7 ways to get HD on the cheap

You don't have to spend thousands of pounds to go high definition - or at least a very close approximation of it. Hardware prices are lower than ever, so you can reach high-def heaven for less than you think.

1. Choose an HD-ready TV or projector

You can get a decent 32-inch LCD HD-ready TV from about £500-£600. That includes top brands such as Panasonic , Sony , Sharp and Philips . HD-ready doesn't mean the set will automatically receive high definition video signals. That depends on what else you plug into it.

But it will have the minimum resolution of at least 1,024 x 720 pixels, which is your entry point into the world of HD. For a massive picture on a tight budget, you can get HD-ready video projectors from about £700 by brands such as Sanyo and Optoma .

2. Get the right cables

To see high definition video, you will need to connect your TV to a high-def source using either analogue component video leads or, preferably, an HDMI cable. You can get long, high quality cables at silly prices. Likewise the little free ones often bundled with products might not be efficient enough. So if you experience problems, seek out a reasonably priced upgrade. For example, a 2-metre Molex HDMI cable only costs about £16.

3. Track down a bargain

Toshiba recently dropped the price of its entry level HD DVD player, the HD-E1 from £450 to £350. That's currently the cheapest standalone HD player option. It's also a brilliant upscaler for normal DVDs (see point 5 below).

If you're also into gaming, then the £129 HD DVD add-on for the Xbox 360 is good value. And for an all-in HD product there's Sony's £400 Blu-ray based PlayStation 3 (PS3). In the months to come expect prices to drop further.

4. Look out for an HD Freesat box

Freesat is a digital satellite version of Freeview planned by the BBC and ITV, which could launch before the end of 2007. The extra capacity on satellite broadcasts mean that there should be one or two (and eventually more) free-to-view HD channels from various companies alongside the standard definition line-up. There's no idea of price yet but it should be an affordable alternative to Sky HD with, of course, no monthly subscription fee.

5. Turn your old movies into HD with an upscaling player

From about £60 you can get a DVD player that uses digital processing to transform a standard definition DVD picture into a near-HD quality one. The Toshiba SD-370E is a fine example. Upscaling is a complex task, so the cheapest ones don't do it as well as their pricier counterparts. One of the best all-round models is the Denon DVD-1730 . It's as effective as some products costing twice the price.

6. Consider other ways of upscaling

Some TVs have built-in upscaling technology, such as Philips ' Pixel Plus 3 HD. This means that other sources, such as a standard TV images from your aerial, satellite dish or cable box can be improved to match the resolution of the HD-ready screen.

They are getting better with each generation but the performance depends on the quality of the source and whether you can tweak the processing to your tastes. Some can make pictures look too artificial.

External upscalers are also available, which are useful if you have lots of different equipment to convert to HD. Generally, though, they cost about the same as a luxury DVD player with built-in upscaling.

7. Tweak your system settings

Experiment with the settings on your hardware to get the best picture quality. It won't cost you a penny! It's best to turn down (or totally disable) additional picture processing such as digital noise reduction. This isn't usually needed and can even make images look smeary.

Progressive scan is best for fast moving films and TV programmes, so set players to 720p mode, or 1080p if available. If this doesn't work well on your screen, then try the interlaced mode, 1080i. You can calibrate your TV's picture using optimisation software such as the Video Essentials DVD .