Are you watching HD TV?

Posted on: 26 April 2010 by Mark O'haire

Have you set up your HD TV properly? Millions of Britons haven't. Rob Clymot takes a look at the bigger picture and explain how to hook up your TV to HD.

When arriving home from work to a house in a typical UK suburban street, you tend to see very similar scenarios. People are washing their cars, mowing the lawn or, and this is probably more likely, sitting in the lounge watching an enormous widescreen telly.

So the news story about how millions of us Brits are missing out the enjoyment of true high-definition TV really struck a chord. I heard a couple of the neighbours chatting about it as they put the bins out. From their musings, it seems a genuine high-def experience is proving rather elusive.

One of them was clearly more than a bit miffed at shelling out for an 'HD-Ready' telly only to discover he was watching EastEnders via a traditional signal and getting a less impressive picture as a result. Leaning on their wheelie bins, the pair in question looked flummoxed as they read out the excited headline from the daily paper.

Millions are missing out

The frothy news story came from a poll conducted by the British Video Association (BVA) of 9,500 TV viewers. It revealed that, while millions of us have paid out for high-tech tellies, set-top boxes and all the rest of the gubbins needed to enjoy HD entertainment, in many cases it's not set up properly.

Buying the kit is one thing, but plumbing it in correctly is the last, but vital, link in the chain. The BVA reckons more than six million of us assume we're watching high-definition television pictures when in reality we're not. My neighbours sound like they're adding to those statistics, much to their chagrin.

The same poll estimates 55% of UK households have already gone down the HD route, which is encouraging. Unfortunately, the BVA survey also revealed that, of the 30% of those who reckoned they could watch high-def or enjoy Blu-ray discs, barely half had correctly connected the set-top box or disc player.

Hooking up

The neighbours' anxiety was enough to make me go back inside the house and pick through the mass of cables in our front room, just to make sure I wasn't adding an unwanted boost to those BVA statistics. Thankfully, everything was in order round at our place, but things are clearly not so hunky-dory three doors down. So what exactly does it take to get the most from your HDTV?

It's not that difficult to enjoy high-definition viewing, but you do have to make sure your setup meets the requirements. Work through a simple checklist and you can quickly find out whether you're already up and running with the genuine article, or actually watching a traditional analogue signal but on a very expensive screen.

Buying the TV is the easy bit; just make sure you've got a compatible model. The HD-Ready logo appears on pretty much all new televisions now. To watch HD programmes on it, you'll need to sign up with an HD provider like Sky or Virgin, or get a high-definition set-top box (available from the likes of Freeview and Freesat).

Regardless of who you sign up with, you have to follow the set-up instructions by the book to ensure output settings from the set-top box are correctly relayed to the TV.

Simple steps

Most important is to ensure the plumbing for your various devices is correct. An HDMI cable is essential when properly connecting a set-top box or Blu-ray player to an HD telly.

Once you're set up, you'll need to make sure you're actually watching a high-definition channel, such as BBC HD. Sky currently has the most available HD channels, Virgin Media offers a reasonable selection while the Freeview and Freesat route is rather less well served but is growing all the time.

Finally, and falling under the 'blindingly obvious' category is the silly stuff. For example, if you're using a high-definition Blu-ray disc player to watch movies then you'll need to play Blu-ray discs on it, to get the benefit. Play a DVD and, although it will look good, you will not be seeing full HD. The same goes for gaming: is your console HD capable? The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are; the Nintendo Wii is not.

Is it worth the effort? Well, if you've got a decent telly and have connected everything in the right fashion then you'll certainly be able to see the difference. TV programmes come alive, movies take on an added dimension and games are something else. Going back to a non-HD scenario soon seems unthinkable. And that's something my neighbours will - hopefully - soon find out for themselves.

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