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HDTV Basics

HDTV Basics

New to the world of high-definition television? This page helps to answer some of the most commonly asked HDTV questions.

Should I choose plasma, LED, LCD or OLED?

Having trouble deciding which flat-panel TV is right for you? Here are some features to consider:

Plasma TVs:

  • A great choice if you like to watch TV in dark or dimly lit rooms
  • 600Hz screen refresh rate makes them perfect for fast-moving action, sports and video games
  • Produces deep blacks, as well as rich, bright colors
  • Wide viewing angle, so more people can watch without losing picture quality
  • Although it's the least energy-efficient TV technology, plasma TVs have improved greatly in this area


  • A great choice if you like to watch TV in well-lit rooms. They also perform well in dim lighting.
  • Produces plasma-like deep blacks and rich, bright colors
  • Many models have ultra-slim panels for a sleek look and easier wall mounting
  • Wider viewing angle than LCD TVs, so more people can watch without losing picture quality
  • Highly energy-efficient TV technology


  • A great choice if you like to watch TV in well-lit rooms
  • Available in the widest range of sizes (plasma TVs are not available under 42" class)
  • More energy efficient than plasma TVs per square inch


  • Can recreate every color in the visible spectrum for superb color accuracy
  • Very fast refresh rates for blur-free action sequences
  • Extremely wide viewing angle, so more people can watch without losing picture quality
  • Highly energy-efficient, as OLED TVs produce their own light and require no backlighting
  • Panels can be made very thin and lightweight
Shop by type: Plasma TVs | LED TVs | LCD TVs | OLED TVs

What do 4K, 1080p and 720p mean?

These are all measurements of vertical resolution. A digital television picture is made up of hundreds of lines of visual information, one line stacked on top of another. "Vertical resolution" refers to the total number of visible lines counted from the top of the TV screen to the bottom. Every 720p HDTV has 720 visible lines; every 1080p HDTV has 1,080 visible lines.

The latest advancement, 4K Ultra HD TV, has 2,160 visible lines (double the vertical resolution of 1080p). It also has double the number of lines measured horizontally from edge to edge (3840, vs. 1920 for a 1080p HDTV) — resulting in a picture with four times the total resolution of 1080p. (The "4K" in the name reflects an approximation of the horizontal resolution.)

When choosing an HDTV, the important thing to remember is the greater the resolution, the greater the picture definition. That's because there are more lines of information, so the level of detail can be that much more precise.

4K Ultra HD TVs represent the highest resolution and, thus, the new standard in picture clarity. 1080p HDTVs are ideal for 1080p content, like Blu-ray movies. For regular TV programming, a 720p HDTV will give you solid performance.

Shop by resolution: 4K Ultra HD | 1080p | 720p

What is HDMI and why is it important?

HDMI carries both the picture and sound on one convenient cable, which means your home theater setup can be much simpler and cleaner using HDMI connections.

Even better, it is an all-digital cable and the best connection available for your HDMI-ready home theater components. The more HDMI inputs your HDTV has, the more components you'll be able to connect directly.

What are smart TVs (and smart devices)?

Smart TVs can connect to your Internet signal for a world of instant entertainment on your screen, including streaming movies, videos and music.

For HDTVs that aren't "smart," you can still connect them to a home network using smart Blu-ray players, home theater systems, set-top boxes, specialized audio products or gaming systems (available content varies by device).

You will only need one smart TV or device to get instant entertainment, although having multiple products will likely give you a wider range of services to choose from. There are also advanced smart features, like an intergrated web browser and multimedia search, which are only available within select smart TVs and devices.

Instant Entertainment

Along with an Internet connection, almost all smart TVs and devices can deliver a wide range of instant entertainment to your HDTV (through specialized apps). Available content differs from product to product, but a few of the possibilities include:

  • Streaming movies from Netflix (subscription required) and CinemaNow
  • Streaming music from Pandora and SiriusXM
  • Watching videos from YouTube
  • Accessing Facebook and Twitter
  • Studying your fantasy sports info
  • Reading news, weather and sports

Web Browser

A select list of smart products provide a Web browser that allows you to directly access the Internet without the use of apps. Search for and type in content online using your HDTV, just as you do with your computer.

Multimedia Search

A select list of smart devices can combine your TV channels, compatible DVR, apps, the Internet and your home network into one searchable experience (capabilities vary by device). For example, you can type in the name of a TV program, movie or subject, hit search, and quickly see the time and channel it's on, plus any related video content that's available on the Internet.

Learn more in our smart TVs and devices FAQs.

Do I get HD programming as soon as I turn on my new HDTV?

cable and satellite services

Actually, if this is your first HDTV, you'll need to upgrade your cable
or satellite TV package to include HD service (which may increase your
monthly bill). Without an upgrade, you'll only be able to watch
standard-definition programming.

If you need cable or satellite service, we can help get you signed up:

After I add HD service, will all my channels be in HD?
No, you will have both HD and standard-definition channels to choose from. You should notice a significant difference in picture quality when switching between the two.

Please note: Within some HD channels, not all programs have been recorded by HD cameras. To find content that has been filmed in HD, look for a mark like "HD" in the description field of your on-screen programming guide. As for the content on an HD channel that doesn't have an "HD" marking, it will still look superior to any standard-definition content.

Will all programs be in widescreen once I have HD?
Not necessarily. HD programming should automatically appear in widescreen format. However, standard-definition programs may appear in the square 4:3 box you were used to seeing on your old tube TV. You can adjust your HDTV's aspect ratio settings and stretch an 4:3 image in the following ways:

4:3 image on your old tube TV
Stretch the 4:3 image to fill the screen
Stretch the 4:3 image into a widescreen 16:9 view
4:3 image on
your old tube TV
Stretch the 4:3 image
to fill the screen
Stretch the 4:3 image into
a widescreen 16:9 view

Please note: Changing these settings can distort or cut off portions of your picture, so choose the standard-definition content display that appeals to you the most.

Have other questions? Get them answered here.


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