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Digital age of TV is already here.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

The digital video age is already upon us, but when some of us techno-phobes hear about digital TV and high definition TV and HD-ready TV, we cover our ears and run from the room.

Here's all you really need to know.

The old analog TV signal - the one that occasionally arrives somewhat garbled with snow or ghost images - is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

While broadcasters are continuing to transmit the analog signal, most are also transmitting a digital signal, too.

The Federal Communications Commission has pushed for this change because digital transmission is more efficient. It frees up the broadcasting airwaves, allowing the government more space for emergency transmissions by police, fire departments and other public safety services.

The FCC wants all stations broadcasting digitally by 2006, or when 85 percent of the homes in a given market are able to view digital programming. Congress may revise that plan, delaying conversion to 2009. But it will happen.

Meanwhile, here in Eugene, digital TV is a reality. All but one of the local stations are broadcasting a digital signal.

The switch has scared a lot of TV buyers, says Ryan Salerno, a salesman at Bradford's Home Entertainment.

People get confused about whether their old TV sets or their new purchases will work, Salerno says.

"It's important to stress that it's going to work no matter what you get," he says.

Even people who stick with their old analog sets still will be able to watch television with a tuner that decodes the digital signal.

And people don't need cable or satellite to get digital. They can pick it up over an old-style analog antenna - the proverbial "rabbit ears" a lot of us grew up with, as long as they have a digital tuner.

But digital TV comes in more than one flavor and the kind you'll hear about while shopping for televisions - high-definition TV or HDTV - offers viewers a higher resolution picture in a widescreen format. That means a much sharper image and better sound.

Many primetime network TV shows are currently being broadcast in the HDTV format, says Dennis Hunt, chief engineer at KEZI. And several cable TV broadcasters offer whole channels of high-definition programming. Curious viewers can check out HDTV programs at Comcast's Valley River Center kiosk.

When shopping for a television, you'll need to decide if you want to pay more for a TV set that has a high-definition tuner built into it, or one that is simply HDTV-ready, which will mean at some point buying a special tuner or renting one from your cable company.

The HDTV sets cost more and offer excellent viewing for HD programming, but the image quality drops off when these sets show regular digital or analog programs.

CRT: CATHODE RAY TUBE

Technology: An electron gun fires high-speed electrons at the screen, exciting a phosphor that gives off red, green or blue light at a given picture element (pixel). Appropriate mixing creates the realization of full color.

Size: 13 inches to 36 inches.

Cost: $100 to $4,000.

Key info: Reliable and good value.

REAR PROJECTION CRT

Technology: Three CRTs throw the image onto the back of a large screen. Viewers see it from the front.

Size: 42 inches to 73 inches.

Cost: $1,500 to $7,000.

Key info: Heavy and 2 feet deep, but cheapest big-screen option.

LCD: LIQUID CRYSTAL DISPLAY

Technology: A voltage applied across a liquid crystal pixel controls the amount of light passing through it. A back light is required. The liquid crystal acts as a filter.

Size: 13 inches to 40 inches.

Cost: $500 to $10,000.

Key info: Thin, can be wall-mounted.

REAR PROJECTION LCD

Technology: Light magnified through a computer chip onto the back of a screen that viewers see from the front.

Size: 42 inches to 73 inches.

Cost: $3,000 to $7,000.

Key info: Good resolution, light bulb may need replacing.

PLASMA

Technology: A voltage is applied to a gas-filled pixel to create a plasma. The glow of the plasma constitutes the light emitted from the pixel.

Size: 42 inches to 70 inches.

Cost: $2,500 to $20,000 (or as much as $60,000).

Key info: Thin, can be wall-mounted but may be challenging to install.

DLP: DIGITAL LIGHT PROCESSING, REAR PROJECTION

Technology: Tiny mirrors embedded on silicon chips direct light at the screen.

Size: 42 inches to 62 inches.

Cost: $2,500 to $6,000.

Key info: Probably less maintenance, narrow viewing angle.
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Title Annotation:Television
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 3, 2004
Words:751
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