HOME                                  REVIEWS                                CONTACT                             ABOUT                         March 14, 2009



HDTV Decision Time





Because of the change to the digital/HDTV

signal by broadcasters, this is a very popular

time to be installing a new HDTV system. 

But be forewarned, the decisions needed

with HDTV are more complex than the

ones that were required with the previous

technology.  The process of planning an

installation includes the choice of the HDTV

set, the programming source (usually

cable or satellite), the Audio Subsystem

(for the surround sound), the system

interconnects (cabling), and the

installation decisions.








An ideal size HDTV will have viewing distance from the viewer to the screen that is about 2-3 times the width of the TV screen.  Choosing the right size screen is one of the most important decisions when purchasing a new HDTV.


Most consumers say they want a wall mountable HDTV.  However, according to the NPD Group, a consumer and retail market research information firm (NPD.com), only 13 percent of current LCD TV owners and 25 percent of plasma TV owners say their set is mounted on the wall.  


"Consumers are drawn to flat-panel technologies for their wall-mounting capabilities, but the difficulty of such an installation often leads them to explore alternatives such as stands or retailer installations."  Said Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis, The NPD Group.


It is tempting to delegate the decision making to a local salesperson.  This is not wise.  Studies show that the many of the salespeople at your retailer are not as knowledgeable or unbiased as we would hope.  For example, one study showed that 37% of salespeople steered customers away from plasma HDTV systems because of the "burn in of plasma displays", when burn in was eliminated as a problem several years ago (J.D. Power and Associates).  The study concluded that the salespeople steered customers to the more expensive LCD systems. 


"Television shoppers who visit mass merchants may be more concerned with obtaining a low price and may not be seeking expert advice.  However, television shoppers should be aware that the lower prices they find at mass merchants are primarily due to the fact that these stores tend to carry second tier brand TVs, rather than major brands such as Sony or Panasonic. When pricing for a specific television model is compared at each type of retailer, the prices are surprisingly similar," J.D. Power's Larry Wu.


HDTV Video Format:1080i or 720p:  the higher number is better, right?  Even though 1080i technically has a higher resolution, it is not the obvious choice.  Most networks have opted for the 1080i format; because it provides the higher resolution, while ABC, Fox, ESPN, and the National Geographic Channel have chosen the smoother pictures of 720p. 1080i is delivered in interlaced format (the "old" format), meaning that your TV set draws each frame in two passes: once for the even horizontal lines and a second pass for the odd lines. The 720p (Progressive format, the standard in Europe) has fewer lines of resolution than 1080i, but delivers pictures that look slightly smoother than the interlaced image, especially when there's a lot of movement on the screen, like sports. 



Source of Programming (i.e. Satellite)


One of the choices, which DVD player to purchase, became much simpler recently.  Blu-Ray became the de facto choice with the withdrawal of the alternative, HD DVD. 


However we are still faced with the choice of satellite, cable, or antenna programming.  A fourth choice, IPTV, which is TV over the Internet, can no longer be dismissed. 


More than 100 million U.S. homes can receive HDTV from their cable system, and all of the top 100 cable markets in the country have available HDTV programming. Unfortunately, most cable providers carry only a few of the 50+ available HDTV networks.  While HDTV local channel selection is generally better on cable than satellite, the major satellite companies offer more national HDTV channels than almost every cable provider.  By 2010, 60% of U.S. homes will use a Satellite signal, up from 15% in 2002.


IPTV is not yet available across the country.  Currently, when it is available, IPTV usually offers about 25 HDTV channels. 



Audio Subsystem


The Audio component of the HDTV system is very important.   George Lucas (Star Wars) once said audio is half the movie viewing experience. Most HDTV programming today includes more than two channels (stereo) of audio.  The most popular programming is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1, which has five full bandwidth channels plus a subwoofer channel (for the earthquake effects). 


Surround speakers would include two front speaker spaced as far from the monitor as possible, two speakers at the back of the room, a center channel, above or under the television that delivers most of the dialogue; and the subwoofer on the floor for the low-frequency bass. Subwoofers are multidirectional, so you can put them anywhere in the room. 


If we are to maximize the effect of our wall mount system, we may want to use in wall and/or in ceiling speakers.  This results in a cosmetically sophisticated installation.



System Interconnect (Cabling)


The cables used are important, but it is important to know what to prioritize about the cables.  It is common for consumers to spend a large amount of money on cables, but for the wrong reasons, and still result in an inferior performance. 


To fully utilize high-definition programming (HDTV), either component cables (red, blue and green, sometimes called "RGB")), a digital visual interface (DVI) cable, or a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable is needed. This is in contrast with the red, yellow and white composite (RCA) cords, or the round-ended S-Video cable used by standard definition TV.


An HDMI is the preferred pick for the ultimate in audio and video quality. Look at the back of your TV and you'll see several options.  Depending on the unit chosen, you might have to buy these cables separately.  Cables can be expensive.  If you are choosing largely on the basis of price, your choice can be circumvented by the need to purchase separate cabling.


Cables are one of the details that can be chosen poorly, and result in an overall unsatisfactory experience.  Details are important.



Installation Decisions


Select the right installation location. This will be decided by the size and shape of the room.  An ideal wall should be at least twice the width of the display because you should have a minimum distance for audible separation for the front channel speakers.  Choose a location that minimizes ambient light, especially directly across from the screen. 


With some HDTV models, the manufacturer will offer a specific mount for your set.  Plan on spending about $250 for the mount.  If a system advertises "VESA Compatible' or "VESA mount", VESA stands for Video Electronics Standards Association, and this display is designed to work with VESA standard mounts.  If not, look at the back of the display and check for threaded screw inserts to which a mount could be attached.  A minimum of four screw inserts is needed.  Tilt wall mounts enable the user to change the angle of the display, and can help reduce glare from ambient light.


A wall mount on an exterior wall will be probably be a more difficult installation than on an interior wall.  Exterior walls typically offer more obstructions, including insulation, than interior walls.  Exterior walls may be built with fire-blocks.  These horizontal braces or blocks are generally found about halfway up the wall, and significantly increase the difficulty of passing the wiring from your equipment up to the display.


Decide if the wires are going inside the wall or on the outside. You should not run the power cord inside a wall as it is against NEC (National Electric Code), except when executed by a professional electrician.  If on the outside of the wall, there are cable management raceways available that will attach to the wall with a cover that snaps into place. If the wires are going to be run on the inside of the wall you will need a drywall keyhole saw or a utility knife to be able to cut holes in the sheet rock. 


A good idea is to create a molding that will be used as a cover for the cables. If the power cable(s) will be outside the wall, then the rationale for running the other (signal) cables inside the wall is reduced.  Either select a cable tray that matches your wall or paint the cover.  It will look very natural, and will be easier to maintain than cables in the wall. 


At the end of the process, you will be able to reflect on your effort, and know that you have made educated choices. The right HDTV hardware, the best program source, an awesome audio subsystem, the correct electrical interconnects, and well-chosen installation decisions will result in a terrific theater system.  Now, get out the popcorn.










 About the Author:


Brian Bradshaw is an InfoComm Certified Technical Specialist (CTS), Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and CompTIA A+ Computer Technologist.  Areas of expertise include Video, HDTV, Audio, Computation, SATCOM Systems, and Communications.

Website:  http://bradshaw-vacuum-technology.com/