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standard definition television (SDTV)

Standard definition television (SDTV) is a digital television (DTV) format that provides a picture quality similar to digital versatile disk (DVD). SDTV and high definition television (HDTV) are the two categories of display formats for digital television (DTV) transmissions, which are becoming the standard.

HDTV provides a higher quality display, with a vertical resolution display from 720p to 1080i and higher and an aspect ratio (the width to height ratio of the screen) of 16:9, for a viewing experience similar to watching a movie. In comparison, SDTV has a range of lower resolutions and no defined aspect ratio. New television sets will be either HDTV-capable or SDTV-capable, with receivers that can convert the signal to their native display format. SDTV, in common with HDTV, uses the MPEG-2 file compression method.

Because a compressed SDTV digital signal is smaller than a compressed HDTV signal, broadcasters can transmit up to five SDTV programs simultaneously instead of just one HDTV program. This is multicasting. Multicasting is an attractive feature because television stations can receive additional revenue from the additional advertising these extra programs provide. With today's analog television system, only one program at a time can be transmitted.

When the United States decided to make the transition from analog television to DTV, the Federal Communications Commission decided to let broadcasters decide whether to broadcast SDTV or HDTV programs. Most have decided to broadcast SDTV programs in the daytime and to broadcast HDTV programs during prime time broadcasting. Both SDTV and HDTV are supported by the Digital Video Broadcasting (DTV) and Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) set of standards.

This was last updated in September 2005

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