Are you HD-Ready?

High Definition or HD broadcasting is the next step in video display quality.

It offers between 25 and 50 per cent higher resolution than even DVD; looks absolutely stunning; and is a must have technology for the digital home.

UK Broadcasters are gearing up to transmit HDTV, movie publishers are ready to commit HD movies to disc and software houses have developed codecs for HD transmission.

For the home entertainment enthusiast, HD is like having all of your birthdays at once - or a blend of 'raw sex and warm chocolate' (as one female Digital Home member noted). But are you ready for it?

High Definition television was pioneered in Japan and the US simultaneously, with Australia following close behind and Europe adamant that it never heard the starting gun.

In the US, the current 525-line NTSC broadcast format was always fairly ropey and the country's propensity for big screen TVs simply made the poor quality images look worse than ever.

US HDTV was a natural evolution driven by consumer demand, while in Japan the nation's love of pushing the boundaries of technology meant HDTV was a given from day one.

HDTV in the UK

In Europe and the UK in particular, we benefited from a higher resolution 625-line PAL TV system. Smaller screen TVs and the theory that a quality TV experience is the EastEnders omnibus and a tube of Pringles, has kept HDTV on the back burner - until recently.

Sky sniffed a revenue opportunity in pay-per-view and subscription HDTV and has announced bold plans for an HD service in 2006, while the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps are signing up film publishers to offer Hollywood blockbusters in HD quality.

HDTV is cool; it's undeniably sexy; and it's a huge advance in the home entertainment viewing experience. But it's not simply an 'add-on' format, it's a giant step change.

This means that you'll need new source equipment to receive it, new display devices to show it and even new interconnect leads to bring HD transmissions to your home.

It's going to cost you.

For example, a subscription to cable or satellite HD service will require a new decoder box, while Blu-ray or HD DVD playback will require a new player. But it's the display device that has caused most of the industry kafuffle around HD.

Put simply, you need an HD-ready TV and if you bought a new TV - even a super-de-duper, wallet-buster of a plasma - before the beginning of this year, the chances of it being HD-ready are slim.

For starters the display device needs to be able to resolve at least 720 lines of information and 70-80 per cent of plasma TVs that have been sold in the UK fall way below this specification - usually only offering 480 lines (640x480 pixels).

As we've pointed out in the past, this isn't even enough to fully reproduce PAL broadcast TV let alone the proposed HD transmissions. Worse still, even range-topping plasma and LCD TVs with 720 lines or more may not be able to receive HD.

Connectivity issues

The problem is one of connectivity. While DVI and HDMI connections were a feature on some TVs last year, few of them offered the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) designed to protect HD content.

Without HDCP, even an HDMI/DVI-equipped TV won't be able to display protected HD content (i.e. most HD content). That is going to leave a very sour taste for those having purchased an expensive TV in the last couple of years. But as Bruce Willis might say, shit and HDCP happens.

On a positive note, virtually every new TV with DVI or HDMI connection available today is HDCP enabled. The European ICT Association (EICTA) has also announced an 'HD-ready' logo for new TVs to ensure you are buying into future-proof technology.