Where is the high definition?

April 3, 2005

HDTVIt’s hard to believe that the first HDTV test transmissions were some nine years ago. It would be nice to say we’ve come a long way, but let’s examine the “typical” hi-def program. It’s either (1) an admittedly welcome, new network primetime series, (2) the occasionally interesting HD movie on the premium channels, or (3) the all too common nature documentary in HD. Now don’t get me wrong, I love critters like the next guy, but how many nature documentaries can one man stomach?

How about sports? Now, no one would ever call me a sports fan, but even I’m surprised by just how little sports are broadcast in HD. Sure you get a few NFL games now and then and even some baseball from time to time, but if the wiring is already there (so to speak), why show one game in HD and not the following game?

It must be a little confusing to all these fans who bought a HD set to watch their favorite team in high resolution glory, only to have to refer to what seems like a spreadsheet, to figure out when the next game is going to be in HD.

I recently read a blurb from a Fox executive who, when asked why had Fox been so slow to embrace primetime HDTV programming, remarked (I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said) we just didn’t see the value in it, early on. I think this is more common than not from the networks when it comes to hi-def programming. It’s almost as if they’re of the opinion that it makes little difference whether it’s in HDTV or not. Hey they get to run commercials either way, right?

So when will we really see HD saturate down to the lesser programs? You know, the shows that people make fun of but watch when no ones around, AKA reality TV and similar programs? We’ll likely see more of this type of ‘every day’ programming in hi-def when the networks start to see their ratings drop, and attribute these declining ratings to other, newer hi-def shows.

New HDTV owners expect more:
I know it may sound odd, but new HD-TV owners will actually watch shows they would otherwise flip right past, just because they’re in HD. Sure this new found puppy love wears off after a while, but with an estimated 9 million HD sets projected to be sold this year, you can be sure a lot of those people are going to be skipping past old re-runs, in favor of anything HD, for some time to come.

Now, I don’t mean to paint the networks into a standard definition corner. They have improved significantly as of late, but it makes one wonder why now and not last year? Surely these networks remember the boost in TV ratings that the advent of color television brought on. I have no doubt HDTV will again bring on a new golden age of television.

There is however one ugly truth that you don’t hear mentioned too often and is likely one of the major reasons certain networks have been slow to get on board with HD. What are channels like VH1 Classic to do when the majority of their peers fully embrace HD? Many of those older videos were shot on Betacam and later Betacam SP, and often with as little as 360 lines of horizontal resolution. While up-converting some of that older material is an option, anyone whose seen up-converted material on a hi-def set can tell you it leaves a lot to be desired. And what about shows like Cops (one of my favorites)? Again, many of these early episodes were shot on video equipment that would make hi-def resolutions impossible for older episodes. Issues like these no doubt have a lot of networks scrambling for new programming, but it’s unlikely many of our favorites will just go away.

Without a doubt, over the next few years the “TV on DVD” craze will likely pick up steam and many of the older shows will be relegated to late nights and off peak times, to make way for newer high definition programs, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. At least we’ll have a viable means to collect and view some of our golden oldies.

Getting back to my point, I think I had one anyway, I believe potentially; one thing that may give more momentum to HD programming in general, will be DirecTV’s launch of Spaceway 1 and Spaceway 2, followed by DIRECTV 10 and DIRECTV 11 beginning later this year. The capacity of these satellites is awe inspiring and I can only imagine the potential bandwidth will spark cries of Give us new channels! from those HD subscribers. No doubt the advertisers and networks will listen, rather I hope they listen.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HDTV