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Playing games on a large screen may not be an essential part of everyone's home cinema experience, but there's no doubt that the experience of playing high definition, or even standard definition, games on the big screen can be incredibly immersive.

This feature article looks at the equipment you'll need to start gaming on your high definition TV or projector.


There are currently two games consoles capable of handling high definition games: Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3.


Xbox 360

Microsoft stipulated that all games for the Xbox 360 must output at least 720p (minimum standard) high definition resolution. Some output in higher resolutions, and all will be scaled by the console to match the TV or projector being used.

In addition, older standard definition games will also be upscaled to high definition resolution.

The standard console is connected to the display using either component HD AV cables or a VGA HD AV cable. The Xbox 360 Premium and Xbox 360 Elite can also connect using HDMI.

All games are loaded and run from the built-in optical drive. There's no need to add the HD DVD drive in order to play games.

The standard Xbox 360 can be picked up for around £180, or more for bundles. The Xbox 360 Premium and Xbox 360 Elite, which boast more storage and more output options, come in at around £300.


PlayStation 3

Sony did not make it a prerequisite that all games released for the PS3 had to output native high definition. However, an increasing number of games do, including at full 1080p resolution.

The console is best connected to the display using HDMI, though component can also be used.

All games come on Blu-ray discs, the format of the built in optical drive. The latest European models don't support PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 1 games.

The PS3 with 40GB hard drive costs around £299, while the 60GB version costs £349.

HD PC gaming

Yes, I know a PC isn't a console, but it is possible to connect many modern PCs and notebooks to a high definition display.

Many now feature the necessary components to be able to do this, such as DVI or HDMI output, compatible graphics card, and powerful central processor.

Setting up the system can be more complicated than a dedicated console, and not all games will output in high definition resolutions. However, if you're already an ardent fan of PC gaming, rather than console gaming, this could be the best option.


Nintendo Wii

There have been rumours of a high definition version of the Wii for some time, but nothing has been forthcoming. However, there's still no reason not to upscale the 480p output and get decent results. In fact, these interactive games look better on the big screen.

PlayStation 2

The PS2 only outputs standard definition resolutions, but these can be upscaled by your TV or AV receiver. Alternatively, Fire International have released the Xploder HDTV Player which will upscale and send a progressive high definition signal to other equipment.


Fortunately, there aren't a huge number of issues related to gaming in high definition. However, there were early instances of incompatibility between some consoles and TVs. This was often linked to the HDMI versions being used.

It is definitely worth checking that the console and TV/projector/receiver combination you're considering will work well together. In most instances, they'll work fine.

Minimising delay (lag) in gaming is critical. Some TVs come with a special "gaming mode" which aims to do this. Obviously, even a minor delay between console and display will make controlling the game near impossible. Best advice is to try it out first.

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skyhd.jpgWith your HDTV or projector and a sound system set up for high definition entertainment, it now comes to finding decent content to watch.

Of course, you can buy a number of HD DVD or Blu-ray discs, though choice is still fairly limited.

Sky HD: What's on offer?

The most common way to watch a variety of high definition programmes is to subscribe to the Sky HD service. Just as, in reality, Sky dominates UK pay TV, they're currently the only significant high definition broadcasters in Britain.

Sky HD launched in May 2006. It now offers a reasonable selection of films, sport, arts, and documentaries. The current full list of channels is:

* Sky Movies HD 1 & 2: offering a variety of high definition films from across the Sky Movies channels

* Sky Box Office HD: Offering a weekly selection of up to ten of the latest blockbuster movies, in high definition.

* Sky Sports HD: offering a variety of live and highlighted sporting action including Premiership, FA Cup, and international football, rugby, cricket, and more.

* Sky One HD: Sky's flagship channel in high definition, offering a lot of hit US shows plus home grown entertainment.

* Sky Arts HD: Offering programmes about art, fashion, music, books, and more.

* National Geographic Channel HD: offering stunning high definition footage of the natural world and its people

* The History Channel HD: a range of history programming in high definition

* Discovery HD: The Discovery Channel in high definition, covering a range of subjects including culture, science, technology, nature, travel, and lifestyle.

* BBC HD: Offering a selection of the BBC's programming, in high definition.

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Getting the most from your high definition set up is not just about getting the picture right. Audio technology has also moved on significantly, and it's definitely worth considering a decent home sound system.

While high definition TVs and projectors generally give a great picture, they tend not to offer great sound (no matter what the specifications say) A decent surround sound (or at least stereo) system will fix that and ensure that your movies and music* sound good.

NB: It's worth noting that correct placement of surround speakers purely for hi-fi music is different than for home cinema. This guide deals with home cinema set-up.

All-in-one versus component systems

It's possible to buy all-in-one AV systems, with or without speakers, which can be a good choice if you're on a budget. However, it's rare to find a system where all the components are of an equally high quality.

It's generally better, though more expensive, to buy each part of the system separately. That way, you can pick the best manufacturer for each piece of kit, and upgrade pieces separately as budget or advances in technology require.

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In the third of this six part series on creating the ultimate high definition home cinema system, we look at high definition disc players

When it comes to watching high definition content, particularly movies, there's a paradox.

Theoretically, the easiest and cheapest method is to invest in a high definition disc player (HD DVD, Blu-ray, or HD VMD) and buy high definition discs.

However, thanks to an ongoing format war between competing film studios and competing hardware manufacturers, the choice is made harder for consumers.

blurayhddvd.jpegHD DVD and Blu-ray: What's the issue?

We've talked at length — and I mean at length — on about this so-called format war.

Often paralleled with the VHS/Betamax video cassette 'war' of the 80s, which Sony's Betamax eventually lost, the two main manufacturers in this war are Toshiba and Sony.

Sony pioneered the Blu-ray format, while Toshiba created the HD DVD format. A number of other manufacturers and movie studios have either sided with one format or the other, sat on the fence, or created hybrid players. (We'll get on to HD VMD later).

The problem is that, unlike standard DVDs, you now can't get every movie on both formats. Notable examples are Transformers, available on just HD DVD, and Spider-Man 3, only on Blu-ray.

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benq_w9000_projector.jpg While it's fair to say that most people investing in a high definition display will still buy a high definition TV, it's an increasingly cost-effective option to consider a home cinema projector.

There are several categories, or classes, of projector, and this guide aims to help those with a reasonably modest budget know what features to look for, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Projectors to avoid

Firstly, avoid what I like to call "office" projectors if you are truly after high definition movie playback or gaming.

They'll typically have a lower resolution, or won't be optimised for movie playback. Fine if you're giving a PowerPoint presentation or playing back a standard DVD, and cheaper because of it, but not great for the HD era.

Secondly, unless you have a serious amount of cash burning a hole in your pocket, avoid really high end projectors.

Though there are some really amazing projectors available, they are prohibitively expensive for most consumers, and wouldn't look out of place in a digital cinema. In fact, even if they were affordable, they may even be overkill for the average front room.

In the first of this six part series to creating the ultimate high definition home cinema system, we look at the HDTV

Most people will begin their journey into high definition viewing by purchasing a HDTV.

This six step guide should give you a good grounding in the basics of TV buying before you face the glare of the showroom or begin surfing the web.

sony-52-lcd.jpg1. TV Types

There are a number of TV types capable of displaying high definition content, with the most prominent being LCD and plasma.


Despite the huge popularity of newer TV technologies, it is still possible to buy CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) TVs capable of displaying a high definition image.

Advantages: Tends to be cheaper, with less bulky form factor than old-fashioned CRT tellies, wide viewing angle, deep blacks and high contrast ratio, very fast refresh rate Disadvantages: Less choice, heavy sets


One of the two flat panel TV types, the other being plasma.

Advantages: Slim form factor, comparatively energy efficient, available in many sizes, typically higher screen resolution, reduced screen glare, can be used in rooms with a lot of ambient light, wide choice of manufacturers, styles, and additional features, typically cheaper than plasma for same size screen, good for smaller TVs.

Disadvantages: Often reduced viewing angle, blacks can appear faded due to backlighting, colours may seem artificial, response rate times can be lower.

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Time Warner and Cisco offer HDTV education with new website

timewarner.gifTime Warner Cable and Cisco ® are teaming up to offer consumers some much needed education on how to buy and enjoy high-definition TV.

The two companies are launching Time Warner’s HD Clear and Simple website, which is designed to clear up common misconceptions about HDTVs and the services needed to receive HD broadcasts in the States.

Beginner's Guide to Buying an HDTV

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Panasonic%207plasma.jpgIn the first in a series of high-definition buying guides, we're unsurprisingly starting with HDTVs. High-definition puts some restrictions on the type of screen you can use, which has created some confusion.

So, if an HD Ready logo just isn't enough explanation then read on for some basic tips to buying an HDTV:

So you keep hearing about HDTV. You might even have seen some high definition in a mate’s house or in one of the few HD equipped pubs that are around. But what is it and why would you want it? Well why not? In some parts of the gadget world, namely personal audio and video, quality has taken a back seat as convenience and functionality have taken over.

But this year TV took its biggest leap in picture quality since the arrival of colour back in the 1960s. High Definition TV offers images that are up to four times as detailed and have four times as many lines per picture as those offered by current TVs. It might not sound like too much of a leap but if you compare standard definition with high definition images you can't fail to be impressed. Besides HD is the way the world is going. In the US, which has had HD for nearly two years now, almost all the major programmes are filmed in HD. Here in the UK the BBC and Sky have both been shooting programmes in HD for several years too.

The good bit

Even if you do subscribe to the conspiracy theory that HD is being foisted on us you can't deny that HDTV signals certainly look to blow away existing standard definition footage. There really is a compelling reason for viewers to upgrade. HD adds more realism to sporting events makes movies seem more cinema-esque and works amazingly well for wildlife documentaries.

The bad bit

HD is going to hit your pocket. Firstly you will need a HD ready TV set. In the UK these come in three guises; plasma, LCD and rear projection. Prices of these sets are falling, but if you want a big screen set to make the most of the superb HD footage they are still fairly pricey. You will also need to pay a subscription. Having invested hugely in new HD cameras and post production facilities, the TV companies aren't going to give HD away. So if you are s satellite or cable viewer you'll be paying as few extra quid a month.

HD from Sky

Sky was the first company in the UK to announce its intention to launch HD and it followed through by going live in May 2006.

It has twelve channels which include a mix of its own stuff like sport and movies along with content from third party broadcasters such as the National Geographic channel and Discovery HD. Sky has been filming football, cricket and rugby games in high def for some time now, so there's a good back catalogue of HD material. It also filmed events like the Ryder Cup in HD.

To tune in you need a HD ready TV set, Sky's HD box (review here) and a subscription to Sky.

You can find a full list of its HD package here. If you want to broswe through all we have written about Sky HD so far go here.


Telewest  became the first mainstream broadcaster to offer HD content to its subscribers via its TVDrive hard disk video recorder/HD decoder which debuted in early March. The box is available to four million homes with viewers signing up via Currys, Dixons or through Telewest. It costs users £15 per month on lower tier packages, or £10 a month if they subscribe to Telewest's top level TV package.

Telewest has also hinted that it might actually sell the boxes, which incidentally are made by Scientific Atlanta, at some point in the future. The amount of HD programming is nowhere near the same as Sky, but you do get BBC HD, ITV HD and programmes like Desperate Housewives and Lost.

There's a review of the service here, a comparison with Sky here and a round up of cable HD here.

BBC and HD

The BBC has plenty of HD footage as it has been shooting in the format for years and is now starting to screen it on Sky and on cable. It is also running trials of HD via digital terrestrial (Freeview), but unless there is some dramatic new technological breakthrough it is unlikely to offer a full service of HD via an aerial until 2012 when the analogue transmitters are switched off.

Its coverage started with the World Cup, which frankly looked amazing in the format. Since then it has shown big series like Life on Earth and The Amazing Mrs Pritchard as well as regular stuff like Later with Jools Holland.

There's a round up of the BBC and its HD output here.

HD via the web

It is very early days for streaming HD via the web for two key reasons. Firstly users need very fast broadband connections - at least 8Mbps - to view the signals. And secondly the roll out of connections with this kind of speed isn't happening in the US at the moment. There is a growing number of ISPs in the UK who are offering high speed connections (between 8-20Mbps) now such as Bulldog, UKOnline and Be, however users need to be fairly close to their local BT exchange to have access to this kind of speed.

Some analysts have predicted that the majority of people will be accessing HD via the web by 2010, but if this is to happen, there will need to be some breakthrough technology to enable more homes to have quicker internet access. 

No, really - when thinking about digital TV and HDTV, think 'car' and 'passenger'.

The BBC has used this analogy in its recent Q&A page. When answering the question "I thought digital TV gave me the best picture quality? What is the difference between digital and HDTV?" it writes:

Think of digital TV like a car and HDTV as a type of passenger.

Digital TV is the method of transmitting and receiving different television signals while HDTV is a format.

HDTV programming is received via digital TV - either through cable, satellite or terrestrial.

There are also plans to deliver HDTV via broadband connections.

So it seems the HDTV passenger can sit in many different types of car, though it's a pretty big, high-maintenance passenger that will only travel in premium cars - or possibly big, shiny new public buses. Freeview is like a clapped-out old mini that has no hope of chauffeuring Mr HDTV. Not unless its engine is totally stripped out and... well, yes, I think you get the idea.

Have I taken this analogy too far?

In any case, there seems to be an article about high-definition TV on the BBC website every day of late, and it's good to see them promoting the format - hopefully a fairly measured voice away from the TV showroom glamour.


Lg_py_plasma_angle Several years after it launched in the US and Japan High Definition Television, or HDTV, is finally set to arrive in Europe. It will deliver striking images in either the 720p or 1080i formats which broadcasters claim are up to four times more detailed than those we see on our current digital sets. Everything is in now in place. The stores are full of HD ready flat screen sets (plasma and LCD) and projection systems, the transmission standards have all been agreed and certified. All we need now is that actual HDTV content. So here’s your quickie guide as to where HD is coming from and when.

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