If She Wants the HDTV But Not the Rock …

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One of the more amusing bits of levity from last week's Western Show came from Bill Geppert, vice president, general manager of Cox Communications Inc.'s San Diego system.

During a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing luncheon, he noted that 58 percent of women would rather receive an HDTV set than a 1-carat diamond for Christmas this year.

The statistic actually comes from the Consumer Electronics Association, which collected the evidence, via survey, to point out that men aren't the only consumers of electronic gadgetry.

Also among the findings: 64 percent of women would rather unwrap a digital camera than a pair of half-carat diamond earrings.

Much mirthful murmuring followed Geppert's observation. What would you, or the women in your life, rather have — the rock or the HDTV?

Yet the CEA's efforts to raise awareness of women as technology consumers also raises an uncomfortable truth: Even those of us "in the industry" — regardless of whether we're male or female — aren't really sure what
we would buy, if we were to buy an HDTV set this Christmas.

That's uncomfortable because we're supposed to know
this stuff, being in the TV industry and all.

First, there's the whole 1080i/720p thing. What? Then there's aesthetics: Plasma? Tube? Projection? Which? And there's the further out, but critical, conundrum over copy protection and connectors. Who wants to drop a few thousand dollars on an HDTV set, only to find out in a few years that it lacks the correct plumbing for what you want to watch?

Of course, there's also the question about the amount of available HD content — and is it worth it? Or is it enough just to use the HD set as an eyeball-grabbing display for DVDs? (As a point of reference, that's how the majority of HDTV owners use the technology: For playing DVDs, not for displaying cable or broadcast HD content.)

This week's translation attempts to clarify some of the ambiguities of HDTV from an "industrial consumer" standpoint. That is, you, the consumer — and participant in the broadband industry.

Know that when you're buying "an HDTV set," you may be buying two things: a display and a box. It has to do with linking the source
of the HDTV signal to the display
of the HDTV signal. Most manufacturers prefer to sell sources and displays separately, as components.

There are three main ways to link an HD tuner (the source) to a high-def display: Via a separate, broadcast HDTV receiver (which requires an antenna on the roof); through a box you get from your local cable operator; or from a box you get from the other guys, DirecTV Inc. or EchoStar Communications Corp.

Right now, the most common way to connect an HD source to an HD display is in analog, using what's called "component video." I'm glossing over this part, because reams of useful and well-written material exist on the subject. The important point is that it's analog.

The hard part, and the battle still being fought, is the shift to a digital HDTV input. It's an odd fact of life that HDTV — so commonly made synonymous with "digital TV" — does not have a standard digital "gazinta." Said another way, right now there's no unanimously adopted means of pouring a digital signal into an HDTV display.

That's changing, but, if you're buying an HDTV this season, you're best off to at least make sure it has a connector on the back labeled "DVI," for "Digital Video Input." If you're really into future-proofing, get one that has component video, DVI, and 1394 "firewire" connectors.

A brief note on 720p and 1080i: Don't let them bog you down. While HDTV set manufacturers wish the content community would settle on one format, they decided a few years ago that unity wasn't going to happen. It's unlikely that you'd buy a set that doesn't support what comes down the pipe, or over the air.

Aesthetically pleasing

As for aesthetics, it sort of depends on you, your house and your wallet. Size does matter when it comes to HDTV.

In general, plasma displays are thin and sleek. As space goes, plasma hangs on the wall. It's also the most expensive (relatively): The largest unit made today, at 60 diagonal inches, runs around $35,000.

Front projection units are a good use of space, but are decidedly more difficult to install — and forget about using them during the day, unless you can completely darken the viewing room.

Tube-style TVs — like what you probably have at home today — are huge, but they're among the least expensive, relatively speaking. When you hear people talking about how quickly the price of HDTV technology has dropped, you're hearing about tube-styled sets.

Also, when it comes to aesthetics, remember to ask the person at the store about the recommended distance between the set and your chairs or couch before you buy. It matters with HDTV.

And if all of this still seems too confusing to attempt for this holiday season, there's always the rock.

Questions? Suggestions? Send e-mail to Ellis299@aol.com.

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