Headaches in High-Definition

You'll need to jump through hoops to get everything just right for viewing HDTV -- but don't count on much help from your retailer or service provider

Reader Mark Errico is having trouble getting his high-definition TV to work with his EchoStar Communications (DISH) satellite receiver. He asks: Are there certain TVs that are compatible with my dish? Please help. I've tried two different sets, and even with the help of two different technicians, I had no success.

Errico has fallen victim to the confusion -- and general lack of helpfulness from retailers and service providers -- that's making the transition to high-definition TV far harder than it ought to be.

To get HD programming, you need three things: first, a set that can display HD images; second, a source of HD signals, typically a cable or satellite set-top box, or an antenna for over-the-air local broadcasts; and, finally, a way to hook them together.


  To view over-the-air HD programs, you need a TV that's equipped with a digital tuner and capable of displaying a picture with at least 720 lines of resolution. That kind of set is usually labeled as "high-definition TV," or "HDTV." If you use cable or satellite, you can get a display without a digital tuner, or any tuner. These sets are usually labeled "HD ready."

Watch out, though, for sets labeled "HD compatible": These typically can handle high-definition inputs but can display only the 480 lines of standard TV. They may also be called "extended-definition" sets.

Errico ran into trouble in meeting the second prerequisite, the signal source. It turns out that his DISHnet receiver is a standard-definition model. To get HD, he'll need to upgrade the box. If you subscribe to satellite or digital cable, your program guide will typically show the HD channels, but you won't actually be able to see them unless your set-top box is also HD. You'll have to contact your service provider for upgrade information.


  Finally, everything has to be hooked up correctly. For over-the-air broadcasts, the antenna cable can be connected directly to the antenna input on your TV. To connect an HD set-top box to an HD display, you never want to use the coaxial, S-video, or composite video cables used with standard TV.

The most widely used cable is called component video. It uses the same RCA plugs as composite, but has three (green, blue, red) video connectors and two (red and white) audio connectors. New alternatives are called DVI, widely used with PCs, and HDMI, which carries video and audio on a single cable.

Consumers face entirely too many choices here and too little help in making the correct decisions. The consumer-electronics industry is slowly moving toward greater standardization, but for the time being, confusion will continue to be the rule.

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