video may not have to be considered DIGITAL if it’s not being fed through a direct digital physical connection. Just make sure it’s HIGH DEFINITION.

Do note that the above results won’t be possible through an HD-Ready TV unless you buy/rent a digital tuner box which will set you back by around 80 bucks a piece. Also, my TV has a max output of 1080i meaning it should be able to output 480i/p, 720p, and 1080i.

1hr Family Guy Star Wars Episode

23 09 2007

I’m not going to break it out to you how it starts off but the Family Guy universe transforms into the Start Wars universe and follows a somewhat condensed story-line from the Episode IV – A New Hope (the original first Star Wars) movie. The ONE HOUR long episode was great but NOT quite right up there. You can tell that they did a lot of work to make this one and kudos to the FG show design team along with the artists and script-writers. Brilliant job. Super clear on my Fox HD channel. Too bad FG wasn’t in widescreen so it only showed up in the 4:3 rendering 1/5 of my HD television useless. FOX. MAKE MORE OF YOUR SHOWS WIDESCREEN as all High def tvs are now available only in widescreen.

Family Guy was on at 8PM (Central time) today on Sunday and it was preceded by the King of the Hill at 7:30PM and a brand new somewhat depressing “the Simpsons” episode (7PM) where Mr Burns gives Homer a lap of luxury by flying him in his personal jet to Chicago for a sports comedy show and back. Homer is unable to deal with his real life and opts for some change.

Back to Family Guy Star Wars. Yea it was funny with Quagmire and Cleveland playing the roles of C3p0 and R2D2 respectively, Brian the dog as the hairy Chewbacca (and his outfit was hilarious), Chris Griffin as Luke Skywalker, Lois as Princess Leia, and our very own Peter Griffin … the dashing Han Solo, and of course Stewie playing the evil Darth Vader and others.

In the end, it somehow felt incomplete just like George Lucas’ Episode IV movie so no biggee. The girlfriend didn’t quite like it which I guess shouldn’t matter but hope they’re planning on making the whole 6 episodic Star Wars movie mini-series cuz that would be kick ass.

To buy an iPod or not to…

21 09 2007

People fork over thousands of bucks for the latest gadgets just for bragging rights. These gadgets whatever they may be … mp3 players, cellphones, television sets, LCD monitors, cameras, etc usually are priced for their functionality as well as their star appeal. But is being an early adopter of new products really worth it?

Here’s a quick look into some of the most popular stuff you have in the market.

Xbox 360 … lack of inventory. eBay and Craigslist scalping. The red-ring of death and a whole lot of quality control problems with all of the original stock. Then once the supply was figured out, huge price drops. Product quality issues continues to plague the 360 which is so unfortunate for Microsoft because they have a lot of good games for the system.

PS3 … fans first had to deal with a lack of games and expensive high def tv purchases over the already expensive price tag of $599. HDTVs weren’t cheap back then … esp not the 1080p HD sets. No rumble on the Sixaxis game-pads. In under 9 months since it’s release, a $100 price drop was announced. Although the PS3’s original price was a very good bargain for what it was, a $100 drop within a year is a painful blow to the fans who originally bought them.

Apple iPhone … highly popular like the 360 but problems came out of hiding soon. First users had to sign-on for TWO YEARS with the highly unpopular AT&T service provider who were fresh on a rebound to take the attention away from it’s secret government dealings. Then 300 pages of billing from Cingular/AT&T. Expensive bills for simply having the phone turned on overseas because of the calendar sync feature. Then an unexpected $200 price hammer was dealt within 3 months of it’s release to the masses. Now screen quality issues are cropping up.

… and now to Apple’s iPod line-up.

The 6th Generation iPod Classic – turned into an expensive aluminum block upon attempting to sync with the iTunes application on a PC. The issue has reportedly been fixed after a firm update hurried onto screaming fans and quite a few refunds.

The 3rd Generation iPod Nano – had screen orientation issues. The screens on the new Nanos were slightly tilted to the left (usually) and even after many replacements. Then there are more iPod Nano owners claiming the screens get scratched instantly upon removing the stock plastic protective film. Any surprise that Gizmodo reported stating that the Nano was the cheapest to make and also had the largest margin of profit per unit? These issues are still ongoing and Apple is claiming to be looking into the matter.

The brand new iPod Touch – screen quality issues where the blacks were showing up as negatives or appearing washed-out. I thought it was a screen contrast issue or the regular LCD screen viewing angle limitation but apparently not. Then lack of bluetooth and unable to add events/meetings on the calendar directly from the device. A poor 4 hours of video playback despite lacking a power-hungry hard disk drive. There are also certain audio output issues with the first batch of Touches.

So what’s it gonna be? What should you do? It all depends on what kind of person you are …

[Rich] [Attention-Seeking] [Lack financial restraint / shopaholic] [Rich Geek]

[The Average Person]
– Hold out for a minimum of 6-10 months until the majority of the kinks in the system are taken care of. Your reward is an older product but better in every way including a lowered price-tag.

[People living below the poverty line]
– Don’t waste money on useless gadgets. Your priority lies with ensuring you have money for good investments like education, health, or the family.

Basic review of the Soyo 24″ LCD monitor

2 09 2007

The Soyo 24″ Widescreen LCD monitor is the cheapest 24″ LCD in the market. Standard retail value is $399 but OfficeMax’s discounted price is $299 and then you have the optional $29 insurance plan. I already had one crap out on me in 3 days of owning it but got a free exchange at OfficeMax. So how is this monitor compared to the competition?

Soyo 24″ TFT Widescreen LCD
Resolution: 1920 x 1200
Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
Viewing Angle: 170 horizontal, 160 vertical
Light Source: 40K hrs
Response Time: 6ms
Pixel Pitch: 0.285 mm
Brightness: 500cd/m2 (or nits)
Screen Aspect: 16:10

Connectors: 15-pin mini D-sub (Analog VGA), DVI-I (Digital)
Power: 100W
Speakers: 2W x 2

The specs look impressive. A seemingly high contrast ratio, 6ms response, and 500 nits brightness. Everything else is sorta at par with the Samsungs and Acers that are priced more by around 150 bucks. Is it any good in person? Oh yea oh yea. There was NOT a SINGLE dead pixel on the screen. Colors were bright and vivid (you need to calibrate the settings to Contrast 40, Brightness 49, R 36 G 38 B 33) and the gigantic display just overwhelms you at first. But then you get used to it. So what’s wrong with it? Why am I returning this monitor? Is “trouble” it’s middle name?

1. Original Soyo 24″ LCD suddenly developed a horizontal 1 pixel tall deadpixel line extending from one end to the other in 3 days. I googled it up and sure enough, 2 other people had the same issues.

2. If you let the “Power Save” mode take over, the screen turns off and goes into standby. Cool. No not really. Put your ears close to the rear vents and you can hear a low-pitched whirring sound of motors or something running inside the monitor. Alright. Maybe you really have to push the power button to turn it all off. Hit the power button and you can still hear that sound from the monitor. WTF? The sound stops only if you unplug the power cable to the LCD.

3. The rear vents get hot in like 30 secs of use and you can smell burnt plastic.

4. The screen gets really hot after a few mins of use. Reach your hand about 2 inches close to the screen and you can feel the heat. Not cool!

5. The DVI-I port in the rear is bullshit. It only accepts digital signals which means it’s basically a DVI-D port with the extra 4 holes to accommodate a DVI-I cable. If it works or not is up to you but it sure as heck didn’t do anything with my DVD player.

6. The VGA port in the rear can’t accept analog signals as mentioned in #5.

7. No built-in tuner but that would bump up the price.

8. Speakers are non-existent.

9. Forgot to mention this but it didn’t work with any of the laptops using Intel’s integrated graphics cards. There seems to be an issue with the resolution and needing to pan the screen at 1600×1200 through my ATI card but the issue could lie with my card as it is over 3 years old.

10. A few commentators have mentioned a problem with the screen shutting down at 1920×1200 resolution. This symptom arises only when using a DVI-D cable on that resolution for roughly 10 minutes. If you read my #5, there might be a correlation between the FAKE DVI-I port. It’s NOT a DVI-I. Looks like one but sure ain’t one. Just a standard DVI-D instead.

To sum it up, the Soyo 24″ LCD is like a Dodge or some other domestic muscle car manufacturer. It’s got all the right stuff in it or appears to look that way. Looks menacing in black and most of my friends even thought it was an HDTV. Performance is awesome also. Colors are deep and bright. Reliability? Shit is what I can say from my experience. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last before you take it in for repairs. There’s a BUT though. It’s still one of the best performing 24″ LCD monitors in the market. It’s the best for value and ranked #1 in terms of market share.

In the end, immagonnatake thiz Chevy back to the shop and get back my monay! I do feel sorry for OfficeMax. This is a high performance product but reliability is an issue.

EDIT (September 7th): Please fill me in with your thoughts and opinions on my review. I know many of you read this article by looking at the stats on the website but tell me what you think of the monitor yourself or your experiences and questions. Don’t be shy.

EDIT (December 4th): The DVI port update to “cons” #10.

EDIT (April 1st): I noticed some haters on a particular forum. If you want to bash this “basic review”, let me know it instead of cowering somewhere else. If the reliability aint good, it’s got nothing to do with the screen quality. You can choose to RE-READ my final paragraph where I liken it to a Dodge or Chevy. Looks good on the outside, probably crappy on the inside. But you get what you paid for.

DVI-I to Component (RGB) cable problems

2 09 2007

Last week I wrote about not being able to get my VGA to Component cable on my DVD player working with my new LCD monitor. Alright. There’s many different types of VGA connectors. Makes sense. mmm. The LCD has a DVI-I port which is compatible with DVI-D and DVI-A cables. Bought a new DVI-I cable cuz I thought it was gonna work this time around. Whadyu know? It’s not. WTF dude. Seriously.

Before I end this short post, I want to summarize my findings below.

LCD or CRT Computer Monitors are…
NOT compatible with signals coming from an analog output because it only has digital video inputs. Even if the cables fit right-in the ports, it ain’t gonna happen with your DVD player or other devices unless there is some form of a digital signal passing from that external device to your LCD.

Examples of cables that output analog signals: Component (RGB), DVI-I/DVI-A, VGA

Examples of cables that output digital signals: DVI-D, VGA

TV Tuners cards (computer add-ons or stand-alone devices) can take analog broadcasts and push it to your LCD as digital.

DVD Player —(Analog)–> TV Tuner —(Digital)–> LCD

So if you plan on using TV Tuners to watch tv/cable or dvds on your LCD or CRT computer monitors, remember that even though the signal between the tuner and your monitor is digital, it is coming from an analog source and so the digital image can’t be better than it’s source. DVDs can be played in digital high definition ONLY if you hook your computer directly to your monitor and play the movie through your computer.

VGA to Component (RGB) cable problems

26 08 2007

So I originally bought a cable with male DVI-I (dual-link) and component (RGB) ends to hook up my DVD player to my 22″ LCD flatpanel monitor. This would allow video feed to pass from my DVD player through those 3 RCA-like cables (red, green, blue) to my monitor in high-def format. Unfortunately, my monitor at the time only supported DVI-D (dual-link) so the DVI-I cable had to be returned.

DVI-I cables have 4 additional pins and the DVI-D port on the monitor didn’t have holes for those pins. That was my problem. I was able to do a swap with another cable that had male VGA (HD15) and component (RBG) ends. By the time the package was shipped, I had already moved to a new address blocks down the road. It finally got to my new place after 2 weeks due to the inefficient mail re-routing system in Minnesota.

But while the package was in-transit, I had sold my 22″ LCD and bought a new 24″ LCD monitor. This one had a DVI-I dual-link port meaning it could use both any form of DVI-A or DVI-D also meaning that my old cable woulda worked on this set. DOH! So I got my VGA to Component cable and was looking forlornly at my decision to do a swap. Plugged it in and goddangit. It’s not working. For a component to VGA connection, the end output must also be analog like a TV or a standard projector (not new high-def versions).

So I have a spare component to VGA cable hanging around uselessly. This is dumb.