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Patrick Hurley

Patrick Hurley

Co-author of HDTV for Dummies

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Dale Cripps

Founder and co-publisher of HDTV Magazine

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Danny Briere and Patrick Hurley on HDTV

Danny Briere and Patrick Hurley, co-authors of HDTV for Dummies, have made careers out of disseminating complex technology for the masses. Briere and Hurley have worked together on several books, including Home Theater for Dummies, Smart Homes for Dummies and Wireless Home Networking for Dummies. Briere founded TeleChoice Inc., a telecommunications consulting company, which works with service providers, software vendors and investors throughout the world. Briere currently serves as CEO. He has been quoted in USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other prominent international publications. Hurley, TeleChoice’s director of research, has made appearances on Tech TV and National Public Radio. Here, they help us break down important HDTV information.

Do technophobes have a right to be afraid of HDTV? How scary is the switch?

Hurley: It’s certainly much less scary than it was a few years ago, now that you can buy a 50-inch HDTV plasma TV for $1,500, instead of the $4,000+ they cost just three years ago. It is still an investment compared to buying a $499 tube TV, though.

I think that the jargon is probably the biggest remaining area of scariness. Walk into a store and you're bombarded with DLP, LCD, LCoS, Plasma; and HDMI, and 1080i vs. 1080p vs. 720p; and Blu-ray vs. HDTV—the list keeps going. Spending a little bit of time educating yourself on these acronyms and jargon can take a lot of the fear out of the switch.

The biggest area that people forget is that getting HDTV means more than just buying an HDTV. You need to take some steps to get HDTV content into your HDTV. This means doing some research about what’s available from your local cable company, your local phone company, over the airwaves and from the satellite providers.

What is the first step in buying an HDTV?

Hurley: The first thing to do is make a determination about what general kind of TV you might want. Consumers can choose from rear-projection, flat-panel and front-projection TVs.

Rear-projection TVs probably give you the most “bang for the buck,” and a big screen for not too much money. These TVs are usually 1080p and have good-to-great picture quality. The big drawback here is literally a “big” one. Rear-projection TVs take up more space in your room.

Flat-panels are the sleekest and hottest models out there. The key here is that you can hang your TV on the wall, which is unbeatable for opening up space in your room and still pretty cool, even after all of these years. The biggest downside here is that you pay more than you would for a rear-projection TV. Luckily, there are a lot of factories cranking out flat-panels. Prices are dropping a lot, so the price differential isn’t nearly as great as it was in the past.

Front-projection TVs use a separate screen and project the image across the room. These TVs provide the truly big screen. You can get a diagonal picture of 100 inches or larger. Typically projectors cost a bit more than a 50-inch, flat-panel or rear-projection TV—especially, when you include the price of a screen, which you’ll want for the best picture quality—but the picture is a lot bigger. The disadvantages are two main ones: front-projectors don’t work as well in a bright room and there’s a bit of effort in installing them and setting them up.

What are the different technologies behind HDTV? Do they matter?

Hurley: For front- and rear-projections, you can choose from DLP, LCD, often called “3LCD,” and LCoS technologies. There’s not a huge difference between the technologies, but generally DLP and LCoS provide the highest resolution and brightest picture. You’ll want to look for a system that supports 1080p in a projection TV, though if you’re buying a front-projector, you can save some money and go for a 720p system instead without any major heartache.

Among the flat-panel TVs, the LCD vs. Plasma distinction is a bit more pronounced. Generally speaking, for the biggest sizes, Plasma is the common choice and for the smallest, like a bedroom TV, LCD is the common choice. In the middle ground, say 42 inches to 50 inches, there’s a lot of overlap.

Plasma has the wider viewing angle, meaning you can sit further from perpendicular to the screen, has excellent color reproduction and a bright picture. Most Plasma TVs are still 720p, though 1080p are becoming more common at a greater price. Plasma can get “image retention,” also known as “burn-in”, but this isn’t nearly as big a problem as people think.

LCD TVs use less power—for maintaining your green credentials—and are more likely to be 1080p. LCDs have a more limited viewing angle than Plasma and are often not quite as good with fast-moving content, like sports. In larger sizes, 55 inches and over, LCDs tend to be a bit more expensive than similarly sized Plasma TVs.

One source of serious confusion for HDTV newbies comes in understanding what the phrases 720p, 1080i and 1080p mean. Can you walk us through it?

Hurley: The first thing to understand is the [numbering system], 720 and 1080, which represent the resolution of the TV. In other words, the number of individual dots on the screen—picture elements or pixels—make up a picture. Generally speaking, the more of these dots you have, the sharper the picture. A 720 is equal to 1280 in a horizontal direction, across the screen, by 720 in a vertical direction, up and down. 1080 equals 1920, horizontally, by 1080, vertically.

The “i” and “p” stand for interlaced and progressive scan, respectively. An interlaced scan draws half of the horizontal lines across your screen at one time and the other half, 1/60th of a second later. Since vision works in a specific way, these lines appear as one contiguous picture. But, they can be subject to a slight bit of “flicker.” This is what we all know from watching old-fashioned, standard-definition TVs. A progressive scan draws all of the lines at the same time.

Briere: On the 720 vs. 1080 debate, unless you are buying a lot of HD content and are really into “seeing” high definition, 720 will do for a lot of people because the first impact is the large size and the second impact is the resolution. I bought two 720p projectors for the same price as a single 1080i projector. Why? Because I was outfitting the kids’ areas in my home and vacation home. I know that in two years the price of the 1080i will probably be at least 40% cheaper, so I’ll wait for the massive resolution in the content to catch up to the TV set. After all, we’re just beginning the HD-DVD-format wars, so I’m willing to wait for a winner. The TVs I’m buying today will be the hand-me-downs in two years. I’ll bet a lot of your readers will want to do the same. You can’t replace all your TV sets at once, so why not go cheaper and build-out the hand-me-downs first. Then, you can get the really high-powered ones in a couple of years when it makes sense. Remember, two years ago, 42-inch Plasmas were $2,500 on average and this year Walmart is selling them for under $800. Don’t overpay for what you won’t use.

If you aren’t willing to shell out extra cash to upgrade your programming to HDTV, should you bother with an HDTV set?

Briere: If you aren’t going to watch HD signals, then why did you buy an HDTV? The answer could be that you simply wanted a much bigger TV to start and that much bigger TV needs to be a higher resolution TV set to look good. This means you need “upconversion” to change standard-definition images into higher resolution images to better fill the screen. Now, here’s an important reverse question to your query: Do you bother putting an HD signal on an SDTV?

If you watch a lot of DVDs—for SD, too, remember, these are standard definition and an upconversion will take place to make these look better—it does make sense to get an HDTV because of the upconversion. But, sometimes, staying in the old generation for just a little while longer can get you more bang for the buck, too. So shop sensibly and don’t get caught in the mad rush for the sake of getting a “deal.” The deals will only get better.

Hurley: I’ll just add to this, DVDs look better on a widescreen HDTV than they do on a regular, squarer SDTV. If you’re a movie lover and you own or rent a lot of DVDs, an HDTV could be worth the investment even if you’re not a “TV” watcher.

SIGNATURE QUESTIONS

What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

Briere: “There’s never a good time to get married,” sort of sums up my view of change. People don’t like change and if they had their way, most people would not do it, sort of like asking a guy when the best time to get married is. “Never” is an often-heard response. But it is fun being married, and having kids and the like. It’s a life-changing event and you get to do things differently than you would on your own. So sometimes when facing change, you just have to do it, because it’s got to be done sometime, so why not now?

Hurley: I think it would be that I’ve got a lifetime of experience to fall back on for guidance, many lifetimes really, considering all the things I’ve learned from my family and friends, school, work, etc. There’s rarely anything truly new under the sun, and if you’ve been paying attention, you can see what’s worked and not worked for others. Let that help you through your own change.

The best thing about change is...

Briere: …you get to leave behind a lot of stuff you really won’t miss. You think you will, but you won’t. Change makes us break rather stupid bonds we have with really unimportant things.

Hurley: …it gives you a blank slate; and a blank slate is a great thing to work with. You can take everything you’ve (hopefully) learned and do it better this time around.

What is the best change you have ever made?

Briere: The worst one was trading my convertible for a minivan. The best change was probably a corporate one: When I decided to get rid of all the offices, $100,000-plus per month of rent, in favor of having people work out of their homes. With this, I got rid of all sorts of headaches, issues, dilemmas—simply, a lot of complications. This simplified the hiring process, too, and changed the overall model of the firm to one that was more virtual, more nimble and more cost-effective. I’m a happier person because of it and now have people working around the world. I would not have had that opportunity with the classic brick-and-mortar approach.

Hurley: By far, I’d say it was having my daughter. My wife and I thought we might never do it, we put it off, and when we finally did it, I was still pretty unsure, for a while after even, but every cliché you’ve ever heard about having children—at least all the good ones—is absolutely true and then some.

For more information on Danny Briere and Patrick Hurley, visit www.telechoice.com

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