Amit Paranjape’s Blog

High Definition Television (HDTV) Overview / HDTV in India

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on March 20, 2010

HD vs. Standard Resolution Comparison (image credit: Wikipedia)

   

(NOTE – To see a better impact of the comparison above, please go to the higher resolution image:    

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/HD_vs_SD_resolutions.png)      

Modern day High Definition Television (HDTV) began in Japan in the 1980s and in US/Europe in 1990s, but didn’t really get traction there and globally until the beginning of decade. As recently as 2002, there were only 3-4 ‘HD’ channels available in U.S. and even those had fairly limited HD Programming. I was one of the early adopters of HD (HD Ready TV and Set-Top Box Service Provider) in US in 2003. American Football (NFL) was one of the first sports to start airing some games in High Definition. Fast forward to present, and dozens (if not 100s) of HD channels are now available in the US. The old analog over-air broadcast technology has been long out of favor, compared to digital broadcasts through cable and satellite providers.             

HDTV has to be seen to be believed! Quantitatively it has over 5 times the resolution of normal TV. Qualitatively, its amazing! Today in India, HDTV coverage is still in a very nascent stage and in this blog post, I will make an attempt to provide an overview of the core technology, HD Ready TVs & Production/Distribution Equipment (hardware), and last, but not the least TV Programming (content).             

Transitioning from regular TV to HDTV is almost like the quantum jump felt by people in India when we transitioned from Black & White to Color Television in the 1980s! Myopics can understand this analogy the best: Remember when you get a new pair of glasses that corrects the power of you vision by 1-2  – how things look exceedingly crisp and clear for the first few days! You suddenly realize the vision sharpness you were missing. Well… watching HDTV for the first time is that kind of experience. Suddenly you realize that green patch on the ground that you are seeing on the TV  has distinct blades of grass..with dew drops. That huge stadium filled with blurry crowds are distinct faces…. That color complexion on a face is actually a freckle…that there is actually some small text written on that bottle in the kitchen.. that you couldn’t read before… I can go on and on with the examples..but I think you get the point!             

Unlike great progress made in areas like mobile phones, etc… India has been lagging the developed world in High Def TV. But there are some good signs of hope on the horizon.             

What is HDTV?             

HDTV stands for ‘High Definition TV’. TV resolution is usually measured in ‘lines’ (only recently did the notion of ‘pixel’ arrive…). Over the past 8 decades, TV images have been ‘created’ by scanning an electron beam onto a phosphorus-like material coated screen, to create lines at a fast rate to create a ‘picture’. These traditional TVs are also referred to as ‘CRTs’ (Cathode Ray Tube). Note that the human eye has an ‘inertia’ for image processing and if an image projected on the screen (principle used in motion picture) or scanned lines on a TV screen, change with a frequency of greater than 0.1 sec, then we ‘see’ a  ‘moving’ image. Traditional TV standards consist of pictures between 400-600 lines (Different Color Systems globally are a bit different: PAL that is used in India and in many EU countries uses 540 lines. NTSC used in North America uses 480 lines, etc.). Also note that in the 1930s, given the limitation of analog bandwidth and technology, a decision was made (that has stuck over all these years!) to go for a picture aspect ratio of 4:3. This was much ‘squarer’ than the 35 mm film aspect ratio in those days.             

HDTV changed the aspect ratio back to a more wide-angle movie like format to 16:9. The HDTV format has 1080 interspersed lines. (I will get into the 1080i vs 1080p discussion a bit later). With double the lines and greater ‘aspect ratio’ – the resolution of HDTV becomes much better than that of the conventional 480i(NTSC)/540i(PAL) 4:3 TV. In fact newer advances in HD (1080p, etc.) are realizing the dream of having motion picture level image quality on a TV Screen.             

What is 480i/540i/720p/1080i/1080p?             

Before I discuss the technology details, let me just say that its a sad sight to see all these HD Ready LCD TVs in Indian Stores/Homes with no HD Content! Think of Color TV Sets (actually this did happen in parts of India in the 1980s..) with Black & White Programming?!  I also get the same feeling seeing the fancy 6 cylinder BMWs/Audis/Mercs being driven on Indian Roads at 20kmph..but then thats a topic of a separate blog post :)             

As discussed earlier, in the old CRT TV set technology (540i for PAL, 480i for NTSC), lines were scanned by the electron beam. To reduce the bandwith requirement, a decision (again..many decades back) was made to scan the lines in an ‘interlaced’ fashion – in one pass only alternate lines are scanned 1-3-5…-537-539 and in the other pass 2-4-6…-538-540. This happens so fast that the viewer sees the full picture. But the resolution of this picture is approximately 1/2 of what it would have been if all the 540 lines were scanned simultaneously.  The HD standard of 1080i lines implies that the twice the number of lines are scanned in an interlaced manner. A new scanning approach that evolved with HDTV was that of ‘Progressive Scanning’. Here, all the lines are scanned in the same pass. Thus roughly speaking, a 540p scanned image is analogous to a 1080i image. (In actual practice, 720p image looks quite close to a 1080i image – and hence true HD is defined as 720p/1080i or higher).             

The first HDTVs were CRTs with a 1080i format (progressive scanning is quite tough in a CRT approach…but much easier in a flat screen where pixels are being used instead of an electron beam). Early LCD and Plasma TVs (until a few years back) didn’t have the necessary pixel count (manufacturing complexities, etc.) to to have 1080 lines vertically. Hence they settled on the 720p HD standard. However in the past few years, 1080p TVs have become common.             

HD TV Sets             

HD or non-HD TV Set? A few years back, this was a choice. Today (even in India) – there’s no choice! Almost all LCD/LED/Plasma/Projection/DLP TVs are HD Ready. Major companies have stopped making non-HD TVs (except in the sub 24inch CRT space…eventually these too would go away). In this section, I will provide a quick overview of the different HD TV Sets.             

CRT: The oldest technology format was used for HD in the 1990s and early 2000s. With a rear projection approach, the first big screen HD (and non-HD) TVs became a reality. However these are now virtually extinct.             

Plasma: Plasma TVs were the first big screen flat TVs to become popular 10 years back. Back then LCDs were not available in big sizes and also refreshed slowly. Plasmas had issues of burn-ins (static image getting burned in permanently onto the screen) and were very heavy (even though they were flat). While Plasma TVs have addressed these issues, they are getting replaced by LCDs.             

LCD: LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) TVs are today the most popular format for HDTVs. They have been able to address their earlier limitations of screen sizes and fast refresh rates, and contrast ratios. Now 1080p is quite common resolution available (1920X1080 pixels).             

LED: LED TVs represent the new exciting developments on top of LCD TVs – offering even brighter displays and contrast rations. With LED TVs – I doubt if there’s any rom left for Plasma TVs.             

DLP: The DLP technology and projection TV technology was developed by Texas Instruments earlier last decade. However, the rear projection screens are not flat and have lost out to LCDs/Plasmas. However DLP is still an excellent technology for HD Projection on big movie screens. In fact all digital motion pictures are being shown in some of the new Digital Theaters around the world using DLP Technology (No Film!).             

               

HD DVD Players             

Just to complete the picture, almost all the modern DVD players are ‘progressive scan’. This means that they deliver an output of 480p or 540p – much better than the 480i/540i standard broadcasts.
What is HD Content? Why is it not available             

Like any new technology, the primary constraints now are economic. Just as when the switch happened from Black & White to Color, the TV Cameras, the Processing, Transmission and Receivers and TV Sets had to change..the same applies for HDTV.             

Creating HD Content needs different higher resolution cameras and transmission equipment. Luckily for us in India, just as non-HD TVs increasingly getting rare, same applies to the Cameras and Studio Equipment as well.             

A big standards battle was being waged for many years in the HD DVD segment. Toshiba led HD-DVD and Sony led Blu-Ray standards went to head to head. This race brought the memories of the VHS vs. BetaMax standards race for the Video-Tape in the 1980s. Eventually Sony Blu-Ray won and is now the established standard for High Def DVDs.             

As I had mentioned earlier, 35mm Motion Picture resolution is close to (in fact a bit higher) than HD as well..so in that sense, every movie is HD Ready  Content. It just needs to be converted into a DVD Format.             

HDTV in India             

As explained earlier, just having a HD TV Set doesn’t buy you anything (well..maybe a little better picture clarity than non-HD TVs..but no where near the 5-10x improvement).  Like any new technology, many satellite TV players were ‘planning’ HD Content in India for the past few years. As an HD enthusiast, I was following this with keen excitement. However it turns out that none of the big players – DishTV, TataSky, Airtel, etc. actually launched HD Content. SunTV became the first one to debut it recently.             

From the point of satellite / cable providers there are two implications. 1.  They need to get HD Content (Chicken-And-Egg problem in India..HDTV not available, hence no good HD Content..). A good workaround option is to go with good international HD Channels that are already available: DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD, etc. 2.  They need to upgrade their processing equipment, satellite feeds and set-top boxes to support HDTV.             

Sun DTH (Direct-To-Home Satellite Provider) provides DiscoveryHD, National Geographic HD and a few other Indian HD Channels (Note – the Indian HD Channels still don’t have a lot of good HD Content..but atleast the vehicle is now there). The big catalyst for HDTV in India, in my view happened earlier this week when SunDTH announced that IPL Games will be available in HD!  I believe with the popularity of Cricket in India – this can be the watershed event for HDTV in India. I think there’s no looking back. The big players of satellite TV will now have to scramble and get their plans in order..and fast!             

I think with the latest TV equipment (cameras,etc.) being  used for coverage of IPL –  they were anyways producing the content in HD. The HD feeds were available for international markets (US/EU/ec.) through local tie-ups. They just had to (I guess..) partner with a local player willing to have the set-top boxes to stream this content to India.             

As a big fan of HDTV, I would definitely thank the IPL and SunDTH for being the pioneers in finally getting HDTV to India!             

               

Useful Links             

   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-definition_television           

http://www.howstuffworks.com/hdtv.htm          

HD broadcast is now available in India through Sun DTH: http://SunDirect.in/HD          

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25 Responses

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  1. Unmesh Mayekar said, on March 20, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Amit – first of all thanks for installing SunHD at your place first :) I had to see it to believe that its true HD. All the satellite company reps tell you that they have digital feeds but you only have to turn the box around and look at the yellow-video cable out to know that its not. Anyway – got myself setup with SunHD and am enjoying watching IPL projected on my 10′ (diagonal) screen from a Panasonic AX200U projector. Understandably, the IPL feed does not have Dolby Digital sound – but the other 2 HD feeds (National Geographic and Discovery) do.

    With all the HD-capable tv’s being sold out there – its good to finally see HD feeds trickle in.

    So when is the “driving BMW’s at 20 kmph” post coming?

  2. Ashok said, on March 22, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Amit,
    Great writeup. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

    A couple of points/questions
    1. Any insight as to why BluRay won over HD? It seemed to me that the other Consumer Electronics companies were backing Toshiba. I was surprised that the BluRay format won. Wonder if it had anything to do with Sony have a large digital content library (MGM, Sony TV etc)…
    2. Digital broadcast of IPL (ie cricket) is the price of entry into the US market. Hope this helps cricket make a breakthrough in the US.

  3. Amit Paranjape said, on March 22, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Ashok, Thanks for your feedback. Regarding Sony led Blu Ray vs. Toshiba led HD DVD – it was a great battle that went on for a long time… Remember following it a bit in the Tech Media from 2004-2007! Quite a few good articles about why Blu Ray won. Here are two interesting ones:
    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2264994,00.asp
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/blu-ray-won-the-battle-now-comes-the-war/

  4. Abhijit Dixit said, on March 22, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Amit,

    Good writeup for getting familiar with HD. It surprises me how India is still so much behind HD, even in satellite world.

    A few notes:

    1. 4:3 Aspect ratio was not decided due to bandwidth limitation , it was because 35mm film almost has 4:3 ratio. Eventually movie industry adapted wide screen formats (1.76:1 and 2.35:1 both using the same 35mm film)

    2. LED TVs are essentially LCD TVS with LED back lighting. They don’t belong in different category as marketing machines wants us to believe. So in your write up, they should be part of LCD TVs and that will help to burst the marketing myth. OLED TVs (currently the technology is in ts infancy ) are the true LED TVS. Laser TV developed my Mistubushi is also another new technology to watch.

    3. Plasmas ,IMO, still look excellent , but main killer for plasma is energy consumption. Plasmas almost consume double energy than LCD

    4. HD TV will not have 1080p resolution in near future (probably never till we move to the next definition :-)) For a while it will be only Blu-Ray or some low bit rate (so called HD) Internet content

    5. It is not just resolution, but bit rate plays equally important role. Low bit-rate 1080p can look worse than high bit rate 480p. Blu ray has 40Mbps, HD TV has around 18Mbps , DVD has 8 Mbps, SD TV has about 3to4 Mbps and some web content dubbed as 1080p has 1.5 Mbps bitrate – take your pick !

  5. Amit Paranjape said, on March 22, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Abhijit – Thanks for the great additions! I will just add my thoughts on #3 – Plasma TVs. Plasmas consume more energy seems like a anti-Plasma campaign that has stuck for nearly 10 years :) . The last place folks would worry about energy consumption of TVs would be U.S. – when A/C and other devices consume 10-100x more energy (in a given month)!.

    Good addition of the bit rate – that is an important point that decides the ultimate picture clarity.

  6. Ramakrishnan said, on March 23, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks Amit. That was a good writeup. I have been watching IPL and Discovery/NGC in HD. You have to see it to believe it. It makes a huge difference. Even though I was reluctant to go for SunDirect due to some poor customer service information I heard, I now don’t feel I did a wrong choice.

  7. Abhijit Dixit said, on March 23, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Amit,

    Energy consumption will be a problem when new California legislature goes into effect in a few years. LED backlighting has greatly reduced LCD power consumption.

    Originally there was a bigger problem with plasmas. Plasmas could easily get burn-ins, but newer 600Hz models don’t have that issue. But the problem sort of almost killed plasma. Gamers stayed away from it. Even today many people have the same perception and they stay away from plasmas.

  8. Amit Paranjape said, on March 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Abhijit – I agree..burn-in was a much more serious problem with earlier Plasmas (I have mentioned this in the original blog post)… and that perception is still probably out there.

  9. thiru said, on August 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    Thanks for the useful post. I’ve got an interesting situation. I got a 46” tv that I got in the U.S (NTSC) and i’ve been using Airtel regular a/v with no issues (except for the 3/4th display of the channels due to the aspect ratio). I recently heard about Airtel’s HD offering and so switched to it by paying some 2k only to find that it doesn’t support NTSC. :(

    I was really surprised that the whole NTSC/PAL issue does exist for HD format as well. While Airtel does convert the regular a/v format to NTSC, it doesn’t do the same for HD.

    So my questions are: Is there a setting that I should do it in my TV to support the PAL HDMI input? Or is there special PAL/NTSC HD converter? I’m really stuck and any help is appreciated. Thanks.

  10. Amit Paranjape said, on August 13, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Thiru,

    Good question. Not sure..maybe someone else here might be able to help.

    I have seen people here in India using the NTSC/PAL converters for standard definition TVs. They seem to be work reasonably well. Try googling for HD NTSC/PAL converters.

    Amit

  11. Krishna G said, on September 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Hi,
    Excellent article giving an insight in the (so confusing) field of LCD TV / HiDef TV broadcasting. I’ve been doing a bit of research on the net and this is the only comprehensive article I’ve seen so far. Especially so with TV manufacturers taking us for a ride with false / incorrect claims. For example some of the (leading) manufacturers state that Full HD TV has 1080i resulution and HD Ready TV has 784p resolution and you would need the more expensive 1080i resolution TV to recieve the (few) HD channels being broadcast by DTH providers in India. Which I know for a fact is crap!.
    You can improve your article by adding this info – i.e difference between Full HD TV and HD-Ready TV.

  12. Amit Paranjape said, on September 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Hi Krishna – Thanks for your feedback.

  13. Rakesh said, on October 31, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I have bought a TV from US -Haier 22″ Class LED-LCD HDTV 1080p 60Hz Slim , HL22XSLW2, White but I believe I have to NTSC to PAL converter to use in India. Now i m in US. Please suggest me which one I have to buy

    Regards
    Rakesh

  14. Amit Paranjape said, on November 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Rakesh – Don’t remember the exact model, but a friend had bought an Altona NTSC-PAL converter (from amazon.com website, I think). Works reasonably well.

  15. Unmesh Mayekar said, on November 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Rakesh – some of the providers here have a settop box capable of outputting to a NTSC tv. e.g. I have a LCD tv which I have hooked up to a ICC cable box. There is an option in the settop box setup menu which allowed me to select NTSC TV Output.

  16. Thiru said, on November 3, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Rakesh:

    What Unmesh said was true, for non-HD channels. I bought a Sony Bravia from U.S and all I had to do was to get the Airtel DTH (or any DTH for that matter). They basically do some internal conversion for NTSC displays. However, it won’t work for HD channels. You need a converter like the Atlona (http://www.amazon.com/Atlona-AT-HD560-HDMI-Converter-1080p/dp/B0011MOVN8 for eg). I have that one and it works like a charm for my Airtel HD.

  17. R. G. Gupta said, on November 27, 2010 at 11:13 am

    A good knowledgeable article. In india, we have 625 line scanning system . Accounting loss of 40 lines in blanking, we get 585 lines. From where do they get the figure of 540 lines. Will you kindly clarify this point. Thanks.

    RG Gupta

  18. Amit Paranjape said, on November 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for your comment. Had read somewhere that PAL had 540 lines; but I think you are correct (I rechecked here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PAL )

  19. Raj Chakravorty said, on June 25, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Thanks! An excellent article relevant even after a year.

  20. Amit Paranjape said, on June 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Raj, Thanks for your feedback.

  21. Meghan Ranade said, on June 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Great write up Amit, almost covers everything , perhaps would be good to know how the impact of viewing angle differs in these technologies like Plasma vs LCD etc. Also, what is the recommended size of the screen for a room.

  22. Sofian said, on October 23, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Very informative….!!! Still confused though
    I have a 1080p full HD LCD, do i do for normal d2h service or HDTV in India?
    Do it make any difference in audio and video quality?

  23. Amit Paranjape said, on October 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    If you take HDTV service and checkout any of the HDTV channels (few available with many of the D2H providers..) – you will notice a big difference in picture as well as sound quality.

  24. Rajesh said, on January 16, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Very helpful write up, Amit.
    Could you pl. give some more info on aspect ratio? I have a confusion that we see an image on a routine CRT in 3:4 ratio. Does it mean that the original format of image being relayed is 3:4?

    a) If the original format is 3:4, then viewing it on 16:9 would definitely distort its original dimensions.
    b) If the original format is not 3:4; Do we miss a strip of image on both sides (left & right)?

    How HD has changed the aspect ratio? I mean we cannot change the ratio of any picture just be enhancing the resolution of image.

  25. Ramki said, on January 18, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    A) if original formal is 3:4 then on a hd tv with 16:9 aspect ratio you will see stretched image. This is the case for most of the SD channels you see in HDTV. Else you can use letter box mode to retain original aspect ratio, but it may produce image burn in.
    B) If you are seeing 16:9 image in 3:4 screen, you will loose some part of the image. But most of these image is shown in horizontal letter box mode which retains most part with black stripes on top and bottom to fill the screen.


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