Are you ready for Astro B.yond?

Recently Astro Malaysia has launched Astro B.yond which is HDTV broadcast. Many people still do not know the meaning of HDTV and asking if it is necessary to change to Astro B.yond and what is needed to ready enjoy it.

What is HDTV?

HDTV stands for High Definition TV.  Watching HDTV is about watching high-resolution picture quality. Current Astro broadcasts are in standard-definition TV (SDTV), which has about 400 visible lines of resolution. HDTV, on the other hand, offers up to 1,080 lines of resolution, which has approximately five times more detail than SD.

If you refer to the picture format, it is akin to having two to four times the number of pixels to render the same image, which means that HDTV provides far more detailed images than SDTV.

There are currently two main HDTV resolution formats: 720p and 1080i. The numbers refer to the number of lines or horizontal resolution on the screen, while the letter suffixes refer to “interlaced” and “progressive” scanning of the picture. The native resolution for a 720p video source is 1,280 x 720 pixels and for 1080i, it is 1,920 x 1080 pixels.

There is also another standard called 1080p which is called True HDTV. The 1080p format is mainly used in Bluray discs and HD DVD. Normal video DVD is only 480p resolution (720 x 480 pixels).

In an interlaced picture, only half the picture resolution is displayed at any one time.

Because they interchange so rapidly, the eye perceives it as a whole picture.

With progressive scan, all the lines in the picture are displayed simultaneously, resulting in a clearer, more defined picture.

Astro Byond on HDTV format
HDTV format such as 1080p has more pixels than conventional SDTV – PAL format

At the moment, HDTV content is hard to come by in Malaysia, although it has been available in Japan and the United States for some time (predominantly via TV broadcasts). Our only best bet will be on Astro B.yond HDTV broadcast.

Astro’s B.yond will primarily broadcast in 1080i, but if the source content is in 720p, broadcasts will be in the same resolution.

Unlike standard television, HDTV resolutions are typically in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, which makes it ideal for movies and today’s widescreen flat-panel TVs, most of which are HD compatible. Sound quality is also improved and, when available, is in full Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround sound.

What do you need to watch Astro B.yond?

You will need a widescreen HD television with a HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) input to properly display Astro’s B.yond HD programmes. HDMI is the new standard Interconnect for HD devices. Of course you need to subscribe to the new Astro B.yond programme. By paying RM20 extra per month you will receive new set-top box and smart card, a new outdoor dish.

Most widescreen flat-panel televisions sold in stores today will display HD picture, but take note of the actual display resolution of the set.

Those labeled as “HD ready” typically have a resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels, which is really only enough for 720p HD content. However if the programmes offers picture with up to 1,080 horizontal lines some of the detail will be lost as they will scale it down to 720p or less.

To view the picture in its full glory, you should get a “Full HD” unit. These have a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, which can perfectly display all 1,080 lines of resolution.

Next, the dilemma would be whether to purchase a HD Ready Plasma TV or Full HD LCD TV? Plasma TV provide a high contrast ratio and pictures looks super crisp clear but it has lesser pixels whereas LCD TV at the same price can provide more pixels, but images do not look so vivid and the backlight make things worse.

At the moment, 1080p-compatible LCDs are few while 1080p plasmas are not officially available in the country yet but I can see they started to come on shore recently. An 42 in LCD TV Full HD Panel (1920 x 1080) cost around RM5,000 to RM8,000.

However, those with normal SD resolution TVs can still enjoy the benefits of the new B.yond service.

Connection can be made via the normal composite or component video connections, but there will be reduced resolution.

However, as the incoming picture is in HD, the picture quality will be much better than existing Astro broadcasts – and potentially better than DVD quality.

Are you ready for HDTV?

With the newly launched Astro B.yond, are you ready to change to HDTV? The main problem with HDTV is that almost everybody is perfectly happy with today’s SDTV broadcasts and DVD movies.

It’s because colour, contrast and movement are more easily appreciated by the human eye (and the brain). These are things which today’s TVs already do pretty well and also something which HDTV doesn’t improve on.

So unless you’re a HiFi nut, the differences between SD and HD are really only apparent on a big TV or a projector.

You need to but a 40 in or bigger HD TV in order to ready enjoy the HD content and if the TV size is lesser than that then you would see the different unless you sit too near.

And in scenes with a lot of movement (in action films, for example) the increase in resolution is all but invisible – since motion blurs out details.

But that’s not to say that HD is irrelevant – if you do have a big TV or a projector, the difference is rather amazing. Movie buffs will no doubt salivate at the added detail in the scenery, costumes and other textures (skin, hair, walls, etc) in their HD movies.

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