Why Analog TV Signals Don't Look As Good On An HDTV

Sony W650D 1080p LED/LCD TV
Sony W650D 1080p LED/LCD TV. Image provided by Sony Electronics

After decades of watching analog TV, the introduction of HDTV has opened up the TV viewing experience with improved color and detail. However, as an unwanted side effect, there are still many consumers that are watching mostly analog television programs and old VHS on their new HDTVs. This has generated a lot of complaints about the apparently degraded picture quality of analog television signals and analog video sources when viewed on an HDTV.

HDTV - It Doesn't Always Look Better

The main idea to make the jump from analog to HDTV is to access a better quality viewing experience. However, having an HDTV doesn't always improve things, especially when viewing non-HD analog content.

In fact, analog video sources, such as VHS and analog cable, in most cases, will look worse on an HDTV than they do on a standard analog television.

The reason for this situation is that HDTVs have the capability of displaying much more detail than an analog TV, which you would normally think is a good thing - and, more the most part, it is. However, that new HDTV doesn't always make everything look better as the video processing circuitry (which enables a feature referred to as Video Upscaling) enhances both the good and bad parts of a low-resolution image.

The cleaner and more stable the original signal, the better result you will have. However, if the picture has background color noise, signal interference, color bleeding, or edge problems, (which may be unnoticeable on an analog TV due to the fact that it is more forgiving due to the lower resolution) the video processing in an HDTV will attempt to clean it up.

However, this may deliver mixed results.

Another factor that contributes to the quality of analog television display on HDTVs also depends on the video upscaling process employed by different HDTV makers. Some HDTVs perform the analog-to-digital conversion and upscaling process better than others. When checking out HDTVs or reviews of HDTVs, make note of any comments regarding video upscaling quality.

Another important point to be made is that most consumers upgrading to HDTV (and now 4K Ultra HD TV) are also upgrading to a larger screen size. This means that as the screen gets larger, lower resolution video sources (such as VHS) will look worse, in much the same way as blowing up a photograph results shapes and edges become less defined. In other words, what looked really great on that old 27-inch analog TV, isn't going to look quite as good on that new 55-inch LCD HD or 4K Ultra HD TV, and it gets even works on larger screen TVs.

Suggestions To Improve Your HDTV Viewing Experience

There are steps that you can take that will not only enable you to kick that analog video viewing habit on your HDTV, but once you see the improvement - those old VHS tapes will be spending a lot more time in your closet.

  • Make sure you have the best signal possible - If you are on cable or satellite, switch to Digital Cable, HD Cable, or HD Satellite. If you have a high-performance HDTV, why waste your money by supplying it with an inferior signal source - you are paying for HD capability - you should reap the rewards.
  • If you have an HD-cable box or HD satellite box, connect them to the HDTV using HDMI or Component Video connections (whichever is type of connection is used by the cable or satellite box to transfer HDTV and Digital signals), rather than a standard screw-on or push-on RF Connection.

The Bottom Line

For those that still have an analog TV, keep in mind that all over-the-air analog broadcast television signals ended June 12, 2009. This means that the old TV will not be able to receive any over-the-air TV programs unless you get an analog-to-digital converter box or, if you subscribe to a cable or satellite service, that you rent a box that has an analog connection option (such as RF or Composite video) that is compatible with your TV.

Most cable services offer a mini-converter box option for such cases - refer to your local cable or satellite provider for more information.

For more information on what you need to know about HDTV, check out our companion article What You Need To See High Definition on an HDTV

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