06 Dec 2016

How to (unintentionally) make HD look like SD

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Now, imagine all those bricks are also TV screen... Now, imagine all those bricks are also TV screen... Shutterstock

One of the unforseen problems for many people when buying a very big TV is that, if you don’t have a good video source, then the pictures can look awful. And network television is not always a good video source.

It’s very tempting these days to buy a big television. They’re cheaper than ever, and you can pretty much buy a 4K TV for the same price as a mere HD TV from a year ago. 4K really needs a big TV, and even then you have to sit close to it to reap the benefits of that increased resolution.

If you do take the plunge and install a big TV in your living room, and if you hook it up to a good 4K source, like 4K Blu-ray, then it will look glorious.

But there’s a downside to having a very big TV. It’s that if you don’t have a good video source, then the pictures will look terrible.

I stayed in an Airbnb in Boston recently. It was a fantastic place: completely new and very nicely furnished. And it had a big TV. I’m not sure exactly how big - it was somewhere between 75” and 84”. And the sofa was close enough to the set that it seemed just about as big as a cinema screen.

We didn’t have access to any 4K content unfortunately, but we were able to see some high quality HD material. It looked OK: a little soft but that’s not surprising given that we were sitting so close to such a big screen.

But then we turned to a network TV channel. It looked awful, despite being HD resolution.

And the reason was: compression.

Not all HD sources are equal. HD from a Blu-ray disc looks pretty good, even on a 4K set. But anything that’s been more severely compressed is going to look bad on a large screen. There was no getting away from it: once you’d seen it, you couldn’t unsee it.

Even from across the room it still looked bad.

So this is a cautionary tale. If you’re thinking of buying a very large TV and you’re planning on sitting close to it - as you have to do for 4K, then make sure your sources are good, or be prepared to watch a lot of terrible pictures.

This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon. It might be (and of course this is only in an ideal world) that the best approach is to have one room with a moderately sized TV to watch everyday stuff, and another, with a very large TV, that is used only with very good quality sources.

Or you could just go to the cinema.

 


David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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