Tip for choosing a High Definition TV: see how it copes with standard definition

I’ve spent the last couple weeks choosing a high definition LCD TV, and in doing so I’ve been chatting to a lot of sales staff in different stores. Interestingly, a few have admitted to me that returns of HDTVs are quite common due to the picture quality.

Why? It’s because in most shops they demonstrate the TVs using high definition video. Most HDTVs look great when displaying HD video. The thing is, when you get the TV home, you are probably going to be watching standard definition most of the time. So for a normal person, the real test for an HDTV is to see how well it copes with standard definition.

Good HDTVs actively compensate for the poor resolution and video compression artefacts you get with standard definition content and make standard definition look a lot better than it really is (Digital freeview in the UK is particularly overcompressed). Bad HDTVs don’t do any of this, and can actually emphasise the shortcomings of standard definition.

Moral of the story: when choosing an HDTV, ask the sales assistant to switch the video feed to standard definition content, and look closely and the differences in quality between TVs. You’ll notice that on some of the cheaper sets the picture quality will become shockingly bad, while on the pricier sets, the picture quality is passable at standard definition.