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What Every Photographer Must Know About HDTV.

On February 17, 2009, television stations in the U.S. will stop broadcasting over the analog channels most of us grew up watching, and will start broadcasting only in digital. You won't necessarily need to buy a new, high-definition TV, but the changeover means you're probably considering it.

The clincher? HDTV can open the door to a great new way to view your photos.

TV makers realize that we want to do more with our fancy new flat-panels than just watch sitcoms and movies. They've started building in USB ports, memory card slots, and special internet connections to make it easier to look at photos and watch your own videos.

Since your camera captures images with pixel counts much higher than any TV on the market, you should look for one that has full high-def resolution. The highest pixel count you can get right now is 1920x1080, though in smaller screen sizes (think 32- or 36-inch) you may be limited to 1280x720 pixels.

Also, the 16:9 aspect ratio (the ratio of the screen's width to height) of an HDTV is wider than the 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio of the images you'll probably want to display. But TVs that have built-in slideshow capabilities typically compensate for this by pillarboxing -- masking the sides of the screen.

While a smaller pixel count sounds bad, it does have at least one benefit: You can size your images down before sending them to the TV, saving room on your flash memory card or USB thumbdrive. SanDisk's Cruzer Gator 4GB ($35, street) and Lexar's JumpDrive FireFly 4GB ($19, street) are both small enough to leave plugged into your TV full-time, can hold thousands of JPEGs at 1920x1080-pixel resolution, and run at Hi-Speed USB 2.0 for quick data transfer from your computer.

So you don't get too worked up about pixel counts, the 1920x1080 HDTV specification was chosen for a good reason. It was determined that, when sitting at generally accepted TV-viewing distances (about twice the screen height), people don't get any appreciable benefit from raising the pixel count further. Some might debate this, but in our experience images look great from that distance on a good HDTV. Remember, the high-megapixel sensors in digital cameras are there so you can make large prints, or crop liberally and make nice mid-sized or small prints. For TV viewing, you have even more leeway for extreme cropping.

EASY DOES IT

You can't walk two feet in any American city without seeing someone with an iPod, so no wonder JVC built an iPod dock into its latest series of TeleDock LCD TVs. That means you can display a slideshow on a 32-, 42-, 47-, or 52-inch screen instead of the tiny screen in your pocket. And it's just as easy as showing a slideshow on the iPod itself, complete with transitions and music from your library.

While it won't give you the best resolution you can get for a slideshow on a TV, the TeleDock is likely one of the easiest solutions, especially if you manage your images in iPhoto. Plus, you can watch any videos you have stored on your iPod. JVC even includes a mode that will show a pixel-for-pixel match of your images or video, albeit at a smaller size and surrounded by black edges, so that image scaling won't harm your images or videos if they don't match the 1366x768 pixels of the screen.

The 32-inch JVC LT-32P679 streets for $730 and includes a USB port in case you don't own an iPod or would rather deliver your images from a different device.

Sony's 46-inch Bravia KDL-46XBR6 ($3,000, street) serves up full 1920x1080 resolution, offers several ways to access photos, and uses cutting-edge video technology. If you're as serious about HDTV and Blu-Ray video as you are about your photos, this is a great choice.

The Sony boasts 10-bit processing and is a native 10-bit LCD panel, so it can deliver smoother gradations from one color to the next. The old standard, 8-bit panels, sometimes created artificial bands of color, especially as colors moved from midtones into darker shadows. Sony's Motionflow 120Hz video processing doubles the normal 60Hz frame rate of video to smooth out the ever-so-slight stuttering effect (a.k.a. judder) introduced by 24-frames-per-second film content. The TV also supports the xvYCC color space (Sony refers to it as xvColor) that has started making its way into some HD camcorders.

For photo playback, this Bravia has a USB port that you can use to view images in the TV's Photo HD TV mode. According to Sony, this mode includes presets for color and sharpness meant to make your photos look their best.

Adventurous? Take advantage of the TV's Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compliance to play photos from your PC by connecting the TV to your home network router using the Bravia's built-in Ethernet port. Then, if you have a PC connected to your home network and it's running Windows Media Player 11, you can turn file sharing on in the program's preferences, select the TV, and it should be able to see the photos on your PC and play them back as slideshows. While we've been able to do this in the past, there are a lot of variables involved, so we can't guarantee that you'll be able to make it work on your system.

Another option from Sony: its HDMS-S1D digital photo album ($400, street). This simple black box measures 6.8x4.6x7.8 inches and includes an 80GB hard drive to store your photos. It has card slots for various memory cards, plus a DVD burner, for loading photos onto or out of the album. You can also connect it to your home network through its Ethernet port, or connect another hard drive with its USB port. And you can connect it to just about any TV or projector to display your photos in any U.S. TV format from standard-definition 480i all the way up to high-def 1080i.

Plan to use an external device, such as this digital photo album? Make sure your TV has enough inputs for the devices you want to attach. All the models mentioned here have at least three HDMI inputs and multiple HD component inputs.

ONE REMOTE, MANY FUNCTIONS

Your TV's remote control is good for a lot more than just changing channels and adjusting the volume. Panasonic's 50-inch VIERA TH-50PZ850U ($2,400, street) plasma HDTV not only offers full 1920x1080 resolution and an SD card slot on the front panel for simple photo and video playback, but it can also connect to the internet through its built-in Ethernet port so you can make use of Panasonic's VIERA Cast feature.

VIERA Cast lets you access weather reports, Bloomberg financial news, YouTube videos, and, more important, Picasa web albums that you, your

family, and friends set up -- all from the comfort of your couch. Panasonic's 850U-series plasmas are the first to include the VIERA Cast system, but it's likely to be included on others in the future, and Panasonic expects to add more content partners. As these come aboard, they'll show up automatically in your VIERA Cast home screen.

Samsung is also trying to make better use of its remote controls. The company's Anynet feature, found in its 1920x1080-resolution LN52A650 ($2,400, street) 52-inch LCD HDTV, lets you control specific cameras and camcorders. So far, the only compatible cameras are a couple of compacts: last year's Samsung NV24HD and the recently announced TL34HD. Both require a dock to connect them to your TV, but once they're connected, you can control the camera's slideshow functions from across the room when paired with a Samsung Anynet TV.

Besides all the built-in hardware, software, and services that come with the latest TVs, many new DSLRs include HDMI output to let you show off your images straight from the camera. While this was never the best option with older cameras, which could output only in 480i composite video, now that things have gone HD, that alone can create a passable show.

Viewing photos on your television has never been easier. And the options? Never more plentiful.

WILL MY TV SHUT DOWN NEXT FEBRUARY?

NO! Just because TV stations will start broadcasting exclusively in digital doesn't mean that your current TV won't work anymore. Even if you don't have a digital TV, you should be fine. If you get your TV from cable or satellite and have a set-top box, you're already okay. If you don't use a set-top box, you should be able to get one from your cable or satellite provider. If you currently have an antenna attached to your TV, you can get a converter box that will receive HDTV and other digital TV signals and send them to your TV in a format it can display. To help pay for these boxes, the government is even offering up to two $40 coupons per household. You can apply for a coupon anytime between now and March 31, 2009. For more information about converter boxes and to apply for a coupon, go to www.dtv2009.gov.

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