The majority of new TVs produced today can be used to watch high definition and by 2010 81% of television households in the US will have HDTVs according to Kagen Research.

Here is a primer on the basics of HDTV for when you are ready to join the revolution.

What is HD?
High-Definition is the top of the line, all digital format for broadcasting and viewing TV programming. With HD, you see images at a higher resolution than you have ever viewed on a home screen before. This clarity is delivered in a crystal clear, widescreen format, with CD quality sound: as if a movie theater was dropped in your living room. HD is the future available today.

ABC will not charge you to receive the improved quality high definition programming, but you will need a TV capable of displaying high definition signals.

What are the key benefits of HD?

  • Picture Resolution
    HD has the best quality digital picture available. Resolution is a measure of picture sharpness.
    • Traditional standard definition analog televisions have about 330 lines of resolution.
    • VCRs have about 240 lines of resolution, which is why VHS recordings don’t look as sharp as the original broadcast.
    • DVDs offer higher resolution than VCRs or standard definition TV, typically on the order of 480 lines of resolution.
    • HD offers at least 720 lines of resolution, which is at least twice that of analog television. You can expect razor sharp images from HD.
  • Aspect Ratio
    This is the most obvious difference between HD and other television signals. HD introduces the home viewer to a wider rectangle perspective compared to the smaller square field of older TVs. Most older televisions were manufactured to receive a 4 by 3 aspect ratio. HD signals are sent in a 16 by 9 aspect ratio, mimicking the wide scope of movie theatre screens. The aspect ratio makes for a more immersive and intense viewing experience. With HD, you actually see more of what you are watching: you see further out to the side as you watch a sunset over a lake, the entire stage of the Academy Awards, and you see added feet up to the full defensive line formation as you watch a football game. After watching HDTV, many viewers consider the limited view of a standard television signal to be "cut off" and incomplete.
  • Digital Sound
    Just as your CDs sound better than your old audiocassette tapes, HD’s digital audio sounds significantly better than standard television’s analog sound. Some HD programs include Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Properly decoded, each audio track can be sent to a different speaker, creating a three-dimensional sound field in your living room. Many of ABC’s prime time programs contain Dolby Digital surround sound for your listening pleasure.

What do I need to receive HD?
ABC will continue to broadcast our quality programming in standard definition as well as HD, but if you want to experience high-definition you will need three things:

  1. Television: You must have an HDTV-capable monitor which includes a built-in high definition tuner or an HDTV-ready television which requires an external tuner to watch HDTV. Both types of sets require either an off-air antenna and/or an HD set top box available from your cable or satellite provider.

    HDTV television technology is available in a variety of different set types, from super slim Plasmas and LCDs, to dependable "box" CRTs. Screen sizes are increasing and prices are dropping, so visit your local electronics store to pick an HDTV that fits your taste, space and budget.

  2. HD Programming: HD is available from over-the-air broadcast networks, as well as your cable or satellite provider.
    • Over-the-air broadcast requires the use of an antenna pointed in the direction of the broadcaster’s tower, a free option with the proper tuner to decode the digital signal.
    • If you receive programming via cable or satellite contact your provider for the high definition tuner (set top box) you will need to receive HD.
  3. Tune to the correct channel: If you are using an over-the-air antenna to access HD, then you can tune to your regular channel to watch HD. On cable and satellite, HD channel numbers are typically different than your regular standard definition channel. For example, viewing ABC in New York City requires tuning to "channel 7"; but viewing ABC in HD requires tuning to channel 707 on Time Warner cable and channel 86 on DirecTV. Consult your cable or satellite provider for a list of HD channels, and the quality difference will be unmistakable.

Just because you see the "Available in HD" logo on the bottom of your screen, doesn’t mean you’re getting the full HDTV experience. Make sure you have an HDTV set and tuner, and are tuned to the correct HDTV channel.

Please see the attached list of those cities where ABC HD programs are available.

What can I watch in HD?
ABC was the first broadcast network to showcase HD, back on November 1st, 1998 with "101 Dalmatians". The list has been growing ever since. Movies, dramas, sit-coms, action packed sporting events such as Saturday Night College Football, NBA Finals, the Little League World Series, and Good Morning America, are some of the programs that you will see in HD. Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and all your favorite ABC shows look better with a wider, clearer, more brilliant view. We are happy to bring you the opportunity to enjoy your favorite shows even more.

What are the different HD formats and how do they affect me?
ABC was on the forefront of HD programming when we decided to deliver our programming in the HD format of 720p resolution. The 720p format uses progressive scanning, just like your computer monitor. Progressive scanning offers crystal clear images as it virtually eliminates the scanning lines that are visible on most large screen televisions.

Regardless of the HD format being broadcast, all HDTVs – by law – will convert all signals so they can be viewed by your new HDTV display.

How quickly will this new technology become obsolete?
The transition from standard definition analog television to high-definition has been compared to the transition of black and white to color television: HDTV is expected to become the new standard. The government mandated a conversion from the current analog airwaves in the early 1990s to a much improved, efficient digital delivery system that is taking shape today. Televisions being sold are capable of displaying the digital signals produced by broadcasters like ABC.

The federal government (through the Federal Communications Commission) mandated that all TV signals will be delivered by the year 2009 when the analog spectrum will be turned off. (The actual date is currently set for 2/17/2009). Digital signals are transmitted using computer code — ones and zeroes — which means they are less susceptible to interference and provide a higher quality picture and sound than analog.

Is all digital TV the same?
All digital TV is not equal.

‘DTV’ offers an improved experience over analog TV signals, but for the best quality available, broadcasters and consumers request HDTV, which is the top of the line quality of digital delivery described above.

DTV comes in three levels of picture quality, as described below:

  • Standard Definition TV (SDTV): Basic digital television transmission that may be displayed with fewer than 480 progressively scanned lines (480p) in 16×9 (widescreen) or 4×3 format. 480 interlaced (480i) is the quality of today’s analog TV system.
  • Enhanced Definition TV (EDTV): A better digital television transmission than SDTV with at least 480p in a 16×9 or 4×3 display and Dolby digital surround sound. 480p is the quality used by most DVD players.
  • High Definition TV (HDTV): The best quality digital picture, 16×9, widescreen display with at least 720 progressively scanned lines (720p) or 1080 interlaced lines (1080i) and Dolby digital surround sound. (Consumer Electronics Association) The ABC Television Network, ESPN and the majority of the ABC local stations have selected 720p for HDTV as the new standard of choice. Blu-ray, which is the new high definition optical disc format supported by the Walt Disney Company uses 1080p, or 1080 progressively scanned lines.