Blu-ray vs. Upconverted DVDs, TV Antennas and 2009 Digital TV Transition, converter boxes

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 36, 2007
Q: Is there much of a difference in picture quality between, say, the Oppo 1080p upconverting DVD player and one of the two actual HD (Blu-ray and HD DVD) players? I know one plays/up converts “regular” DVD’s and the other plays actual “HD” DVD’s. I have a 40 inch 1080p LCD television and am ready to replace my Toshiba DVD player with something a little better. But from what I know it may be best for me to wait until the HD DVD/Blu-ray war is over and a clear leader is named. It all takes me back to the days of VHS/ Beta. I would hate to spend a lot of money on one format only to find out it isn’t the winner in the end.
Jim Bauer
Bloomington, IL

A: First of all, at a relatively small 40 inch screen size you are unlikely to tell a difference between a 1080i signal or a 1080p signal. Both will look fantatstic.

When playing regular DVDs, there would be little if any difference between them because they all upconvert standard DVDs, though the feature is not touted as much on the HD DVD and Blu-ray players. Playing a HD DVD or Blu-ray disc will give a superior picture compared to an upconverted DVD. This is because an upconverted DVD is not truly high definition. What an upconverting DVD player does is match the resolution of the DVD to the TV so the picture is as clean as possible. As you seem to know already, the HD DVD and Blu-ray discs contain true high definition material that has several times the detail of a standard DVD. The larger the screen, the more the difference will stand out.

Waiting may be the most prudent course for many, but at the current price points I think it is relatively safe to test the waters with HD DVD if you are curious about high-def movies on a disc.  At $299 retail the entry-level Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player is a pretty good buy. Even if Blu-ray wins out over time you still can play the HD DVDs you already own and the HD-A2 is an outstanding upconverting player. It retails for $299 but available for less if you shop around, and they currently have a promotion that includes five free discs. When you take that into acccount it is priced about the same as the Oppo.  The HD-A2 is 1080i not 1080p, but again, do not let that bother you… check my blog for 1080p vs. 1080i articles to learn why. Besides it not being that big of a deal at smaller screen sizes, the 1080p step-up model of the Toshiba, the HD-A20, converts a 1080i signal internally to 1080p so it really does not perform any better than the 1080i HD-A2.

Q: My TV system consists of a TV, VCR, and DVD player connected to a rotating roof antenna. When things change in 2009, will I need to get a new antenna or just a converter box to watch broadcast TV? Will my current VCR and DVD player, or a DVD/VCR combo work with the antenna and converter box?

Jack Stoken
West Mifflin, PA.

A: As long as your antenna receives UHF signals, you will be fine as most digital TV is broadcast on UHF channels. Any VCR or VCR/DVD combo will work with the converter box’s analog outputs. The DVD player will be unaffected as it does not receive signals from the airwaves.

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