The 1080p Minefield

When is a 1080p television not a 1080p television?

Our wandering editor returned to the office yesterday from a briefing with Toshiba (more on that soon) with a fascinating titbit of information. 1080p isn’t always 1080p… as if the High Definition landscape wasn’t complicated enough?

What is boils down to is this: 1080p broadcast signals ”do not yet exist” (Sky, for example, intends to broadcast it HD service at 720p) and there are no televisions yet in production which have the horsepower to process it anyway.

The result is that all new 1080p LCDs are just fitted with the necessary 1920 x 1080 resolution panels but are actually receiving 720p and 1080i broadcasts and using technology inside the set to boost these signals to approximate 1080p standards. This is all well and good but we don’t yet know how near or how far this approximated quality will be to a 1080p television that is designed to receive a true 1080p input signal.

Furthermore, be prepared for a nasty shock if you buy a brand spanking new 1080p LCD now or in the future because normal non-HD broadcasts could actually look worse than on your old TV. This is because a 1080p LCD is forced to take the lower quality broadcast signal and stretch it out across its high resolution 1920 x 1080 panel. Ultimately a lot will depend on the quality of the image processor inside to improve this content so make sure you test any potential new purchase on non HD content before parting with your hard earned cash. It is likely to be a defining factor between a cheap 1080p set and an expensive one.

So the warnings here are twofold:

1. When buying the HD LCD of your dreams check both the input signal and the resolution of its display (there are already a number of examples of 720p TVs being misleading sold as 1080i because they can receive a 1080i signal despite only being able to display it at 720p).

2. Remember that your High Definition television is not designed to receive non High Definition broadcasts. In fact, there is a strong likelihood that they will appear no better than on your previous box. A high quality image processor to tackle this will probably be a key difference between cheap or expensive 1080p sets.

In sum, it really is a minefield out there, but buying a 1080p (1920 x 1080 panel) set is your best option because even though it cannot take a 1080p input signal there are no plans to broadcast as this standard for a long time. 1080p also provides the best quality picture when receiving an HD broadcast signal or playing back high definition media like HD DVD or Blu-ray.

Besides, Riyad is going to buy himself an LCD with a 1080p panel very soon. What more evidence do you need…?

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