Understanding The Difference Between SDTV, EDTV, and HDTV
High definition programming has a 16:9 or widescreen aspect ratio, the same as a movie screen (only smaller). Enhanced and standard definition can display in widescreen, but have no designated aspect ratio standard. Therefore, if you had three identical televisions with the same programming playing side by side, the order of best picture quality would be high definition followed by enhanced then standard. HDTV also offers a much clearer audio signal.
In coming years, analog television sets will be like 8-track players - collectors items unless you purchase a digital-to-analog decoder. The point is: digital is not only the new format, it's the new standard for television.
Which One Do I Need?
According to the FCC, a SDTV is adequate for television viewing. Some people might say watching standard definition is inferior to watching enhanced or high definition programming, which is true, but the reality is standard definition still offers a much better picture than analog. One reason people might not notice the difference in resolution is because they watch digital cable on an analog set then go to a retail superstore to see all three digital formats lined up next to each other. Of course, HD is the best picture available and you will notice a severe difference in picture quality, but put a standard definition television to an analog set and you will notice a severe difference in picture quality too.
The choice is individual: do you want a good television set or one that's capable of showing all digital formats in the way they were supposed to be seen? High definition definitely has its advantages over standard and enhanced. It's hard to argue against it as the type of television everyone should purchase, but it's also not the primary digital format right now because it's expensive for television stations to broadcast in 24 hours a day.
The four major network stations (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) all provide some sort of HD programming, which is free. However, cable and satellite providers are not as generous as they often charge for non-broadcast HD channels. This is a major downside to high definition because with rising cable and satellite costs, the last thing a consumer needs is to invest in the new format and accrue monthly charges to utilize its full capabilities.
Some people buy HD-televisions because they think they'll notice a significant change in their television viewing immediately. Other than a better resolution, this is somewhat inaccurate. Not all channels offer HD programming, and without the necessary accessories, you'll be watching standard or enhanced definition on a high definition screen.
Going high definition means investing in the future of technology, like buying or leasing HD-receivers, HD-programming, and HD-cables. Accessory costs related to high definition can be expensive, and it's important to recognize what is facing someone ready to make the jump to HD.
Is High Definition Over-Rated?
On the surface, high definition is the most expensive of the three digital formats. HD programming is not as common as regular digital programming, and often times the consumer ends up paying extra monthly charges to receive non-broadcast high definition stations. But when you get past the cosmetics, HDTV is by far the most superior television experience you will witness to date. A program televised and viewed in high definition, like the Grammy Awards, can cause even the greatest of skeptics to become a champion for the cause. The need for high definition over standard or enhanced is debatable, but if you can afford it, you mind as well go HD because it'll at least keep the door open to invest in HD accessories later on while standard and enhanced won't.