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Holiday Tech Guide: Digital TV

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Phillip Swann
President and CEO, TVPredictions.com
Tuesday, December 11, 2007; 1:00 PM

Wondering which TV to buy for the holidays? Confused about the difference between LCD and Plasma televisions, or Blu-ray and HD DVD discs?

Join Phillip Swann, president and CEO of TVPredictions.com, Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 1 p.m. ET for a live discussion about the latest HDTV news and the transition to digital TV in 2009.

The transcript follows.

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Bowie: Is there a plan to reduce the environmental impact of the simultaneous abandonment of tens (hundreds?) of millions of suddenly obsolete TVs?

Phillip Swann: Sony has actually opened up about 75 TV recycling centers around the country -- and other TV makers will likely follow suit soon. But there is still a big issue here -- what to do with all those TVs.

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Chandler, Ariz.: I am in the process of buying a new hdtv. I have it narrowed down between 2 tv's the samsung 52 inch, and the sharp aquas 52 inch. both have the 120 hertz, which one do you recommend?

Phillip Swann: I never recommend one brand over another, but more important factors than 120 Hertz are price, picture and model type.

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Fairfax, Va.: Would you describe the difference between Blu-ray Profile v1.0, v1.1,and v2.0? Instead of a stand-alone HD DVD or Blu-ray player, is a combo player the way to go?

Phillip Swann: The combo players are still too pricey for most people, topping out at $999. You can get a 1080i HD DVD player now for under $200 with a Samsung Blu-ray player now at Amazon for $269. Under $500 for both is better than $999 for a combo player, which plays both formats.

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Austintown, Ohio: Hi Phillip, I have had an LCD for about two weeks now and added HD content to my cable service about a week ago. A few HD channels have the "ONE MOMENT PLEASE This channel will be available shortly" message. Also, pixel break up is awful sometimes. I can't recall if the two problems occur with the same channels. Is this "par for the course" for HDTV or should I make my cable company aware. Thanks.

Phillip Swann: Sounds like an issue with your cable company, not the LCD. Contact them.

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Woodbury, Minn.: Will comcast ever catch up with satellite tv with the number of HD channels?? Thanks Swanni, Love the your website. Vince

Phillip Swann: Yes, cable (and Comcast) will catch up -- but it will take most of 2008 to get there. The cable ops, IMHO, spent too much time on the Triple Play and not enough on improving high-def service and lineups. They now realize their mistake.

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Rockville, Md.: What should we expect to have in a good HD setup five years from now? What sort of storage? Discs or computer memory? Is there any chance for a 3D display?

Phillip Swann:3D is coming -- sooner than you realize. Philips says it hopes to have a 3D HDTV on the market in two years.

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Staten Island, N.Y.: I've been following the debate (on your website as well as other forums) over the Digital Switch in early 2009. There is blathering going on about how people who watch OTA won't know that they will lose their picture in 2009 either out of ignorance, confusion or lack of knowledge.

Now, if the Digital Transmission cutoff date is really -only- going to be an issue for those folks who utilize their old(er) TV's for OTA reception (as satellite/cable customers will already be getting/have a digital box for their subscription fee) why can't local stations insert a crawl on the bottom of ALL analog OTA feeds that will smack a viewer RIGHT in the face with regards to losing their viewing capability in 2009.

What am I missing ?!?!

Phillip Swann: As we get closer to the transition date, there will be more urgent messages delivered to viewers on-screen and in other forums. However, people in my industry tend to forget that most consumers are simply not paying attention to this stuff. They have tuned it out for a bunch of reasons. So the transition remains a delicate situation.

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Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada: Hi Mr. Swann:

Do you have any insight on when we can expect either an HD DVD or Bluray DVD recorder to reach North America.

As a short term alternative, I would even be satisfied with a standard definition DVD recorder with a built in hard drive that could record in high definition.

Both of these technologies have either been announced for or are currently available in Japan.

Thank you. Dave

Phillip Swann: They are now in Japan, but would probably be too costly here at the moment. The dual format war is also an obstacle. Why should a manufacturer make a Blu-ray recorder, for instance, not knowing for sure that Blu-ray will be around. That would be a wasted expense.

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Clifton, Va.: I recently purchased a Sony KDS553000 SXRD rear projection. I looked at plasma and LCD but to get the same picture quality in a similar size would cost me twice as much for a 52in Sony XBR LCD and the the Pioneer Elite

60 1080P Elite was almost three times a much.

I didn't need a TV that I could hang on the wall I needed one that has a great picture with great black levels and one that does sport with motion. And this TV amazes me at times with its ability to present a picture I could walk into. It is that good on FIOS HD. Directv HD isn't as good and neither is Cox cable.

Phillip Swann: I keep telling people that the HD picture debate is overrated when it comes to cable vs. satellite vs telco. It's really in the eye of the beholder, but the picture on all three are generally about the same.

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Blue Ray vs. HD-DVD: I know when can buy an upconverting DVD player, but when is this war going to end and who is going to win?

Phillip Swann: I think you will see a single format in 2008 due to pressure from the studios. Not ready to say which one, though.

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Laurel: I'm not much of a TV person. My current set is a seven-year-old 27-incher with rabbit ears, but I do have Comcast.

What's the most-similar replacement among whatever the new requirement is?

Phillip Swann: There are reasonably-priced HDTVs under 30 inches -- reasonably being around $600.

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Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Thanks for the opportunity. We watch TV in a family room that has one small window and secondary light from a nearby sliding glass door to the backyard. And we usually watch TV during the evening with a lamp or two on in the room. With this kind of 'light situation,' would you suggest we're better candidates for a plasma, rather than an LCD set? (The size would be 45" to 50".)

Phillip Swann: LCD generally looks better in a well-lit room while Plasma is better in a darker room.

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Bay Area, Calif.: Submitting early from the West Coast. I just got a new LG flat screen LCD HDTV. I love it. But is it normal for it to take so long to switch between HD and non-HD channels? According to Best Buy, the fault lies with Comcast's sub-optimal, oft-refurbished equipment. True or false?

Phillip Swann: It is normal, but varies depending upon the TV provider.

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Washington, D.C.: Last year I saw several 60-63 inch flat screen tvs and decided that I wouldn't purchase anything smaller than 5 feet- the difference in the impression of the picture between 58 in and 63 in was amazing to me. But this year the stores we go to didn't have 3 or 4 different models over 60 in, they had at best 1 model. What happened? I won't buy a small TV once I saw how good a large one looks.

Phillip Swann: You can find many DLP sets over 60 inches. Tougher to find Plasma and LCD at that size, because they are very pricey when they are that big.

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Woodbury, Minn.: Hey Swanni, Do you have a preference.... Blu Ray or HD DVD? We're getting my son a playstation 3, but with the HD DVD prices so low, I'll probably wind up with both. Is one really better? Vince

Phillip Swann: I have both a Blu-ray and HD DVD player -- I think the picture is identical on both.

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Fairfax, Va.: I remember when buying a tv was easy. Now we have LCD, Plasma, DLP, SXRD, 1080i vs. 1080p, HDMI vs. Component, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, etc., etc. One must do a lot of homework in order to make an educated decision.

Phillip Swann: You are correct -- and the industry is a tough teacher. The industry needs to do a better job of educating people on the various categories and models of high-def.

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Bowie, Md.: Thanks for taking questions. I have a small TV in my kitchen that just gets regular over the air television right now. Or should I say should get over the air television--no matter what antenna we buy, it gets horrible reception. If I invest in a small digital television for that room, along with an digital antenna, will I get better reception? Or should I break down and get cable there?

Phillip Swann: You should get a sharper picture with a digital tv and antenna. However, you will first want to make sure that you will get a good signal from your home. There's a web site that can help with that -- antennaweb.org.

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New York, N.Y.: Why do Time Warner channels take standard definition broadcasts and stretch them to fill the high definition versions of their channels? Called Stretch-O-Vision on the Web, it looks terrible.

Phillip Swann: It's not just Time Warner. The TV providers are just transmitting what's sent to them. TBS, TNT and some other HD channels sometimes broadcast in real high-def, but sometimes stretch standard-def shows so they will fill the screen.

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Arlington, Va.: If you have a HD TV with 1080p resolution, would you be able to tell the difference using an upconverting (to 1080) DVD player with a standard DVD disc in it, vs. a Blu Ray or HD TV DVD player?

Phillip Swann: The Blu-ray or HD DVD player would offer a better picture when displaying a high-def DVD. The upconvert DVD player will improve your standard-def DVD picture, but it won't be HD.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Will people ever want to interact with their TV, or use it like a computer? Will they completely converge? Does clicking on a list of programs made popular by TiVo mean that people will eventually have a preference for all programs on demand instead of linear?

Phillip Swann: Interactive TV is deader than Jimmy Hoffa.

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Guilford, Conn.: Will there be better deals on LCD 1080p televisions now, or after the first of the year?

Phillip Swann: Unlike last year, TV makers are going to hold the line on prices. Today's price will probably be very close to the price of 3-6 months from now.

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Alexandria, Va.: Who's going to win, HD DVD or Blu-Ray?

I predict Blu-Ray, but I also predicted Betamax would prevail over VHS.

Phillip Swann: I have predicted that Blu-ray will win, but it wouldn't surprise me if Sony (Blu-ray's biggest supporter) caved in next year and agreed to endorse HD DVD as the single format. I believe there will be one format next year -- the question is which one.

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Norwalk, Conn.: I live 77 miles from the transmitters of my local stations. Will an over the air outdoor antenna pull in these local hd signals from that distance?

I purchased a Samsung 1080p LCD TV.

My Dish network receiver (model 211) receives 1080i signals. Will I notice this difference?

Phillip Swann:77 miles is a long way, but it's possible with a top-flight rooftop antenna. Only way to know for sure is to try.

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Lexington Park, Md.: NBC 4 recently upgraded all the lighting in the studio for HD. When will they start broadcasting in HD?

Phillip Swann: I'm told that it should be soon. Maybe early next year.

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Tucson, Ariz.: The basic different between Plasma and LCD TV

Phillip Swann: Plasma generally looks better in a dark room while LCD generally looks better in a well lit room. Also, Plasma does a better job of producing black colors and, arguably, sporting events. LCD is probably better for movies.

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Annapolis, Md.: submitting early because of a holiday party - I'm looking for a small tv for our very small family room - I don't think I can fit in anything larger than about 27"-32". I don't want something with a built-in DVD player (just another thing to go wrong), but that's all I seem to find in that size. What should I be looking at?

Phillip Swann: There are HDTVs (without DVDs inside) under 30 inches. Try our department, The Gadget File -- http://www.tvpredictions.com/thegadgetfile

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Chicago, Ill.: Greetings, Are the house brands for the Big Box retailers a good option? I'm looking at the 26" and under LCDs and the prices seem to fluctuate a lot from week to week, but the brands that are only carried by one store seem to be regularly in the bottom of the price range.

Also -- I'm guessing that purchase protection is pretty much required. Am I right?

Phillip Swann: I would not recommend extended warranties for TVs in general. Even with new HDTVs, the lifespan of the set usually exceeds the warranty -- easily.

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Baltimore, Md.: I am a contented subscriber to basic analog cable. My CRT tv works fine and is not taking up too much room in my house. Is there any reason why I should consider buying an HDTV at this time?

Phillip Swann: If you ever see a High-Definition picture, your question will answer itself. It will blow you away.

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Atlanta, Ga.: PS: I have a 720p Pioneer Plasma 50" set. I bought it this time last year. It accepts a 1080p signal. I am using this with DirecTV HD. The picture looks great with some programming. I got a bit lower price than other Pioneers and I thought that the Pioneer did a better job reproducing the SDTV signal on the large screen. Do you think I sacrificed a lot not going with a "True" 1080 TV?

Phillip Swann: No. Most people -- and I mean almost everyone -- can not tell the difference between a 720p and 1080p set picture. And the only programming now available in 1080p are high-def DVDs from Blu-ray and HD DVD.

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Clifton, Va.: Actually Verizon FIOS provides a superior picture and sound than cable or a dish because they have a lot of bandwidth. it isn't compressed like their competitors. Even The Perfect Vision said it was superior.

Phillip Swann: Eye of the beholder, trust me.

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1080P vs. 720P: The Post tech guy (Rob Pegoraro) is not a big fan of 1080P because it doesn't have much current application and you don't see a difference from a standard viewing distance. I don't disagree, but isn't it true that I am seeing a more clear picture on 1080P (as compared to 720P) if I am sitting 6-8 feet (which I like to do) from a 47 inch TV?

Phillip Swann: Rob is right. The difference is not dramatic enough to warrant the price gap. That said, if you're going to get a high-def DVD player, get a 1080p set, assuming you have the extra money.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: I do not have cable and FIOS will not be offered in DC. I don't want cable. My condo association does not allow rooftop antennas. Today I use rabbit ears. What type of TV do I need to buy so that I can continue to receive over the air, free programming after the DTV transition? Will free TV be possible or will I be forced to go to cable?

Phillip Swann: Free TV will still exist after the Digital TV transition in 2009. You can get a Digital TV and attach an antenna.

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Boonsboro, Md.: the prices of HDMI cables are crazy - some are almost $100! Is this something I can shop for on price only, or is there any actual quality difference between brands?

Phillip Swann: HDMI prices vary, but you can get by with a less expensive one. The quality difference is not dramatic.

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Arlington, Va.: Hey Swanni, thanks for doing this chat. Will the big box stores have post Christmas/New Years sales that offer discounts anywhere close to Black Friday?

Phillip Swann: There will be some discounts, but not like last year. TV makers and retailers are determined this year to keep the average TV price as high as possible.

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Rockford, Ill.: How does rear-projection HDTV compare to plasma or LCD HDTV.

Phillip Swann: A rear projection HDTV can give you more bang for the buck. Larger-screen DLPs, for instance, are cheaper than larger-screen LCD or Plasma sets. However, the rear projection set is a bit bulkier so you'll have to concede some style points.

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Arlington, Va.: Swanni, as telcos, cable co's, and satellite co's battle it out for our living rooms, is there a single issue that will dominate? Is HDTV channels the issue for 2008? What about price?

Phillip Swann: Price always matters -- but the high-def audience is wealthier than the average. They want quality and quantity and they are willing to pay extra if necessary. So the TV providers that offer the most high-def channels will benefit.

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Arlington: When will TVs be available that can connect directly to a cable, with no converter or box or any kind required? I understand it will need to be able to accept a "card" of sorts to enable it to be interactive with a cable company's offerings?

Phillip Swann: The CableCard TV is already available. You can get the card itself from your cable company.

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Hanover, Va.: I recently bought an HDTV (got a decent price, too, thanks to the Black Friday sales). I am looking for a good way to get the over-the-air signals for my local channels (I have cable, but would prefer not to spend an extra $6 per month for something that I can get for free). At this point, I'm still undecided about whether to go the indoor/outdoor/in the attic route--a lot may depend on how large the antenna is, how it looks, whether I need electricity for it, etc.

Do you have any recommendations for antennas? Or, at least, things that I should look for as I shop around for antennas?

Phillip Swann: The antenna choice should be based on your proximity to your local stations. Far away? You'll need a rooftop antenna. Close? Might get by with rabbit ears.

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Arlington, Va.:720p Plasmas seem to be dropping in price. Are we seeing a sell-off? And if so, at what point do you think the value exceeds the risk of obsolescence?

Phillip Swann: I have a 58-inch 720p Plasma HDTV -- and the picture is gorgeous. There are some great deals out there on 42-inch Plasma sets. It's not a sell-off entirely, but TV makers are definitely moving to the more expensive 1080p model

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Alexandria, Va.: Okay...I have finally decided to breakdown and get one of these TVs. Santa is real after this gift!! We have a 27 inch TV so anything is improvement. I am not looking for whistles and bells. What do you recommend for a 42 inch or smaller TV? Thanks

Mom who never watches TV with a TV addict family!!!

Phillip Swann: Budget is important here, but if you're willing to spend even $800 or so, you can probably find a Vizio 40-inch LCD. There are some 42-inch Plasmas from Panasonic and others around $1100 at some stores.

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Los Altos Hills, Calif.: Given the lack of 1080p sources except in HD discs, especially the lack of HDMI 1.3 sources, and the comment of @play: the High-Def Decision, why should any one bother to buy either an HD DVD or a BlueRay player now? Also, I have a SONY VPL-VW50 projector (though no HD sources or HDMI output at this point) for movies and sports programs, so my next question is when I replace my current analog TV for over regular TV programs, can I go by with a 736p set? And will it be possible to buy one of those a couple of years from now or do you see everything being replaced by 1080p sets?

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: @play: For High Def, Decision: Impossible (Mike Musgrove, June 24, 2007)

Phillip Swann: Blu-ray and HD DVD offer a great picture. If you're a movie fan, you'll appreciate that exceptional image.

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North McLean, Va.: Hi Swanni! I have heard rumors that there will still be local pirate television stations broadcasting analog even past the deadline. Is there anything to this?

Phillip Swann: Haven't heard that, but nothing surprises me in this industry.

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Chico, Calif.: We recently purchased a 42" Sharp Acquos LCD TV but were only mildly impressed. After a day or two we realized it did not have the PIP/POP feature which we like. So we returned it to our local Costco warehouse store and purchased a Visio 42" LCD with a higher resolution and the PIP feature. We are very happy with it and were able to obtain a free 3-year extended warranty by using our American Express card. The floor person there was telling us how nice it was with his Blu Ray DVD player. Is Blu Ray going to be the leader rather than HD DVD? I am going to wait until later in '08 before buying a player. Thank you.

Phillip Swann: I think 2008 will be the end game for the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD war.

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Hillsboro, Ore.: What is the relative quality of HD transmission on cable vs. DirecTV/Echostar? George

Phillip Swann: About the same, although fans of both would disagree.

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seattle, wash.: What will be the big differences I will experience in 50 inch flat screen TVs if I wait and buy one year from today?

And....what is the optimal distance you recommend watching a flat screen? rob

Phillip Swann: With high-def, you could be as close as 7 feet to a 50-inch set.

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Fairfax, Va.: What is your view on up-converting DVD players? I have seen some advertised for as little as 50 dollars (with HDMI cable!) and wonder if they are worthwhile stopgap until the Great Format War is over.

Phillip Swann: They do improve the picture of a standard-def DVD. I have one and like it. But it's not HD.

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Chicago, Ill.: I subscribe to DirecTV and have an HD Tivo-DirecTV DVR, an "HD-DirecTivo" box. I know DirecTV's new satellite technology will eventually make my HD-DirecTivo obsolete. Are you aware of any discussions between DirecTV and Tivo to offer an updated HD-DirecTivo? If not, has DirecTV disclosed a date when the HD-DirecTivos will no longer function?

Phillip Swann: I'm not betting on a new DIRECTV-TiVo marketing relationship. DIRECTV has invested too much time and money on its own HD DVR.

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Austin, Tex.: I am looking to buy an LCD flat panel TV for my bedroom. I am looking at 40" or better. Which TVs would you recommend? I am also considering plasmas. Any you like?

Phillip Swann: I don't endorse specific models or products -- just provide the info so you can make your own decision. But generally, if the room will be dark when you watch TV, Plasma would be a good choice. If light, go with LCD.

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Reston, Va.: Is there much difference between 720p and 1080p HDTV in a smaller room?

Phillip Swann: Not that you would probably notice it.

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HDMI cables: You can buy them at a bigbox for $100 or get them online for about $10. I'm told that the difference is about $90.

Phillip Swann: Even cheaper at Amazon.

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Reston, Va.: While DirecTV's channel count seems to be inflated with PPVs and regional sports channels, do you think they will continue to be the HD authority in 2008?

Phillip Swann: Yes, but the competition for that crown will increase. Verizon has promised 150 HD channels by the end of 2008, for instance.

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Phillip Swann: Also, this article below can be helpful in choosing the right TV for you:

http://www.tvpredictions.com/test110607.htm

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Blue Ray vs. HD-DVD: It would be nice, but what's your basis for believing that this battle will end in 2008?

Phillip Swann: The studios are tearing their hair out over this format war. They ultimately have the most power in this situation so I think they will force a single format.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Hi Phillip: I am familiar with your conclusions on the quality between providers of HDTV.

I sometimes get a "gap" or jump in the audio on DirecTV. I also notice that on some material in HD the slo motion setting on the dvr results in obvious hiccup between frames where they are different, while other content the slow motion is very smooth. Sometimes I get pixelation during sports events like hoops. Do any of these things have to do with compression? Aren't there other problems that are noticeable from compression other than the actual lines of resolution?

Thanks!

Phillip Swann: Compression can be a reason, but so can the original transmission source.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Does "HDTV Light" as it is referred to by viewers of compressed HD, mean fewer frames, fewer lines, or just standard compression where the identical pixel information is removed where redundant?

Phillip Swann: It refers to when a cable or satellite provider compresses the picture, which reduces quality but makes room for more channels.

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Phillip Swann: Thanks everyone for joining us today. And be sure to come over to TVPredictions.com for more high-def news and reviews!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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