Can Computer Monitors Play High-Definition Movies?

Today's computer monitors offer large display sizes in widescreen configurations suitable for playback of high-definition programming. New computers, video cards and monitors enable you to connect a Blu-ray player and watch HD movies, or view downloaded or streamed content from the Internet. To match up to the requirements for HD playback, your monitor—and your computer—must meet certain specifications that define the size of the signal it can display and the ways it handles copy protection.

Copy Protection

HDCP, or High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, protects the copyrights of entities and individuals who create and distribute high-definition entertainment programming. It prevents efforts to copy an HD video signal. If you screen an HD source such as a Blu-ray player on a computer that uses an HDMI or DVI connection to its monitor, the system must support HDCP to play back the material you want to view. Without proper decryption, you'll see an onscreen error message that identifies your system as noncompliant with copy protection. Even monitors that can play back protected content may fail to do so under certain circumstances, including when a video cable that doesn't support HDCP is used, when the display resolution doesn't meet the minimum requirement of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels or when more than one display is connected to the computer.

Native Resolution

If you're accustomed to hearing HDTV broadcasts referred to as "1080" or "720," those terms stem from the size of the picture, measured in pixels the same way you specify the size of a photograph you capture with your digital camera. HD programming uses a native resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels or 1,280 by 720 pixels. These measurements define picture size in terms of horizontal and vertical dimensions, respectively. Modern monitors provide sufficient resolution to accommodate HD programming. The resolution of many of them matches the resolution of a 1080 HD video signal.

Scaled Playback

When you attempt to view an HD source on an older monitor with a resolution that's smaller than the dimensions of the HD picture, the set must scale the program material to match the display resolution. That's because most LCD and LED monitors use fixed-pixel displays made up of picture elements, just like a digital image. They can display larger image content than their native resolution, but only by scaling it to fit. The result on an older monitor looks less than optimal: slightly blurry and pixelated. The result on an older monitor looks less than optimal: slightly blurry and pixelated. Going the other direction—displaying a lower-resolution source on a higher-resolution monitor—doesn't degrade picture quality.

Other Considerations

A modern monitor and a cable that supports HDCP decryption are necessary to meet the basic specifications required for HD playback on your computer. Additionally, you'll need a current computer capable of running an equally current operating system. Older operating systems can't decrypt and display HDCP-protected content and won't support Blu-ray discs. Likewise, older video cards may be unable to support the video resolution of your brand-new monitor. As a result, simply upgrading the display on an older computer won't get it ready for HD playback. That older system may lack the HDMI ports necessary to plug in an HDCP-compliant display or Blu-ray player.

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