Tuning Fork

What's this 1080p Stuff?

By Brian L. Clark
Ok, so I admit to sometimes being caught in a time warp. Last week, for example, I referred to Bonjour, Apple s open, standards-based networking technology as Rendezvous, or what it used to be called.

My bad.

The truth is, Bonjour is designed to help discover services available on a local network or, in Apple s words, automatically connect electronic devices on a network, allowing them to interoperate seamlessly without any user configuration. You might even say rendezvous.

Now that that s out of the way, it s time to get to this week s subject: Why don t I notice a significant qualitative difference between 1080p and 1080i?

The marketing minions have been working overtime lately, pitching the wonders of televisions featuring 1080 progressive lines of resolution (1080p). Translated to English, that s 1080 lines of vertical resolution, with 1920 pixels on each line. Based on what those minions have told me, 1080p will not only change my life, it will future proof my HDTV purchase. After all, since it s true HD, it stands to reason the picture on these sets should blow me away.

Whatever.

Last week I mentioned I had done some work for a PR firm that promoted digital entertainment products. One of those products was a 1080p DLP projection set a 65-inch monster bigger than most of the rooms in my house. I remember the first time I was to see one of these babies in action: It was prior to a tradeshow last year and I was truly excited about the possibilities, especially since I was intimately familiar with the product messaging. So imagine my disappointment when, for the life of me, I could not notice a qualitative difference between that award-winning 1080p set and a good 1080i set.

That s not to say there isn t one. I just couldn t see it. And yes, the TV was being fed true 1080p content via a modified box under the table. But I honestly didn t notice much difference certainly not enough to justify the $1,000+ premium on the price of the TV. So I began to wonder: Could 1080p be for videophiles the same way Super Audio CD or DVD Audio is for audiophiles? Could it be that a very large segment of the population, including me, did not have good enough vision to really notice a difference? I called an expert to find out.

If you re a normal HDTV viewer, you re probably sitting three to five times the screen height from the TV, says Edward M. Milbourn, engineer, retired manager of Advanced Television Systems Planning with Thomson Electronics and current CE industry consultant. At that distance, he says, it s almost impossible to tell the difference between 1080p and 1080i.

Why? Because, Milbourne says, the human eye can t discern either scan lines or artifacts at that distance. As you get closer, those things become more evident. But remember what your mother always said about sitting too close to the TV.

Sure 1080p is better if you re using the screen for precise apps like, say, surgery or if you plan on using your very expensive TV to stare at a lot of still pictures. But for the most part, when manufacturers tell you 1080p is the greatest thing since the Hoola Hoop and a fantastic way to future-proof your TV purchase, they re just blowing smoke up your arse. In fact, according to Milbourn, From a home entertainment standpoint, 1080p is absolutely not worth the extra money.

Touch .

Brian L. Clark is a reporter and consultant on all things digital, runs the The Tech Enthusiast s Network, and writes for Money, Men s Health, and Laptop. Read more Tuning Fork here.